Here’s my best swing at helping you understand what Hi-Fi Rush is. Remember the Miss Ruby rhythm-based boss battle in Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus? It’s like that but an entire game. Try something else? Okay, take Rock Band and mix it with Psychonauts and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Still nothing? Okay, last try. Hi-Fi Rush is the secret Insomniac Games game we never got. Picture the action and graphics of Sunset Overdrive with the comedy of Ratchet and Clank. Add some rhythm-based combos, a comic book/cell-shaded art style, a wicked soundtrack, and you’ve got Hi-Fi Rush.
It’s not surprising if you haven’t heard of Hi-Fi Rush since it was shadow-dropped on a random Wednesday during an Xbox Developer Direct. In short, Hi-Fi Rush is an action rhythm game made by Tango Gameworks who also made Ghostwire Tokyo and The Evil Within (which is absolutely wild). For a game that’s been years in the making and nobody saw coming, Hi-Fi Rush is such a shocking masterpiece that feels like a comforting Saturday morning cartoon in more ways than one.
All Rush, No August – The Art Style
Let’s first set the scene. The animation and art style of Hi-Fi Rush is vibrant, jam-packed, and constantly in motion. The world dances to the beat of your heart… literally. The backtrack for each level moves the world around you meaning the machines crunch to the beat of the guitar, the lights and rocks bounce to the kick of the bass drum, and even the paint on the walls can move to the groove.
The art style of Hi-Fi Rush is a beautiful amalgamation of all the best cartoony games, shows, and movies. Think Into the Spiderverse and Borderlands and Fortnite. Think Jet Set Radio and anime and the previously mentioned Sunset Overdrive. Take all of that and you’ve got Hi-Fi Rush. Needless to say, the character designs, sky boxes, and minute details are all refreshingly breathtaking and help to push the indulgent feeling of a Saturday morning cartoon.
The whimsical nature of the environments, set pieces, and general art style works to inform the player that Hi-Fi Rush is a fun and lighthearted adventure. Each level is a thrill ride of color, sound, and forward momentum. It’s a literal rush (oh, I get why it’s called Hi-Fi Rush now) that delivers surefire serotonin boosts on every playthrough.
We Got the Beat – The Gameplay
The fight in Hi-Fi Rush is really fun. The core gameplay loop consists of combat encounters and platforming (which we’ll get to later). If you’re unfamiliar with rhythm games, the goal is to press buttons on the beat of the music. What makes the rhythm-based combat in Hi-Fi Rush unique is that while you will get a higher score if you input combos on beat, Chai, the main character, and the enemies will always attack on the beat regardless of when the button is pressed. This makes combat feel forgiving at first but fun later on when you become an expert at nailing the rhythm, parrying enemy attacks, and stringing together high-scoring combos. Whether you’re comfortable with rhythm games, getting better, or already great, Hi-Fi Rush chose the funnest option for all when it comes to its combat.
To match the phenomenal story pacing (spoiler alert!) of Hi-Fi Rush, the pacing of gameplay elements is rock solid. As you progress through the game, new abilities and combos that allow you to constantly expand and explore in battle become available at a goldy locks pace. On top of that, there is a constant introduction of new enemies all the way up to the last stages of the game which works really well to keep things fresh and engaging.
The gameplay of Hi-Fi Rush definitely checks that Saturday morning cartoon box. Like a Saturday morning cartoon, the repetitive nature of the gameplay lends itself to consumption in short sittings. Though this game is definitely enjoyable all in one sitting, if you stay for too long, the unexplainable magic of the moment begins to wear out its welcome. Also, instead of being open world like practically every other game these days, Hi-Fi Rush confidently picks a linear level design that feels classic and nostalgic like an early 2000s game. The way the world feels to navigate is arcade-like and old school which works really well considering each level of Hi-Fi Rush takes anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes to complete and Hi-Fi Rush takes around 12 to 15 hours to beat.
The core gameplay of Hi-Fi Rush is exceptional, but it’s not all roses. One aspect that isn’t as great is the platforming. While it isn’t terrible by any means, there are a few flavors that leave a bit to be desired. The jump is a bit too high, the dash is a bit too short; while these might feel like minor nit-picks, when trying to get through a timed section, the flow of character movement matters, especially in a rhythm game. And as an extra mini-complaint, I wish there was a way to pin specific combo inputs to the HUD so I wouldn’t have to enter the menu and scroll through the list of combos that I haven’t memorized yet.
Hi-Fi Rush’s gameplay has so many highlights, not least of which are the boss battles with licensed rock songs and the overall vibe of this being a love letter to how games used to feel. Though you really feel it when you aren’t in a flow state when it comes to platforming and combat, when it clicks, it all feels so good.
