You’ve died. You keep dying. But every death imparts a new piece of knowledge. Sneak through that corridor. Use a door to take that guard out. Smash his brains out on the floor, then use his baseball bat to take out the gunmen in the next room. Blast the Doberman as its passes, then take the remaining enemies out before making a dash to your car and a quick exit. You’ll die and be reborn in an instant plenty of times before you’ve nailed the right pattern, but when you nail it, it’s glorious.
That’s the magic that makes the Drive-esque Hotline Miami games so deliciously addictive, so appetites have been well and sure whetted with the surprise arrival of the Hotline Miami Collection on Nintendo Switch. Dennaton Games’ top-down twin-stick shooter/murder simulator has been bashing pixelated skulls to mush since 2012, and it’s already proved a hit on multiple platforms (including portable devices) so a move to Nintendo’s latest hardware was always a matter of 'when' rather than 'if'. And now it’s finally here, in the kind of ‘out of nowhere fashion’ we’ve come to expect from a game published by Devolver Digital.
The Collection gathers together the brilliant original Hotline Miami and its inferior but still enjoyable sequel, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. It’s a bloody and brutal duology; a two-part series that’s as much a parody of the classic tropes of video games (specifically the cycle of death and rebirth and constant violence required to get there) as they are a perfect example of how to pull off those very mechanics and ideas. It’s a series of games that ask you to question your position as a hitman told to kill a new building full of ‘enemies’ via a phone call to your apartment, while urging you to do so with the fastest and most creative means.
While both games differ in the flow and structure of their respective storylines and meta-narratives, they each boil down to the same formula. You begin each mission with a choice of animal-themed masks. Each one comes with its own trait, ranging from a simple combat role to being invisible to attack dogs. And each one offers a vastly different playthrough, even if every level begins with enemies patrolling the same routes. Hotline Miami is as much a puzzle game as it is a shooter/brawler. There’s an optimum way to clear a floor, moving from room to room, killing each one’s respective occupants, but there’s also plenty of room for creative agency.
Melee weapons are silent, so do you clear a floor entirely with a knife, or do you use loud weapons to draw nearby gun-toting enemies to your location and blast them as they enter the doorway you’re tracking? Holding ZL, you can look around the map a short distance (an ability you can extend with a mask, naturally). Based on the simple controls of a twin-sticker (move with the left stick, look and aim with the right) you have to be as accurate with your melee strike as you do with your ranged fire (especially if you’re lobbing your empty Uzi at an enemy in a last-ditch attempt to take them down).
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a solid follow-up to the original, albeit one that still feels incomplete without the PC-exclusive level editor. That mode really helped elevate the sequel when it eventually followed the game’s release a year later in 2016, but without it, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number reveals itself to be somewhat inferior to its predecessor. Its story is better – with a grander plot told through multiple characters – while new mask traits, animations and an improved lock-on really do make a difference. However, the decision to use larger level maps makes Wrong Number a slower and less frantic affair. The original’s levels were tight and the action immediate, while the sequel’s are ultimately less refined.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number has the better soundtrack and benefits from some quality of life improvements, but the intimacy of Hotline Miami’s ultraviolence really makes it the defining entry. However, these little quibbles don’t detract from the quality of this collection. Gathered together into one package, both instalments feel right at home on Nintendo Switch, run silky smooth in both handheld and docked modes and still look and sound as exciting and visceral as they did when the first made their respective impacts.
While time has somewhat diminished the freshness of Hotline Miami’s creative violence, both games still offer some of the most addictive and rewarding experiences you can play. Sure, the Nintendo Switch versions don’t bring anything particularly new to the table (even the touchscreen aspects were present on PS Vita), but if you’re looking to experience these games for the first time (or again) on a portable platform, this is the place to do it. The pixel art visuals and synthwave soundtrack have aged incredibly well – especially in the seven-year-old original – and while the lack of a map editor stings to this day, its brutal story missions are as engaging as they day they were released. Hotline Miami Collection still kills the old way.