Hi-Fi Rush (Review)

Perhaps the best moment of the recent Xbox Developer_Direct presentation was the shadow drop of a new game from Tango Gameworks. Not only is Hi-Fi Rush a significant shift in tone from the developer’s horror themed games, but it’s also a genuine crowd pleaser and entirely unique game that deserves your attention.

Players take on the role of Chai, a young man who travels to mega corporation Vandelay in a bid to restore use of his arm. A mishap during the procedure results in his music player being embedded in his chest and marks him as a “defect” requiring disposal, so Chai has to fight his way out of Vandelay and learn the truth of the company’s intentions. Playing like a third person action game, Chai has to take down hordes of enemies using his musically boosted powers and a little help from robot kitty 808. Levels are mainly linear, consisting of traversal sections interspersed with combat areas, eventually ending with boss fights. Combat would feels familiar to people who’ve played DmC, Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta combining fast movement, aerials, parries and light/heavy attacks.

While you can achieve a lot by mashing buttons it’s when you begin to time your actions to the beat that that your effectiveness and score will be rewarded with bigger payouts. In a nice touch the game doesn’t penalise you much at all for being out of sync, it simply rewards you less. For players with bad hand-eye coordination like me there will be a few sequences that can be challenging, especially parries, but on the default difficulty none of this is an insurmountable task. And the game even provides a metronome to help with your timing if the tells from the environment don’t help.

As Chai progresses through the game, he gains allies who help to bolster his attack abilities and he will also be able to purchase additional abilities to further improve his own attack skills. This is where the more skilled players will probably benefit most as they can leverage all the abilities on offer. Even if you are a button masher there are still upgrades you could benefit from to boost your health and skill meters so taking your time in making your first purchases can be helpful and you can even sell previously purchased ones (for a lower price) if you think you made a mistake and want to try something different.

Visually the game is one of the best examples of cel shaded game I’ve seen in a long time with a huge amount of detail, bright colours and some really impressive animation too. How Chai and the world around him respond to the beats works nicely into game’s timing mechanic and in a nice touch – Chai’s idle animation will have him snap his fingers in time too. The icing on the cake though is how the presentation transitions so easily between cutscenes, gameplay and more. While not everything is in-engine it just seems so effortless in its changes that it genuinely feels like it’s all part of the experience as a whole. A game that relies on music as part of its key mechanics really needs to have a good selection and this is where Hi-Fi Rush won me over. That the developers included two Nine Inch Nails tracks is a massive win in my eyes but I love how well all the music fits into the world. The thought that went into all the tracks shows not only in the boss fight tunes but the game’s soundtrack too and seeing the world pulse in time with the beat never loses its appeal. It’s really, really good.

Any flaws that I can find with the game are fairly minimal with a couple of timing based challenges slowing down my progress, which can be frustrating if you are bad at them, and that the platforming can be hit or miss in a few sections leading to unnecessary deaths. None of the penalties for failure are too extreme on the default difficulty so there’s nothing to stop you from trying again. And if it looks like you are having issues the game will even let you know that you can dial down the difficulty to something easier.

Hi-Fi Rush is such a great game it’s a real surprise very little leaked about it prior to the announcement. That we all got to experience it together with no prior knowledge is such a rarity for games coming from higher profile developers it’s going to be interesting to see if we will see more of it in the immediate future. Seems pretty certain though if they ever worked on a sequel no one will be keeping quiet on that! Until then it’s worth jumping and enjoying the beats for yourself. 🙂

Hi-Fi Rush is out now on PC and Xbox. Played on an Xbox Series X via Game Pass.

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