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REVIEW | Retro-Looking “Hotline Miami” Has Old-School Difficulty

Posted on July 24, 2013 AT 02:34pm

Last year one of PC’s biggest surprises was Dennaton Games’ Hotline Miami, a top-down old-school looking game that had the look of an old-school NES game, the sound of a cocaine-covered nightclub, and the vibe and gore of a Nicholas Winding Refn movie. A few weeks ago the game was ported to both the PS3 and Vita (with the cross-saving function), finally giving console players the chance to get their hands dirty.

For those who don’t know the storyline of Hotline Miami, here’s a brief synopsis: you are currently backtracking through your jobs thanks to three masked men, who are trying to find out just who exactly you are. (You yourself don’t quite know, either.) It all started with a weird message on your answering machine regarding a delivered package of cookies, only to find out its contents are really a chicken mask and instructions to kill and retrieve a briefcase. After the success of that mission you are then tasked to complete other jobs that use your “skills.”

In each level you are to take out and kill everyone in your vicinity, whether by hands, guns, bats, swords, and other weapons. It sounds easy enough, only Hotline Miami has the gameplay aspect of one-hit-and-die. Find yourself dead, and you’ll have to start the level all over at the floor you are on. That may not come across as a bad thing, but when you have taken out just about everyone around you and then the last guy manages to kill you in a blink of an eye, then you’ll see how frustrating the game can be.

Perhaps “frustrating” isn’t the right word for it. Rather, Hotline Miami is one tough son-of-a-bitch! Not only did Dennaton Games get the old-school look down, they also made it as hard as games of yore. You see, back in the day games used to be pretty short due to the amount of space you could put on a cartridge. To compensate for the short length developers made the game so difficult that it would take the average player hours, days, even weeks to finally get the strategy right.

This is exactly what Hotline Miami has done. It’s a title whose toughness adds to the game’s long play-through time. Anyone who manages to be the expert gamer to end all expert gamers could probably get it done in about 90 minutes, but for those average players like myself we’ll find themselves spending so much time trying to dissect one Goddamn level because we keep finding ourselves face-first in a shotgun blast. I swear this game got so difficult that I was screaming obscenities that probably didn’t exist until they came roaring out of my mouth.

Do you know what the sad part about this is? If I was able to travel back in time and give this game to my six-year old self I wouldn’t be shocked if I watched him kick its ass without bating a sweat drop from his eye. This is what has happened to the gaming industry: we’ve gone from tough-as-nails titles like DuckTales and Contra to desensitized super-easy fare like Call of Duty and Battlefield. Shorter games, greater difficulty; longer games, tinier difficulty.

Hotline Miami has showed me that the current style of gaming doesn’t always have to be the standard. If more developers were to take a page out of Dennaton Games’ playbook then we’d see a lot more funner, challenging, and sometimes even vein-popping gaming experiences. We can still have the longer, albeit easier games, but perhaps there needs to be more of a balance of both these styles of games. (We’ve seen it work wonders in Dark Souls, a title that was super long and ridiculously difficult, so we know it’s possible!)


  • Great old-school gameplay
  • Trippy story
  • Soundtrack can be hypnotizing at times


  • Difficulty may cause you to break TV, controller


Hotline Miami is a cold, harsh reminder that we as gamers are pillowed by most current titles, lacking any sort of real nail-biting challenge around any corner. It is very unforgiving, just like games used to be, and with news of a sequel in the works we can surely bet that this won’t be the last time we’ll be facing these old-school challenges. One question remains for you, readers: can you pull off the skills your younger self had when it came to games like this, or will you find yourself stuck for weeks on end trying to beat one level as your fingers become more blistered?

FINAL GRADE: 9.0 (out of ten)

PSN review code provided by Tinsley-PR

An accomplished music, anime, and video game critic, Evan Bourgault has been a Contributing Editor and Podcast host with ElectricSistaHood since 2008. His passion for discovering new bands, developers, and Japanese pop culture began in his college radio days and continues on today. Follow Evan on Twitter at twitter.com/King_Baby_Duck

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