I have a confession to make: I loathe playing games on a PC. I know there are plenty who swear by it, but I'd take a gamepad or even Wii controller over a mouse and keyboard any day of the week. My index fingers and thumbs were made for gaming. My other six digits? Well, they'll do in a pinch, but generally don't like to be bothered to do more than keep a controller in my hand and help me carry groceries. So it was with a bit of sadness and resignation that I had to play Hotline Miami with a mouse and keyboard upon its initial launch on PC last autumn.
While gamepad support was added, it was never part of developer Dennaton's core design, but that's all changed with Devolver Digital's latest PSN port, a Cross Buy affair that comes to both PS3 and Vita with a single purchase. It's released on the European PlayStation Store today. After some hands-on time with both versions, I can say that this dual-stick-and-button adaptation works very well, though it's not without its learning curve.
Instead of a mouse free-roaming the screen, you've got the right analogue stick acting as a reticule that stays tethered to you by a short radius. This dictates where you're aiming. For dingbats like me who had trouble maneuvering a mouse and a top-down character at the same time, this makes combat feel more natural.
Most aspects of the PS3 and Vita ports are the same, but there are a couple of important distinctions that make Hotline Miami more palatable on PS3.
First and foremost, on PS3 the L2 button allows you to free the aiming reticule from its close radius, so you can scroll around the map. Since enemies can shoot from afar, this is a very vital action that you'll have to do frequently. Having it available via shoulder button feels intuitive.
The Vita, however, doesn't have a second left shoulder button (L1 allows you to pick up and throw weapons in both versions), so you have to scroll by using the touch screen. Let go for a second and it will whip back to you, making it cumbersome in combat.
Locking on to foes is something else that feels better on PS3. On the Vita, you lock on to an enemy by either tapping on them via touchscreen or using the square button. The former option is fine when you're initiating an attack, but difficult to manage on the fly, while square selects the closest enemy to where you're aiming, but is often finicky and chooses an unintended target.
This is substantially less of a problem on PS3 because in that version you can lock on with R2 while aiming with the right analogue stick. It may sound like a minor difference, but not having to juggle both aiming and locking on with your right thumb really makes for a smoother experience.
In all other ways, both PSN versions feel similar to the PC original with a scant few buttons assigned to attacking (R1), picking up and tossing objects (L1), and instigating a finishing move (X).
While I found the PS3 version to be better, the Vita version is no slouch, either. Sure, scoping out the terrain and locking onto goons is a bit more cumbersome, but this was never supposed to be an easy thing to pull off in the heat of battle. You're meant to play stealthy, mark your target, and go in for the kill. When all hell breaks loose you generally have to default to manual aim anyway, and I personally found the right analogue stick a more than adequate swap for the mouse here.
If you missed out on Hotline Miami before or don't like fussing around with a computer to play your games, this PSN rendition captures all the horribly violent 80s midnight magic of the original, making it a great entry point for newcomers. I can only hope its sequel, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, comes to consoles as well.