When Hi-Fi Rush was shadow-dropped out of nowhere at the Developer_Direct from Xbox and Bethesda, it has been all over social media. It’s a weird position to be writing a review that many have probably already played, but at the same time, it’s been wonderful seeing how much love it has been getting and rightly so. It’s gorgeous to look at and plays like a dream. Coming from the team behind The Evil Within and Ghostwire: Tokyo, it’s also a different beast entirely, but Tango Softworks has nailed it, potentially releasing the biggest and best surprise of 2023.
Part of the appeal comes from how Hi-Fi Rush doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s filled with cheesy dialogue and characters that relish being silly and encompass the familiar anime tropes we’ve seen from similar properties, but it never holds it back. The story follows a guy called Chai who goes to get augmented by a shady company known as Vanderlay Technologies, only to be labelled a defect when his music player is accidentally fused with his heart. From there, Chai becomes a wanted man, and it’s up to his love of rock music and the help of his friends to take down the evil corporation.
Before we get into the combat, which quite frankly, is some of the most enjoyable I’ve seen in recent times, the soundtrack is excellent. The original tracks from Tango Gameworks are utter bops, but when you throw in tracks from huge bands like The Black Keys and Nine Inch Nails, you’ve got something special. It feels like a personal playlist of songs loved by the developers, proved in part by the inclusion of Zwan’s track, “Honestly, as few rock fans are familiar with Billy Corgan’s fantastic yet short-lived side project (and it’s not available on streaming services). With killer records acting as the backing track to thrilling and intense gameplay, Hi-Fi Rush becomes a wonderous piece of gaming history.
We’ve seen rhythm games before, but the way it incorporates music into literally every aspect of it feels unique. Chai’s movement, the way the environment pulses and interacts, cutscene pacing, and even dialogue are just some of the ways music is in everything you see and do. When it comes to letting loose and fighting the various robots in Hi-Fi Rush, you’ll struggle to find a more enjoyable game released this year. Attacking on the beat bags you a better score, and hitting different patterns with light and hard attacks will unlock longer and more powerful combos. Light attacks can be hit in succession, where as the stronger ones take two beats.
These can be experimented with to extend combos and scores, but you’ll also be able to buy new attacks with the various gears you find strewn across the levels. Your Reverb Gauge gives you the opportunity to unleash special attacks, and again, more can be purchased at your friend Peppermint’s shop. New chips can be bought and equipped, each one giving you perks to a whole manner of things, ranging from extra help, higher scores, and added power to attacks. Speaking of your friends, their abilities can help both in combat and when getting around.
For example, Macaron is a powerhouse that can both destroy armour of bigger enemies, but also break through walls, and Peppermint can damage shields and scramble electronics to expose new platforms and means to traverse. When you’re managing your friend’s abilities and your own, whether when fighting or getting around, it’s incredibly satisfying, even more so when doing it on the beat of the music. I’ve not had this much fun in a rhythm game for years, bar last year’s Metal: Hellsinger, and even then, the story and colourful environments make it pale in comparison.
However you approach fights, it’s important to not stress too much on landing attacks on the beat. Yes, you will be rewarded more for doing so, but failure is never punished. These errors of judgment won’t last for long, as you’ll often find your footing the more you play. Hi-Fi Rush introduces new ideas, but they’re more of a positive than anything else, especially the parrying system. Feeling the music and not dwelling on what combos you’ve unlocked and trying to nail them becomes an afterthought. You’ll begin hitting these moves without even thinking about them, and that’s when Hi-Fi Rush comes into its own.
If you’ve seen the tweets or posts about why Hi-Fi Rush should be played, I hope this review has helped to swing you in the right direction. We rarely get surprises like this, and when they’re this good, it helps to cement just how important enjoying games is. Too often the world gets caught up on what developers do wrong, or how a fascination with deep and unnecessary critiquing has become the norm. Instead, we should treat games with more respect. Tango Gameworks has put something out that oozes fun and a good time. The combat is excellent, as is its soundtrack, traversal, and visuals. Try to remember how fortunate we are, and then thank Hi-Fi Rush for being around at a time when we need to let loose now more than ever.
Gorgeous anime visuals
Plenty of variety in gameplay
Goofy yet loveable characters