Hotline Miami Collection (Switch) Review
It’s not uncommon for some games to be banned in Australia. The original Hotline Miami made it through in 2012, but its sequel, Hotline Miami 2, saw controversy when it was refused classification back in 2015. But it is pretty rare to see a game released here—on a Nintendo platform, no less—and then pulled almost immediately because it’s effectively illegal. Such is the case with the Hotline Miami Collection, a two-pack bundle, which was gloriously released and quickly banished from the Aussie eShop—but not before Vooks was able to get a review copy.
The Hotline Miami games are hyper-violent, yet stylish, top-down action games where the player busts into gang hideouts to brutalise as many enemies as possible. Both titles are similar in almost every way, but the sequel was a considerable step up in every way. From a purely gameplay perspective, it’s a shame many Australian gamers can’t legally obtain it.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of way first: the rape scene which kicks off Hotline Miami 2. The scene, titled ‘Midnight Animal’, has the player breaking into a home, killing a bunch of baddies, and beating down a woman in her underwear. The player then must approach woman dragging herself across a bloodied floor, at which point the player character pulls down his pants and mounts her from behind while she is visibly struggling. Another NPC shouts “cut!”, and it turns out this prologue is actually a film set, and the player doesn’t really sexually assault the woman. Except that’s exactly what’s depicted, and the scene is clearly intended for shock value. It’s even possible to skip this entirely, as the game gives the option to not partake in the scene anyway. In which case, this says to me the scene is unnecessary given the ability to sit it out, and that it’s not addressed in the wider scope of the narrative.
From here on, the game focuses directly on the more acceptable kind of violence: beating the snot (well, blood) out of every living thing in the room. And by comparison, Hotline Miami 2 feels like a much tighter experience. When I played the original shortly after its release on the Vita, I remember thinking it felt good and responsive. But now, after playing the sequel, I realised how janky the first game really was and found it difficult to return to the original. Even the dialogue and visual style are more polished, delivering a more polished game.
The two games are similar in how they control, but the added bonus of Hotline Miami 2 is the option to customise the controls, which are a necessity in my opinion. For whatever reason, the first game assigns attacks to R and weapon pickups/throws to L, with the ZL and ZR triggers assigned to free-look and lock on, respectively. I found this to be a more cumbersome set up, as my fingers naturally rest on the triggers, and attacking/throwing being the more common moves I’d make. And when I was able to flip the triggers and shoulder buttons, the gameplay made more sense to me. Trying to go back to the first game without this configuration made it much harder to get my head around, so Hotline Miami 2 has a definitive upper hand here.
The art direction of the sequel is also a little cleaner, with crisper graphics and more contrasting colours, particularly in the backgrounds. The music is also a lot more dynamic and varied.
But ultimately, both games are about executing (pardon the pun) the most efficient way to dispose of thugs as rapidly as possible. There are moments where you can catch your breath and take in who the next best target will be, but the emphasis is really on moving swiftly. You can either knock enemies down and beat them to death, or take them out with whatever weapons are nearby. Your murderous rampage is fuelled by electronic beats pumping and pulsing into a blinding stupor, until your bloodlust is fulfilled and everyone’s dead. The abrupt calm is an eerie sight, when you’re forced to retreat at the end of the stage back to your vehicle, wading through the resulting massacre.
The story perpetrates this tone of brutality by not letting up on how visceral this violent aesthetic is. Practically everyone in this game is bad in their own way, and evil is fought with evil, with the protagonists (if you can call them that) seeking their own justice – despite not really being victims. The games revel in the hardcore, neon culture prominent in ‘80s/’90s drug movies, clearly inspired by films like 2011s Drive and going on to influence recent games like Ape Out.
Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2 are an exercise in desensitised violence to the point where playing them feels good. And the choice of weapons and strategy offer enough to vary up the gameplay – and that’s before playing with different masks, which further change up the mechanics (eg. one mask gives the ability to dodge-roll, while another disables weapons but increases melee strength). The over-the-top violence and twitch-gameplay may not gel with everyone, but this Collection is a strong example of modern, fast-paced beat ‘em ups.
- Tight controls, especially in the sequel
- Easy to learn, hard to master design
- Visceral violence
- No custom controls in Hotline Miami
- A little janky and buggy at times