Looking back at Devolver Digital’s output on the Nintendo Switch, it’s hard not to be impressed by both the wealth of quality on offer as well as the sheer variety too. From action-platformers involving ninjas to a gun shooting ballet featuring a sentient banana to the frantic multiplayer action of Heave Ho. In fact, there’s a third thing to add about Devolver Digital. Their stuff is strange. Very strange, and it’s something I’ve always loved about their releases dating back to the original Hotline Miami.
In Hotline Miami Collection on Switch, you’re getting both the original game as well as its sequel Wrong Number. At their core, they both offer the same mix of over the top violence, ultra-fast action, satisfying combat, and enthralling soundtracks. However, it’s the first that you’ll find yourself most impressed with while the sequel feels like somewhat of a disappointment in comparison.
The original game takes place during 1989 as you play a mysterious unnamed character taking on assassinations given to him via cryptic voice messages left on his answering machine. Each mission will kick off with a brief walk around your apartment where you’ll hop in your car, which will then take you to your next destination and target.
The action entirely takes place from a top-down perspective your unnamed character controlled using both control sticks – one for movement and the other for aiming. You’ll move room to room clearing out any foes inside as you go free to use any item or weapon you can get your hands on. These include melee weapons such as bats or hammers, bladed ones such as swords and knives or of course guns. A simple press of the button will initiate an attack with any unlucky individual caught on the receiving end taken out in a very bloody and graphic fashion. We’re talking heads battered in and guts hanging out. While certainly gross, the pixelated visuals mean the violence never reaches the horrific levels of something like Mortal Kombat 11.
While killing is more often than not a one-hit affair the same applies when the roles are reversed – a single swing of a crowbar or a slash of a knife, for example, is enough to put you down for good too. What’s surprising about Hotline Miami (both games in fact) is just how very fast the game is and how even the smallest of blunders can result in instant death. In fact, you’ll be dying an awful lot in your time with Hotline Miami each new mission a fresh batch of chances to get stabbed, shot and bludgeoned to death. Fortunately, this is something that never becomes too frustrating thanks to the instant respawns.
Floors might at first feel impossible with the numbers very much against you but with every attempted run comes lessons to be learned. It might be that the room to your right only has one guy inside – an obstacle made all the more tougher since he’s holding a shotgun. Several failed attempts later and you decide its time to try a new tactic. The room to the left meanwhile has two guys both with knives, something easier to handle since they need to be close to attack.
That’s where Hotline Miami excels beyond being a simple shooter and moves into puzzle territory, each mission a problem that needs solving. How do you take down the three guys ahead without alerting the dogs? Is it better to go silent with your fists or make some noise and draw attention with a machine gun? Put simply Hotline Miami is a fantastic time and one I find myself returning to often.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number on paper follows a lot of the same beats as its original. You’re still going mission-to-mission killing anything that moves and still doing so in increasingly violent ways. The story too can feel just as cryptic at times even jumping between multiple characters to points before, during and after the events of the original game. However, the game suffers by implementing a few gameplay changes. Firstly it opts for bigger environments, an interesting idea but one that results in so many frustrating deaths to characters who happen to be just off-screen. At least with the original the smaller rooms meant you were able to analyze potential threats much easier. Another problem is the harsh difficulty of the game. While the original was certainly no pushover, it never felt unfairly so. Here things escalate to frustrating levels by the second level.
Another thing I’m not a fan of is the varying of abilities and restrictions between the game’s cast. For example, being incapable of picking up weapons and having to rely on your fists alone or starting off with two guns that you cannot drop or switch out. Sure it makes each character feel more unique but it also hurts your chances for creativity. What I loved about the original game was how much it relied on your ability to react quickly to your ever-changing situation. Just the one unnamed character who could use anything he wanted to get the job done. Here things feel more linear – still good fun – but lacking in comparison.
Both games also include a similar scoring system, combos achieved for stringing together kills and bigger points earning better grades. Returning to previously played missions feels worthwhile thanks to this system as you look to better your performance and with it unlock more weapons or masks, the latter offering perks such as more powerful fists, more chances for guns to drop and plenty more.
Hotline Miami Collection runs great on Switch whether playing handheld or in docked mode. Since the game requires quick reactions and plenty of precision attacking I felt more comfortable using a Pro Controller over the Joy-Con and its less than ideal control sticks in handheld mode. Is it unplayable? Not really but it did leave me feeling like I was playing a little more sloppily than usual.
Devolver Digital delivers once again with Hotline Miami Collection. Ferociously violent and superbly engaging, the original still holds up as one of the best indie titles out there and, despite its frustrations, Wrong Number proves a good time too. As far as surprise Nintendo eShop release, chalk this up as another winner.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Devolver Digital