Hotline Miami is a Parrot Perched on My Heart

by Dave Beaudoin

Growing up, the Midwest was as far from the sun-bleached shores and fast cars of Miami beach. I had family who lived there and spent several holidays soaking in the humid heat of the South Florida winter. Miami was a completely different world that I had only seen on television, and I loved it. From the bengal tigers in their faux Indian temple enclosure at Metro Zoo, to the flocks of Flamingos at Parrot Island, Miami embraced and defined the neon core of the 1980s. I was shunned for my taste in denim sport coats and neon t-shirts at school back home, but the impression left on me by The Magic City has stayed with me.

In Miami, escaped pet iguanas lived in the storm drains, alligators could be lurking anywhere, and the person behind the wheel of that Ferrari could be a drug kingpin or movie star. This sheen of uncertainty permeates Hotline Miami. Checking the mundane messages on your answering machine to get missions has little in common with the ultra violent levels themselves. The elegance with which Hotline Miami leverages and reinforces the stereotypes that movies like Scarface perpetuated is perhaps its greatest strength. The undercurrent of exotic danger that permeated Miami in the 1980s was unlike anywhere else in the US and made visiting Miami special then, and makes playing Hotline Miami just as special now.

Hotline Miami took me back to the decadence and ridiculousness of 1980s Miami from the first load screen. The oddly modernized throwback music and the grating neon pulse of the graphics simultaneously evoke the Miami Sound Machine. Down to the emulated monitor flicker, pixelated graphics emulate the very best of classic arcade games. The decontextualized violence and piecemeal story are temporally somewhere between Pac-Man and Metroid, and the blatant reuse of sprites speaks to a simpler time when RAM was gold and suits were white.

As much as I have fond memories of some of the 1980s, I universally despise the current 80s retro trends that are glorifying the worst of the decade. The 1980s were shot through with over the top decadence and mindless hedonism. A ten year spring break for the newly crowned yuppies and upwardly mobile baby boomers that ended with a crash. I could complain about the downfall of western civilization being firmly rooted in the 1980s, but that’s not the feeling that Hotline Miami evokes, and for that I adore it.

Unlike other examples of the nouveau-80s trend, Hotline Miami doesn’t try to upconvert 80s chic for the new millennium. If anything Hotline’s portrayal of the 80s as a series of brutally misguided hallucinations is startlingly honest. I don’t know if either of the developers spent time in Miami or just experienced it through the mirror of television and movies, but the gents at Dennaton Games managed to capture the essence of Miami while making an impressively tight game.

I for one am happy to enjoy the mindless violence and fast cars of the only city I’ve ever been in which truly felt like the set of an action movie.

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