OTXO! Live. Die. Repeat.
A long time ago, top down shooters were all the rage. Smash TV, Loaded, and Alien Breed were great, fast-paced blasters with more freedom of movement than you’d get in a scrolling shooter. But then those new fangled 3D graphics came along and they faded into obscurity for some time, and whilst they never really went away, you could argue that Hotline Miami went some way to bringing them back into the limelight. Wonderful pixel graphics and quick, brutal combat that had more of a reliance on melee combat but was no less exciting for it combined with a wild story to make something quite memorable. There have been few pretenders to the throne since that game and its sequel though, but OTXO seems to want a slice of the pie.
OTXO, pronounced oh-cho and is a facsimile for the Spanish word for wolf apparently, really does feel like Hotline Miami 2 and could in some ways pass for a sequel. It’s a top down, pixel-art shooter, with pumping music, a weird story, quirky characters, and high speed gunplay. This is no bad thing of course, as if you’re going to make a shooter of that style, you might as well take inspiration from a top tier game. The biggest difference here is that OTXO is a roguelike.
The story is seemingly bonkers, with you travelling on the train with your beloved, only to find a mask on the floor which you obviously put on. The next thing you know, you awaken on a beach in front of a huge mansion and are informed that your partner is trapped within. Your only hope for escape is to find them, and destroy the heart of the mansion. Along the way you’ll meet a bartender that serves you drinks that give you perks, a gun crazed nun who lets you decide which weapons will appear in the game, and a scientist responsible for storing your unlocked items who reminds me an awful lot of Dr. Cockroach from Monsters vs. Aliens. No Hugh Laurie voicing him, sadly.
All said, the plot is nuts and might have some deeper meaning, but I was all in on the gameplay here, and after a few stages of struggling to get to grips with things, I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy this. But once it clicked, OTXO was thrilling. Each stage starts with you kicking a door down and mowing down every enemy in the room, grabbing a new weapon, and repeating until you’ve cleared the area before moving onto the next.
Combat is lightning fast, and you’ll be inundated with bullets the split second you boot down that opening. Generally, only enemies in that room will go for you, meaning you don’t have to worry about the noise you’re making. You can take a fair bit of punishment, but even then you won’t last long, so you’ll need to make use of slow-motion, called Focus here, and your dodge roll to control the situation long enough to put down your far less hardy foes. You’ll want to use that Focus to manage your ammo too, as guns don’t come loaded down with bullets. You tend to get one extra magazine for reloading, meaning you’ll frequently be scrambling for a new weapon during combat if you haven’t found one you like in the last room.
The guns themselves are the usual fare, including pistols, rifles, SMGs, and shotguns. Honestly, I stuck with anything fully automatic, as the shotguns are all but useless at point blank range, and pistols and rifles don’t fire as quickly as I’d like. Dual-wielding P90s feels as awesome as it should though, and is absolutely what you should be doing at every opportunity. You can also find grenades and throwing knives, but they’re very situational and I found myself avoiding them.
Those quick, brutal gunfights feel great, and due to the fire you’ll come under it feels equally thrilling to complete an area in one piece. Your health recharges between areas, and after a few of them you appear back in the starting area to buy another drink from the bartender, giving you an additional perk. After a few more, you’ll take on a boss before moving onto the next part of the mansion.
The bosses are certainly creative, with things like gun-toting, wheelchair-bound gardeners, and walking suits of armour throwing explosive spears. They are probably the least threatening thing you’ll face though. In fact, I don’t think I was killed by a boss in the time I was playing, with death being mostly down to being overwhelmed by the volume of standard enemies. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the bosses, it’s more that I was expecting them to be a step up from the rank and file. I appreciated the creativity of them too, as the general enemies are almost all the same, with only the occasional special one to contend with.
It’s worth pointing out the issue with roguelikes like this, that if you find the idea of replaying the first area every time you die unappealing, then OTXO is not going to change your mind. Yes, the stages you’ll see change each run you make, but that doesn’t change the fact that playing the early areas again can be a bit irritating for some. I wasn’t too upset, as the stages are so fast and the gunplay so fun that I was off past that first boss within five to ten minutes each time.
Of course, things aren’t all roses here. The camera takes a bit of getting used to as you swing your reticule around the map. It does become more comfortable after a few runs, but initially it almost gave me a headache. More irritating for a longer time though is getting hit from enemies off screen. You can only move the camera so far, and when you use Focus it zooms in closer to you, meaning foes with rifles on the opposite side of the room you’re in can get a whole load of free shots off on you. Sometimes you can plan for this by entering a room from another doorway, but that’s not always the case. Oh, and the menus inexplicably do not have mouse support. I can’t fathom that one to be honest. They’re also rather ugly to look at, but complaining about how a menu looks feels a little like nitpicking to me.
What isn’t ugly is the overall art style. The mostly black and white aesthetic really punctuates the clarett as it comes flying out of your foes in a particularly brutal gunfight, and whilst the artwork is simplistic in some ways, that simplicity is important to you keeping track of what’s happening. Some of the weapon drops aren’t always that easy to spot in the melee, but if you’ve been careful you’ve probably got enough ammo to get through a quick combat. The characters who you speak to are really well done though, looking like pixelated photographs, and I particularly liked this art style. The throbbing soundtrack and ear shattering gunfire punctuates the combat nicely too.
OTXO is an excellent roguelike shooter that I hope finds a strong audience as there’s a really well put together game here. The quick playtime and cracking combat mean this is a game you can easily have a quick blast with when you have some spare time, but beware of that dreaded “just one more run” feeling, because you may find that all of that spare time disappears all of a sudden.
OTXO is available on Steam now.