In Otxo, a recently released top-down twin-stick shooter with roguelike elements, you are a dancer amid violent white lines. You throw your body, time and time again, into walls of gunfire. Or you push your character’s back against a pillar, while desperately hoping you have enough time to reload. You kick open doors, and attempt to kill three men before they have the chance to react. Otxo is a game about constantly remixing and re-arranging familiar moments of choreographed violence.
You play as an otherwise unnamed protagonist known as an Otxo, meaning wolf. Otxos are deathless, amnesiac killers bound to a supernatural, threat-filled mansion until they find the emotional core that was taken from them, and that they have since forgotten. In your character’s case, that lost core is a romantic partner. It is a classic revenge story—someone was taken from you, wrongly, by this place, and you will unmake it to get them back. Your player character is not the first to do so, nor will they be the last. Loss, and violence to undo that loss, is the core of the mansion’s supernatural power.
That mansion is staffed by a handful of other characters, each of which carry an air of refinement or professionalism, immediately recognizable to fans of noir films, John Wick, or the recent Hitman trilogy. An alcohol importer in a white dress, from whom you unlock new upgrades. A groundskeeper who has come to terms with his place in the mansion’s little world, who provides the game’s tutorial. A bartender who serves your character drinks which provide significant upgrades to your abilities, which you will definitely need, because Otxo is a genuinely difficult twin-stick shooter descended almost directly from the brutal 2012 indie classic, Hotline Miami.
Otxo is described by the game’s developers as “Hotline Miami-esque,” and for good reason. Hotline Miami, after your first desperate and stumbling attempts to finish a given level, becomes a game about choreography. The house, which you have memorized, has seven rooms. In those seven rooms, there are twelve men. If they hit you, you will die. You grab a bat, and kick the door in. Two men. One you hit with a swing of your bat; the other is too far away. You throw the bat, and his head, bloody, is cracked between the wood of the bat and the plaster of the wall. You grab his gun, which he did not have time to fire, and kill 10 more men with the same, brutal speed. Everything is neon, bloody, and practiced.
Otxo carries some of this energy forward, but exchanges Hotline Miami’s 80s inspired stream of color and stimuli for a stark black, white, and red color palette, reminiscent of Sin City. It has the same quick, reflex heavy shooting, and its levels can be partially memorized. The layout changes every time, but there are basic building blocks that you can learn. However, the enemies in Otxo have significantly better reflexes than those in Hotline Miami, and are just as accurate. To make up for this, your character can take significantly more damage, and has access to “Focus,” an ability that allows the player to slow down time.
Like the John Wick films, one of the greatest strengths of Otxo’s fight choreography is your protagonist’s capacity, and need, to take a hit. John Wick, like the titular Otxo, cannot avoid every hit. Instead, he accepts glancing blows to mitigate damage instead of risking a clean hit from a failed dodge or block. This leads to a feeling of attrition and exhaustion that Hotline Miami lacks. By the end of some levels, you will see yourself with only a sliver of health and a handful of enemies left to take out. Your character does not literally limp, but it is best to slow your movement in these moments to avoid risky dashes around corners. Even if the game does not afflict you, the sudden threat of death will adjust your behavior in the same way that limping does.
In addition to changes to the player’s abilities, enemies are unable to open doors in Otxo, although they can hear gunshots through the walls. This means that, as you move from room to room, and blow open doors with stray bullets, you are creating routes for enemies, and more importantly their bullets, to reach you. Moving through levels effectively means being intentional about which pathways you open.
Finally, Otxo encourages you to play with a level of aggression, precision, and creativity that Hotline Miami facilitates, but does not demand from the player. To acquire upgrades to your character, you have to collect coins from dead enemies. The higher your combo meter, the more coins that enemies drop. The more you vary your methods of murder, the higher your combo meter goes, encouraging the player to constantly change weapons, and to attempt more creative methods of execution like kicking open doors, throwing firearms, and using riskier, limited use weapons like throwing knives and grenades.
All of these factors come together to produce a very particular rhythm of violence. You move, as quickly as possible, from room to room, trying to improvise as you go to keep your combo up. In its best moments, Otxo feels like a good John Wick fight.
While holding a pistol, I kick in the door to a room with three men. I fire two shots into the first, and he drops his gun. I activate focus to slow down time, and hurl my pistol into the head of the second man, who is stunned for a moment, allowing me to close the distance and kill him with a quick melee attack. His gun starts to fall to the ground, and I catch it mid-flight. It is a silenced pistol with seven rounds, two of which immediately find a home in the body of the third man. I do not have time to collect myself as the combo meter ticks down.
I burst into the level’s central room, and chaos breaks out as bullets shatter doors, and the room is flooded with enemies from several directions. My pistol clicks, empty. I throw my back against the pillar, and I slide my second and final magazine into the gun. I focus, and swing. Seven shots. Two bodies. The pistol clicks again. The bodies are within rolling distance, so I hurl myself across the room, grab a submachine gun from the floor, and two bursts kill two men. The gun clicks, and I throw it aside. I roll, pulling a throwing knife from my pocket, and embed it in the chest of a man who doesn’t even have time to pull the trigger as he emerges from a doorway. There are still six enemies left. And it is in these moments, with low health and no resources, Otxo’s improvisational, dancelike combat shines.
In the 10 years since the release of Hotline Miami, it has been hard to imagine a game successfully building on, or even matching, its affective power and style. Otxo is the first game to get close. Sure, it can get a bit repetitive—sometimes you’ll have a few runs with boring enemies in a row—but it manages to, at the very least, carve a bloody, black, and white hole in the shadow of Hotline Miami.