Hi-Fi Rush came out of nowhere in so many ways. The sudden launch on the same day it was announced is almost as surprising as the fact that it came from the same studio behind The Evil Within and Ghostwire: Tokyo. Now, in the aftermath of its launch, everyone seems to be tapping their feet along to the rhythm Hi-Fi Rush has set, and for good reason.
The rhythm-action game from Tango Gameworks takes chaotic character-action combat and beautifully mixes it with a beat. Supported by a simple story and a charming cast of characters you can root for, Hi-Fi Rush is an album full of hits, with only the occasional filler you’ll wish you could skip.
March to the Beat of the Strum
The main attraction of Hi-Fi Rush is easily its combat. Throughout the first two-thirds of the 12 levels, you’ll keep increasing new abilities, leading to a symphony of actions at your disposal. Mixing light and heavy attacks in different ways gives you different combos, and you can amp up the finisher by hitting a button to the beat. It’s a straightforward yet consistently rewarding loop that feels just as great in the last hour as it does the first time.
Doing all of these combos requires you to stay on the beat. While you can still attack off-beat, you won’t do as much damage, and landing finishers or more complicated combos can get tricky. Dodges and parries follow similar rules. They’re still doable off-beat, but you can string three on-beat dodges in a row. Parries have a tight window, and every enemy usually telegraphs their attacks with a call-and-response rhythm.
When you follow the beat, it all feels like a delicate dance with chaos. Sometimes you’re leading, sometimes you’re following, but you always have a guiding light: the music.
Amid your combos, you can summon allies to do different types of attacks, each providing a certain advantage over specific enemies. However, they can be upgraded as well, giving you more ways to use them, including summoning them on a finisher or right after a parry for bigger damage.
There’s a lot going on in these fights, especially in the latter set of levels. You might be wailing on one big enemy while two other big bots surround you, with their little minions shooting lasers at you from afar. Yet, when you follow the beat, it all feels like a delicate dance with chaos. Sometimes you’re leading, sometimes you’re following, but you always have a guiding light: the music.
When you’re in tune with the music and have a good grasp of the controls, Hi-Fi Rush feels unlike any other action game. You’re simultaneously jamming to the music while in flow with the combat, truly using sound effects more than visual cues to react. For players with a penchant for rhythm, this is an absolute treat. And even if you describe yourself as rhythmically challenged, Hi-Fi Rush is still a pretty accessible game.
Chai’s Got an Ax to Grind
When you’re in the action, you’ll control a character named Chai, a lovable doofus that wants to be a rockstar. After getting a new robot arm (and a music player in his heart), he finds himself with the power to summon a guitar-shaped club. He sees the world in rhythm, explaining why the combat follows his beat.
He and his motley crew set out to topple Vandelay, the almighty megacorporation that is giving everyone these robotic enhancements. The company represents late-stage capitalism, unhealthy work culture, and power-hungry executives all in one, so it’s easy to root against. It’s a typical “let’s take down The Man” story that feels as rock n’ roll as Chai wishes he were. There are few surprises here, and you’ll likely be able to see many of them coming.
What really sells the narrative is the moment-to-moment writing. The way Hi-Fi Rush illustrates the sleaziness of Vandelay is expertly done with finesse and charisma. One of the main enemies commonly adds more work to the agenda, casually recognizes there isn’t time in the schedule, and matter-of-factly informs everyone to work overtime. When a worker says it’s not in the budget, the boss tells him to take it out of the yearly bonuses. It relishes in the silly parody, like it’s winking at you, knowing that you’re more familiar with the satire than you wish you were.
It’s all the little jokes in between that makes Hi-Fi Rush so fun. You’d be hard-pressed to not find something that makes you chuckle or puts a smile on your face. It’s campy, meta, silly, and playful, never taking itself seriously. It knows this isn’t a story for the ages, and it’s not trying to be one.
Rockin’ With Style
To complement its light-hearted nature, Tango Gameworks opted for a comics-inspired cel-shaded art direction that’s as stylish as it is whimsical. Big attacks often come with comic-style explosions, and on-beat hits say “Perfect!” in a lively font. You don’t need the latest graphics card to play Hi-Fi Rushand it’s all the better for it.
The art direction also goes a long way in bringing the characters to life. Their faces are visually expressive, and Chai especially has been given a lot of love. His idle animation sways and snaps to the beat, and if you’re close to a wall, he sways less and taps his foot to the rhythm instead.
The cutscenes featuring bumps goes a long way to characterizing them, too. Zanzo’s frantic movements illustrate his impulsive nature, while Rekka’s pro-wrestling swagger tells you everything you need to know about her reckless drive to be number one.
Environments are beautifully brought to life with this art style, as well. The vibrant color palettes and simple textures are easy to visually digest and paint a delightful picture wherever you look. As a bonus, the entire environment follows the beat, too. Objects bounce, smoke puffs, lights flash – all timed to the same rhythm that Chai sways to. Everywhere you look, Hi-Fi Rush funnels you toward its main goal of wonderfully marrying rhythm and action.
In terms of level design, the critical path is made pretty clear with arrows. According to the in-game lore, Vandelay itself trademarked the concept of arrows so it could sue anyone else who uses them. Throughout one stage (the lava one, of course), you can read journal entries of the robot who had to put up the arrows, who eventually got existential about its purpose in the world. Once again, Hi-Fi Rush commits to the bit.
The only big downside to the level design, however, is that you could argue that it can feel like padding at times. There are small extra corridors you can walk down for more currency or powerups, if you’re inclined. Overall though, the exploration and platforming can feel a little uninspired, especially when juxtaposed with the finely polished action segments.
This can make subsequent replays feel more like a chore, which is a shame considering that there are post-game challenges that unlock after finishing the final boss. You just have to find them within all the levels. With some unskippable cutscenes and dialog adding even more padding, Hi-Fi Rush might be more of a one-and-done sort of game for all but the most dedicated achievement hunters. And that’s not a bad thing either; the roughly 12 hours of game time has been some of the most fun I’ve had in 2023 so far.
Hi-Fi Rush Review | Final Verdict
Hi-Fi Rush came out of nowhere and rocked its way into the action genre with its own twist. Fans of rhythm games and action games will find a lot to dive into, and the level of flow state when the two mix perfectly feels fantastic. While the moments between the action can feel a little padded, the hilarious dialog and silly banter will keep you satisfied until the next big hit of combat.
TechRaptor reviewed Hi-Fi Rush on Xbox Series X through Xbox Game Pass. It is also available on Xbox Series S and PC.