My favorite thing about video games has always been the collective riffing that comes when developers iterate on a game and put their own spin on it. It’s the kind of energy that’s given us standout indies like Monster Train, a fantastic deck-builder derived from Slay the Spire’s DNA. It’s by that thought process that I find myself hooked on OTXO, a sharply executed action game that turns Hotline Miami into a roguelike.
Developed by Lateralis Heavy Industries, the top-down shooter contains just about everything you’d expect upon hearing Hotline Miami’s name invoked. It’s a fast-paced action game that requires precise shooting, lets players squash enemies by kicking down doors, and is set to a high-octane electronic soundtrack. At a passing glance, it might look a little derivative, save for its distinct black-and-white (and blood red) art style. It is, but OTXO sets itself apart enough with a slow-motion twist that makes it a perfect chaser coming off of John Wick: Chapter 4.
The infinite foyer
OTXO begins with a protagonist washing up on a beach. In an efficient bit of roguelike setup, he quickly learns that he’s trapped in a time loop tied to a mysterious hotel. Unable to break it even by killing himself, he has no choice but to blast through floor after floor of gun-toting bad guys (and lizards?) to break the spell. The John Wick influence is clear off the bat, with its mysterious setting calling back to the series’ Continental Hotel.
The shooter keeps everything simple from there, with an uncomplicated action loop that emphasizes skill over power progression. Each run begins in a lobby where players can get a free drink from a bartender, granting them a starting perk like the ability to see enemy health bars or gain an extra grenade after getting a kill with one. Additional drinks can be bought during runs and more can be unlocked by donating coins to another NPC in the lobby, but that’s largely the only way that runs change. It’s a touch shallow, leaving each run feeling the same, but that works for what OTXO is going for here. It’s a straightforward test of skill rather than a deep roguelike loaded with secrets (though there are some to be found through the hotel).
What makes that approach work as well as it does is the fact that the actual action feels pretty damn satisfying. Naturally, it’s building off of one of the greatest indie shooters of all time, so that comes as no surprise. Gunplay is precise, requiring a careful mastery of its twin-stick control scheme, and enemies go down very quickly. That mix leads to a satisfying flow state where quick, sneaky players will feel rewarded for clearing a floor full of enemies without taking a scratch. It’s a tried-and-true formula, and it’s executed with pinpoint precision.
What’s more appealing is how it tweaks that formula. The biggest difference here is the hero’s focus meter, which lets him temporarily slow down time during a firefight and evade gunfire by rolling. It’s not a totally new innovation for the genre, but it does a lot to support that action hero power trip inherent in a game like this. There’s a simple satisfaction that comes from triggering slow-motion, bursting into a room filled with enemies, and turning them into swiss cheese before they can even turn around. It’s the exact feeling you want from a game drawing inspiration from John Wick, and it’s incentivized further with a combo system that rewards those who keep their kill streaks going rather than playing it safe.
A major tweak to Hotline Miami’s punishing health system helps that feeling further. In that game, players die in just about one hit. With no margin for error, it plays out more like a puzzle game that has players solving an encounter with clever routing. The hero here has much more health on each floor, allowing them to take a ton of shots before going down. Health fills back up at the start of each new floor too, further reducing some punishment. That’s not to say that it isn’t still difficult. Enemies fire and move incredibly quickly, turning them into deadly assassins at their normal speed. Focus is the key to avoiding a hail of deadly gunfire, making sure players use it as much as possible. One bad slip-up could cost players a run, keeping that Hotline Miami brand of tension alive in a true roguelike structure.
OTXO isn’t the kind of game I’m expecting to spend a ton of time in. Its largely skill-based runs can feel a little static after a while, especially when chewing through the same interstitial bosses over and over. I don’t think it’s trying to be something too deep, though, and that’s perfectly fine. It works as a visually stylish way to test my Hotline Miami reflexes in a new way, turning that game into a simple roguelike gauntlet where I can really feel my skills growing on each run. Sharp execution is all it takes to turn it into an addictive indie shooter that’ll have players thirsty for another round for a few fun hours.
OTXO launches on April 20 for PC.
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