I finished Hotline Miami (Vita) for the first time, and after rolling credits, I'm feeling quite mixed. I already wrote about it once, but this is more of a final wrap-up…
So on one hand, I did like the music, colors and slightly surreal quality permeating the first 3/4ths or so. Although I had heard many people call the game out for an extreme level of violence, I can't say it bothered me in the least. The graphics are so simple that it's hard to be shocked, and nothing happens in this game that doesn't happen in a thousand others, so I don't see why this one was so special in that respect.
The gameplay is quite rough, but there is definitely a certain charm to it. When things happen the way they should, it's a tense cat-and-mouse experience that harkens back to an age where games were more purely focused on arcade-style action.
Of course, things don't always go the way they should.
The biggest issue was that the controls feel entirely too touchy, and death comes so swiftly (your character can only take one hit in most cases) that half of my losses felt like they were more due to the fact that it's so hard to shoot straight than any tactical error on my part. There's a lock-on system, but everything is just too fidgety overall.
The behavior of the enemies is also somewhat randomized, although not in any way that I felt was especially clever or beneficial. It's possible to enter a room and sneak up behind a gunman with his back turned nine times in a row, and on the tenth he'll turn around faster than the eye can see and blow you away for no discernible reason. Sometimes enemies would hound me relentlessly, and other times they would stand dumbly as I shot them repeatedly in the back.
Despite these issues and the occasional frustration that came with them, I was having a mostly positive experience with Hotline Miami, but things took a bit of a tumble after the credits rolled. The epilogue levels star a different character and seem like an eleventh-hour attempt to add depth to a game which does not display any hint of it in the content that precedes it.
I've heard many people try to explain Hotline as some sort of commentary on video games, on violence, on violence in video games, on a player's relationship to video game violence itself, and any number of permutations in between, but I'm just not buying it.
As a player, I'm approaching the game as a slightly puzzle-like, reflex-based experience. I don't sympathize with the character or see myself in his shoes in any way, so the comments which come at the end of the game (sorry for being vague, but I'm trying not to spoil anything for those who haven't finished yet) struck me as nothing so much as an unearned, throwaway chuckle on the part of the devs, and any assumed depth comes strictly from the goodwill of fans and writers giving it the benefit of the doubt.
While I certainly don't think the game is as meta-clever or as meaningful as so many people led me to believe beforehand, there's still much to like about the kinetic bloodshed and fast action. At this point I'd still recommend it, but with the caveat that it shines best when taken at face value.
(Side note: Good buddy @Hargrada sent me this link to a reading of the game which I don't entirely agree with, but which makes more sense to me than anything else I've seen. If you've got ten minutes or so, check it out.)
In other games news, I sat down with my 11-year-old tonight and we downloaded some classic games onto his 3DS XL—Mega Man 2 and Super C.
These were two of my favorite titles when I was younger, and I was thrilled to be able to share a little bit of my history with him in this way. To his credit, he was very eager and curious to check them out, not caring at all about the graphics or how technically-impressive they were.
I let him loose on Mega Man at first with just a few words of preface, and he quickly turned to me to declare "this is the hardest game I've ever played!!" followed by "this is impossible!!". I chuckled a little bit and after telling him a few stories about walking to school in the snow uphill both ways, I took over and was more than a little surprised to find that the muscle memory of making split-second jumps and dodging enemy fire was still there. I blew through the Metal Man stage without getting touched, even though the last time I played the game was at least twenty years ago.
Seeing his eyes light up and hearing his audible exclamations of disbelief was absolutely priceless, and for those few minutes, I felt like an invulnerable hero to the little boy I brought into the world.
As great as that feeling was, it was quickly eclipsed when I passed the 3DS back over to him and could see his skills already improving after only having seen me do the sequence once. I cherished shining for a few moments, but it was even better to see him coming to grips with the game and watching his frustration and defeat turn into enjoyment and pride in his own accomplishment. It was truly humbling stuff.