A few weeks ago, I went through my Steam library and found all the games I want to complete, but haven’t (whether that means I haven’t even started them, haven’t finished the main story, or if I really liked them and would like to go back and 100% them but haven’t gotten around to it). I put them all on a backlog in howlongtobeat.com and have been picking at the shorter ones in between Star Wars games. Hence my recent playthroughs of games like Journey and Katana Zero, along with some I didn’t mention like Party Hard.
All this to say, I’m not intentionally looking for games that are similar to Hotline Miami, it just so happens that both Katana Zero and God’s Trigger bear some strong resemblance. Katana Zero felt like an anime noir take on Hotline Miami’s themes, whereas God’s Trigger is totally unrelated in theme and plot but has much more immediately similar gameplay. Like Hotline Miami, it’s a top-down game where you have one hit point and must figure out how to clear out several rooms full of enemies without dying, with the expectation being that it’s going to take you at least a couple of tries to get it right.
Unlike Hotline Miami, God’s Trigger is about a fallen angel and a rogue demon teaming up to hunt down the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and save humanity. The way the Four Horsemen are depicted makes me suspect this was originally supposed to be a seven deadly sins thing, but at some point they decided they only had time/money for four, because Pestilence is a TV star who was probably originally either Pride or Lust, and Famine is a grotesquely overweight woman who eats her cultist followers to heal and gets skinnier the lower on health she is, until she’s grotesquely underweight at the end of her boss fight, and while the whole “all the food in the world is for me alone” thing isn’t as mismatched as Pestilence and the TV star thing, it still feels like this was originally Gluttony. Death is a drug dealer, which tracks better, but the way the drugs induce rage seems like he might’ve originally been Wrath.
On the other hand, the Four Horsemen seem mismatched even amongst themselves. Death gets the rage-inducing drugs instead of War, Famine’s cult is full of disgusting worm eggs and general filth (especially as you get deeper in) that seems more reminiscent of Pestilence, and while Pestilence’s TV star act doesn’t map to any horseman especially well, the closest fit is definitely War, which at least requires propaganda and gets televised and such. Granted, this does mean that both the TV star and drug ring villains make most sense as War, and War is already running a military base, so you’d have to pick one of the three, but making Pestilence a TV star instead of the leader of the worm cult is a really baffling choice.
Missteps concerning which villain got what theme aside, the plot is straightforward, the stakes are clear, and the tone is completely different from Hotline Miami. It’s got a tone that I think of as “Dark Horse comics style” (although I don’t actually read enough comics to know whether this is accurate or if the small amount of Dark Horse comics I’ve read just happened to be in this style despite being unrepresentative) where it’s pulpy, focused on spectacle and strong visual design with the plot and characters not being totally ignored, but clearly secondary. The setting and plot rely a lot on common mythology (Four Horsemen, angels and demons) to minimize the time required for set up and jump things straight into the action, something which works well both to save pagespace in comics (where it’s very expensive) and get straight to the visual setpieces the comic sells itself on and to get to the action as fast as possible in a video game, where the action is (unless you’ve got a lot of dialogue options or you’re Hideo Kojima and can somehow get away with ten actual minutes of opening cut scene) the part that players actually interact with so you need to get there as fast as possible.
In addition to the Hotline Miami options of unlimited melee and ammo-limited ranged attacks, God’s Trigger has cool angel/demon powers like slowing down time, teleportation, mind control, and invisibility. Plus, it’s got an upgrade system, and the demon has one of those spike-y chains as her melee weapon, and with enough upgrades, the range on that thing is pretty close to the edge of the screen anyway, at which point guns are only useful for spray-and-praying at offscreen enemies. It is, in short, an actual iteration on Hotline Miami gameplay, while also being a massive visual upgrade, which is good because this is ultimately a game that sells itself on visceral spectacle and strong visuals are important here even for me, someone who does not usually care.
The visual upgrade does mean that God’s Trigger can’t be one of those games I open up in a window and play without even closing my browser windows, because it’s enough strain on my processor that it’ll slow down almost imperceptibly if I have any other heavy applications open. It might be almost imperceptible under most circumstances, but even small amounts of lag in the cursor can be the difference between hitting and missing a foe, which is kind of a big deal when you’ve got one hit point.
Overall, though, I think God’s Trigger is a noticeable improvement on Hotline Miami’s gameplay, and I’m kind of sad that nobody’s ever heard of it. I only played it because it was in some Humble Bundle or something, and looked cool enough to wind up in my nearly 200-strong pile of games I’d like to play/finish/100% someday. I guess God’s Trigger has a much weaker soundtrack than Hotline Miami’s pulsing 80s-style that has just continuous momentum, but while that might reasonably it a lesser game for a large chunk of players (maybe even a majority), I wouldn’t think it would be such a crippling blow as to render this game totally uninteresting when Hotline Miami was such a big deal.
It makes me wonder if the discussion around Hotline Miami was purely because of that “do you like hurting people?” line, which isn’t even really what the game was about. Like, that question comes up as part of a series of questions which don’t have anything to do with violence: “Who’s leaving messages on your phone? Where are we right now? Why are we having this conversation?” An interpretation I’ve heard is that Hotline Miami has a floaty narrative and uses questions like these to draw attention to the fact that ultimately you don’t actually care, because the gameplay is solid and that’s what matters. Personally, I took it as a drug trip in which the protagonist(s) was so out of touch with reality that he wasn’t even sure what was real or not, and those questions were drawing attention to the dreamlike nature of the narrative. You receive missions from a phone and complete them, and that seems natural and intuitive, but when your conscious mind is drawn to them, you realize you have no idea why and that this is deeply fucked up. But that’s not a commentary on video games in general (or if it is, it’s a bad commentary) because most video games are perfectly happy to serve up a reason for all the violence.
In both these interpretations, the answer to the question of “do you enjoy hurting people?” is no. Hotline Miami would be interminably dull if it was just a row of helpless white-suited mafia goons for you to perform the brutal execution animations on. The series of questions begins by rejecting the most obvious answer as to why someone might be clearing out buildings full of people just because someone asked, to lead the player/protagonist to ask why they keep doing it. You don’t enjoy hurting people, you don’t know who’s giving you the missions, you don’t even know how you got to the room where the conversation takes place or why you came here. Whether you interpret this as “because none of that matters as long as the game is fun” or “because you’ve been so high for so long that you’ve totally lost touch with reality,” it’s not a criticism of the player for playing the game. The only way to come to that conclusion is to ignore everything from that conversation except the one question “do you like hurting other people?”