It seems there are hardly any big surprises in gaming these days. Either upcoming games are announced way too many years in advance, or they get leaked before the company can make their announcement. That truly makes Hi-Fi Rush one of the most interesting gaming stories in a while. Not only was this a complete surprise announcement and release during the Xbox Developer_Direct, but it is an off-the-wall genre for a team known for its horror game work.
We have a rhythm-based action game that looks like a comic book made by Tango Gameworks, makers of The Evil Within and Ghostwire: Tokyo, a true surprise for everyone to see. Usually, these kinds of stealth announcements are reserved for smaller titles or something on the lighter side, but Hi-Fi Rush is a quality game that oozes charm at every opportunity.
Building the breakout band of the year
Hi-Fi Rush is filled with characters as colorful as their environment. Protagonist Chai is a loveable idiot who does things without thinking and teams up with a group looking to put a stop to the corrupt heads of the Vandelay company, who are attempting to take over the minds of their consumers. Peppermint is the brains of the operation, coming up with plans for attack and adding a bit of an emotional twist you see from nearly the beginning of the game. Macaron is a tepid former Head of Research and Development who has created a psych evaluation robot named CNMN (pronounced “cinnamon”) that is a little too honest with its findings and draws emotions on its face with a marker.
You’ll be with these ragtag group members for most of the adventure, and their dysfunctionality works well together. Every voice performance in Hi-Fi Rush is on point, especially Robbie Daymond’s Chai, and the writing had me genuinely laughing multiple times. The story itself is by the books, but so many fun moments here make the adventure worthwhile. It really feels like a Sega Dreamcast-era game in the best style imaginable.
Of course, what brings everything together is the music at the core of the game. There are quite a few licensed songs that I highly enjoyed running through these levels too, and if you turn on Streamer Mode, you’ll get some original tracks that aren’t so bad in their own right.
Keep the beat going
When playing through Hi-Fi Rush, combat is the main course that will keep you coming back. There is a constant rhythm with the background music that will give you a damage boost when you press buttons in beat. There are plenty of combos and special attacks to unlock if you want to get deep into the functionalities of that rhythm, but as someone who generally doesn’t enjoy games that force you to play to a particular beat, I found that constant light attacks combined with partner swaps got me through the game on Normal difficulty. Even with that repetition, I had a good time because of the diverse variety of enemies thrown at me. And as a plus, the game is forgiving enough even when you are off-beat to still allow you a chance to enjoy yourself.
Boss fights, in particular, stand out as grandiose events. Every boss feels like a big deal, with special themes around them that give them each a distinct flavor. Sometimes, these boss fights function to introduce new gameplay mechanics, like parrying and dodging attacks when you’re trying to talk someone down. While I don’t see myself playing through the entire campaign again, I wouldn’t mind going back to try these encounters for the intensity they bring.
But outside of the many combat sections, the game takes a step backward mechanically. You will be running through a bunch of hallways and rooms with some side routes to grab collectibles and gear for upgrades, but none of it is worthwhile. Because Chai is stuck moving to the beat, his movement feels very slow. I wanted to sprint so many times, but because he is stuck on the same rhythm, long hallways where nothing happens are a little too common. Also, while I appreciate having an upgrade system, the gears you have to gather for unlocking things would be better off dropped by enemies rather than placed in the world. The exploration and platforming in Hi-Fi Rush to get your gear are not the focus, but they feel forced to give the game more variety, and it’s just not good enough to call these parts of the game fun.
Related: Hi-Fi Rush was a dream project from The Evil Within 2’s director, pitched before Xbox and Bethesda deal
Hi-Fi Rush could end up being the best surprise video game of 2023. It’s colorful, funny, and so charming that I didn’t want to stop playing it even in its down moments. The art style captured me from the first moments I got my hands on it, and the characters and combat carried me throughout the rest of the story. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, wrapping up the story at a great time but adding in endgame content for people who want to keep playing. Hi-Fi Rush is a testament to how developers with a pedigree in making a particular game can still create something different but still exceptional, if given the proper resources.
|+||Gorgeous art style combined with fun characters|
|+||Addictive toe-tapping music and combat|
|+||Boss fights with new ideas and unique visuals|
|–||Forced exploration doesn’t pay off|
|–||Platforming lacks finesse and momentum|