Hot Tin Roof is an ambitious narrative-driven metroidvania title with a hefty helping of noir. It steeps itself in tantalizing mystery from the start, but is also careful to communicate its tone to the player. This isn’t a grim murder mystery with psychological undertones or sexual themes, but instead a whimsical interpretation of film noir with some platforming spice. As private eye Emma Jones, players will explore the city from top to bottom in search of the next clue or suspect in an ongoing case. She’s accompanied by her friend Franky, a talking, hat-wearing cat, who adds not only novelty but a surprisingly encyclopedic knowledge of crime scene inspection. The game’s PAX Prime demo took me from my office down to the city dump, where I investigated some suspicious rat behavior.
Equipped with nothing but a revolver, Emma’s investigative tactics involve more wit than force. In fact, the gun isn’t really a weapon at all. Instead of enemies, the player shoots items in the environment using an array of strange bullets. Along with the standard projectiles, throughout my demo I collected bubble bullets, which triggered and revealed several useful secrets in the world, and grapple bullets, which allowed me to cross large gaps in the dungeon, granting access to otherwise unattainable paths. The developers explained that the revolver was more of a tool than a gun, and acts as the conduit for the various upgrades and items the player will accrue through the course of the game. It was a really clever mechanic in practice, though being forced to individually unload and reload each barrel became exceedingly tedious.
Such clever items also make for some awesome puzzle platforming, and the game does well not to bury the player in tutorials, instead leaving space for discovery. Design decisions like that helped Hot Tin Roof attain and maintain a very old-school vibe, and I realized shortly after arriving in the game’s first dungeon just how similar to Metroid the title really is. Backtracking and puzzle solving are both prevalent elements in Hot Tin Roof, and combined with the game’s excellent dialogue the title struck a wonderfully unique balance between action and narrative.
In fact, as much as I enjoyed the game’s platforming segments the real highlight for me was the dialogue. Hot Tin Roof is immersed in an excellent noir atmosphere already thanks to the awesome soundtrack and visual design, but the player’s conversations with the city’s residents take it to an entirely different level. It was wonderful to see such creative script writing, and it really pulled the whole package together and imbued each character with realistic personality. I’d even go as far as saying that Hot Tin Roof‘s dialogue is its strongest element, and that’s a real compliment to the writer when the platforming areas are so enjoyable. Glassbottom Games set out to make a narrative-driven Metroid-like mystery game, and from what I saw they’ve done just that.
Though I was admittedly impressed by Hot Tin Roof‘s narrative confidence, I also took a shine to the game’s camera rotation mechanic. While Hot Tin Roof is a 2.5D platformer, its dungeons and overworld are given three-dimensional depth. When rounding a corner or turning down an alley, the camera will rotate to show you a completely new view, making for platforming puzzles not unlike the critically acclaimed FEZ. I didn’t get to see much of the mechanic during my short demo, but judging from footage and the general quality on display everywhere else, I’m legitimately excited by its potential.
Hot Tin Roof‘s creators describe it as a mix between Metroid and L.A. Noire, and it’s easy to see why. The game takes several individually excellent concepts and mashes them together with wonderful results. It’s still in its early stages of development, but Hot Tin Roof is one to keep an eye on. Look out for its release on Windows, Mac, and Linux next February.