No School Like the Old School – The Story and Pacing
One of the most shocking aspects of Hi-Fi Rush is the story. While on paper, the story is the generic loser friends vs. corporate bullies trope, Hi-Fi Rush ends up telling a seriously compelling story about the power of friendship. For a game that takes every chance it gets to crack a joke (there I go again, getting ahead of myself), the solemn integrity and honesty toward the end of the game’s narrative is a pleasant surprise.
For how generic the story starts and how goofy each moment is, like the best rock songs ever made, the build-up is surprising and the payoff is outstanding. The culmination of meaningful character development pushed along by the power of music toward the end of Hi-Fi Rush is so unexpected and yet performed so excellently. It is so heartwarming and wholesomewhich is always the perfect ending to every Saturday morning cartoon.
While the plot is predictable yet delightful, the pacing in Hi-Fi Rush is phenomenal. What makes it so great is the way it seamlessly blends story beats and cutscenes that expertly dissolves from 2D to 3D to gameplay. Most of the time in Hi-Fi Rush, the pacing is a catalyst for hilarious punchlines. At other times, it’s used cinematically to further the plot in ingenious ways. For example, when riding a zip rail at the beginning of the game, you are controlling the character up until you travel through a plume of smoke that transitions the game into a 2D cutscene followed by a 3D cutscene which then leaps right back into gameplay without any loading screens.
There are a few levels in the middle of the game that drag slightly and the engaging story definitely takes a while to warm up, but once Hi-Fi Rush is up and running, it really sings. There are so many ridiculous twists and turns that, thanks to unique pacing, allow the player to experience the story in Hi-Fi Rush’s own hilariously absurd way, a way that is unlike any game I’ve experienced in recent memory.
Rock and Rolling on the Floor – The Humor
After completing Hi-Fi Rush, I can confidently say that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced better comedic writing in a video game. Heartwarming story and satisfying combat aside, I was smiling the entire time I played Hi-Fi Rush because of the writing. And when I wasn’t giddily smiling while smashing evil robots to bits, I was laughing out loud at the jokes which are masterfully told through the dialogue, cutscenes, and gameplay itself. Here are some of my favorite jokes told in Hi-Fi Rush just so you can get a taste (warning, these are spoilers. Skip ahead to the next paragraph if you don’t want spoilers):
- Chai and Smidge the hint robot’s relationship. I would always go out of my way to talk to Smidge even if I didn’t need the hint because of their banter.
- The NPC robots that have no impact on the story and are solely there for flavor. Especially the black detective robot and his sidekick.
- The Katy Perry left shark moment.
- A purchasable upgrade chip you get access to after completing the fourth level that has a completely negative effect. If you read closely, there is a message from Peppermint that says she made a chip that is basically useless just to make sure Chai’s reading the descriptions.
- Zanzo is straight up a JoJo Bizarre’s Adventure rip-off.
For one of my favorite examples of hilarious pacing, and a more general less spoilery example of the quality humor in Hi-Fi Rush, there was a moment in a cutscene when I needed to complete a quick-time event, and when I didn’ t perform it, my teammates chewed me out and the final ranking of the level reflected the miss. It’s details like that make the humor and gameplay of Hi-Fi Rush really top-notch.
Hi-Fi Rush is completely off the rails (literally at times). Every chance it gets, there is a punch line, hilarious NPC robot, or clever cutscene, all of which make for a spectacular show and an even better game. Comedy is subjective, but the lighthearted, goofy, unproblematic, and clean comedy that Hi-Fi Rush achieves is almost always enjoyable and above all not cringe. Because, as we all know, comedy writing in video games is really hard to get right and often results in cringe, Hi-Fi Rush gets major points for being one of the only games that really nails comedic timing, writing, and variety.
Hi-Fi Rush is an absolutely fantastic game and you should go play it right now. Stop reading this review. Hop on PC or Xbox and play Hi-Fi Rush. I mean it! It’s on Game Pass, you have no excuse!
Though it doesn’t have as epic and rich of gameplay as an Elden Ring or isn’t as narratively adventurous as a God of War Ragnarok, Hi-Fi Rush is a perfect bit-sized roller coaster, the kind you want to ride again and again. No game is perfect, but Hi-Fi Rush manages to pack in extremely successful and unique gameplay, highly detailed cutscenes and art style, and the comfort of a Saturday morning cartoon’s plot, characters, and humor into one awesome adventure that nobody saw coming. It is innovative, super fun, and adorably optimistic. Hi-Fi Rush truly is perfect in its own way.
Hi-Fi Rush is available now on Xbox Series X|S and PC.