Hi-Fi Rush occupies an increasingly rare niche in the big-budget video game industry: a colorful, goofy, and light-hearted title. For its 10 or 11-hour runtime, it has more in common with a Saturday morning cartoon than a slim attempt at gritty, prestige television, like most triple-A games these days, and it’s easily at its best. There is great power. Its gameplay and combat is a unique combination of rhythm and stylish action games is just the cherry on top.
The main character Chai has big dreams of becoming a rockstar. To achieve this dream, he signs up for Project Armstrong, a program run by megalithic tech organization Wandele Technologies. Ideally, it would have replaced Chai’s disabled arm, but she struggles to get out of the facility when she is labeled a defect. While doing so, he meets Peppermint, who is working to take down Vandelle. The two team up, bringing together a variety of people disgruntled with the tech behemoth to form a ragtag group of misfits bent on ending Vandelle’s monopoly.
Each core cast member is charming and funny in their own right, and I enjoyed the constant banter, arguments, and different dynamics. Hi-Fi Rush is a surprisingly well-written game that manages to be intentionally corny and more often than not, pull it off in a non-grating way. In fact, I was surprised that the story was my favorite part of the game, and I really enjoyed each character and how they integrated into the wider group. In the end, Chai and his merry band work together in harmony, and the story and gameplay match this in a satisfying way.
At the center of Hi-Fi Rush is a story about the evils of big tech – and in particular, the games industry. This isn’t the most radical corporate protest in the world. But the levels that poke fun at one-sided budgets between marketing and development teams and tyrannical managers who pit control over product against quality or worker safety certainly make their point. Tango Gameworks is owned by mega-publisher Bethesda Softworks. Might be something to keep in mind.
All this goes on in the huge corporate complex of Wandele. Even when you stand still, the world of brightly colored shadows is in constant motion. Everything in Hi-Fi Rush moves to the beat of the game’s soundtrack – Chai’s run animation, the rotation of industrial gears, the cutscenes, all to the game’s internal metronome. It was always fun to see how the game integrated Chai’s love of music into the world, even in little touches like how your weapon belt guitar strums play in the same key as any level’s soundtrack. Is.
Combat is where Hi-Fi Rush’s rhythm backbone really comes into play. On its surface, the game plays like any stylish action game: You hack, slash, and build combos and high scores. If you’ve played Bayonetta or Devil May Cry then you know the drill. The unique twist, however, is that doing so to the beat of the game’s songs earns you a better score and more effective attacks.
Fighting in time with the rhythm, landing heavy hits with a snare drum, and watching its flashy animations complete with any number of Hi-Fi Rush songs sounds as good as it looks; When you press the button in time the weight actually happens. All aspects surrounding the gameplay lean into the same gimmick – the puzzles, the platforming, the whole nine yards. While it has an original score, the licensed soundtrack does much of the heavy lifting for the game – especially during tense and dramatic moments. Aside from one The Black Keys song, all additions from Fiona Apple, Nine Inch Nails, and especially The Joy Formidable are great inclusions.
The combat is so good that the early part of the game is noticeably lacking compared to the back half of Hi-Fi Rush. It’s slow to start, and for the first few levels, I found myself desperately trying to move on to the next enemy encounter. Fortunately, after a few hours, Hi-Fi Rush really hits its stride. By the time the credits roll, it has escalated into a mess of colors and the spectacle is completely over the top and alive.
You don’t need to battle to the beat to have a hi-fi rush; Animations will land in time even if you are out of time, allowing for the same visual effects as a player. Additionally, you can display a visual metronome on the screen to help you keep time. And Game maintains a relatively slow tempo throughout all of its songs, never needing to keep up with an ultra-fast tempo. It all goes a long way in helping less rhythmic players enjoy the conceit of the game, and they’re all great additions.
Considering the game was announced and released on the same day, Hi-Fi Rush is easily one of the most surprising games of 2023. Part of it is literal. The second, more important part is how good the game is. Hi-Fi Rush finds a magical sweet spot between rhythm games, stylish action, and light-hearted, character-driven platformers that we don’t see too often anymore, and by every measure, it comes out on top.