Hi-Fi Rush Review - Good Vibes Only

  • First Released Jan 25, 2023
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Hi-Fi Rush is an excellent break from the norm for the horror buffs at Tango Gameworks, meshing the energetic combat of a character-action brawler with the toe-tapping beats of a stylish rhythm game.

The very first boss fight in Hi-Fi Rush pits you against a giant robot that wants to crush and eat you. In order to defeat this mechanical titan, you need to wail on it with a guitar that's cobbled together from scrap metal, timing each of your attacks to the up-tempo beat of Nine Inch Nails' "1,000,000." Developer Tango Gameworks is obviously known for its whimsy, but it was previously confined to a horror genre that Hi-Fi Rush most definitely does not belong to. Instead, Tango's latest is a surprisingly vibrant Saturday morning cartoon of a game, capturing the spirit and electric energy of a Dreamcast or GameCube title in the best way possible. It's tremendous in almost every respect, meshing its toe-tapping combat with genuine humor and a massive helping of both confidence and style.

At its core, Hi-Fi Rush is an interesting mix between a character-action game like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta and a rhythm game. Its melee action will feel immediately familiar to anyone who's well versed in the former, as you use your Flying V guitar to pummel enemies with combos consisting of both light and heavy attacks, juggle foes in the air, and dodge out of the way of incoming danger. The best character-action games are able to lure you into a trance-like state as you gradually become more proficient at dispatching large groups of enemies, yet Hi-Fi Rush takes it a step further by baking this rhythmic flow into its very design. You can still succeed by button-mashing your way to victory, but timing your attacks to the beat of the game's soundtrack lets you dish out increased damage and clear areas in a much more efficient manner. Enemies also attack and move on the beat, making each fight feel like an improvised dance where you're the main attraction.

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In order to help you find your rhythm, the whole world of Hi-Fi Rush pulsates with the beat of whatever music is currently playing, providing you with both visual and audio cues for nailing its timing. Elevators jerk up and down on the beat, computer lights blink with each snare hit, and the barriers that lock you inside combat arenas are made from equalizers that undulate along with the music. The sound of mechanical gears, steam pipes, and the thud of your own footsteps even coalesce with the soundtrack to create a harmonious noise. There are other optional visual cues you can add for extra assistance--like a metronome--but the basic timing concept remains the same throughout, even outside of its slick and satisfying combat.

Hi-Fi Rush is also refreshingly forgiving when it comes to its rhythmic traits. Your timing doesn't have to be consistently perfect throughout every battle. Each attack lands on the beat regardless, so it never feels like the game is punishing your combat performance if you mistime a string of attacks. I spent much of the game with around 60% accuracy, yet combat was still an utterly enthralling blast. This also solves one of the biggest issues with rhythm games. Typically, these sorts of games are discordant if you're off-beat. Either your performance negatively impacts the music, or you're chastised with a vexing out-of-tune clang to signal that you're playing poorly. In Hi-Fi Rush, there isn't any negative reinforcement to potentially discourage you from improving, aside from a slight hit to your score. The challenge comes from it being an action game rather than from it being a rhythm game. Your timing has to be exact to parry incoming strikes, for instance, but this is no different from any other melee brawler. You're actively rewarded for being on beat with the excited cheers of a crowd, increased damage, and a higher likelihood of achieving that coveted S-rank. Hi-Fi Rush is at its best when you embrace and play along to the pulsing soundtrack, but doing so isn't essential to your enjoyment.

This is partly because Hi-Fi Rush's combat is also impressively varied. You have a plethora of combos at your disposal--both in the air and on the ground--with more unlocking as you collect the gear pieces you need to purchase them. You can also call for assistance from a few of the pals you meet on your adventure--each one named after a different flavor of tea, for some reason. Peppermint, one of your gun-toting companions, uses a blaster to fire shots that can disable enemy shields. The game's musicality is omnipresent, too, so she fires in triplets that match the beat. Macaron, on the other hand, is essential for destroying enemy armor, yet can also be utilized to knock back smaller enemies, giving you time to focus on tougher foes. Speaking of which, larger enemies don't react to your attacks until you're able to break their stun gauge, leaving them vulnerable to being stun-locked and juggled. You can do this by dealing enough damage to crack it, or by parrying their strikes with expert timing. There's a fair amount going on, especially when you factor in the different enemy types and specific counters required to beat them, yet everything fits into this rhythmic flow and never feels overwhelming.

Hi-Fi Rush's boss battles, in particular, are a highlight. They're wildly inventive for the most part, with each one throwing a unique challenge your way. This is usually where the licensed soundtrack comes into play as well, elevating these back-and-forth clashes with tracks from the likes of The Black Keys, The Prodigy, and Number Girl. The rest of the game consists of original music that matches the game's uptempo, pop-rock theme. There are plenty of catchy toe-tappers, although I do wish there were slightly more licensed songs, just because bopping along and defeating enemies to familiar beats has such a palpable impact. Even so, it's hard not to fall in love with Hi-Fi Rush's slick aesthetic. The cel-shaded visuals are beautiful, with excellent animation and vibrant colors that pop off the screen, making it look like a comic book come to life. It oozes style, and there's a technical proficiency to it as well. Not only does it perform as smoothly as butter, but the seamless transitions from gameplay to 2D animation, to blended 3D animation, right back to gameplay, are phenomenal--and it does all of this without ever missing a beat of the soundtrack.

There's a goofy spirit and earnestness that emanates from every part of Hi-Fi Rush, and this playfulness prevents the dialogue from ever feeling too cringey. The style of writing could've been nauseating in the wrong hands, but Tango manages to make you fall in love with its ragtag cast of characters, including its rogue's gallery of bosses. Protagonist Chai might be an overconfident idiot, but he's surprisingly endearing, and the game is genuinely funny without having to resort to any irritating snark. The story is fairly straightforward as you try to put a stop to an evil megacorporation, but there are some fun twists and turns along the way, too.

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The only time Hi-Fi Rush falters is in the moments between its kinetic combat. The game's platforming is generally fine, with plenty of areas off the beaten path for you to explore and find collectibles and currency. Chai's jumping is a tad floaty and imprecise, but checkpoints are incredibly lenient, so this is never really an issue. The problem is that these sections can drag on for far too long at times. When the combat is as good as it is, you just want to get back to it, but there are long stretches with nothing but traversal. To compound this issue, the game's environments are aesthetically samey at various points, too, with an overabundance of similar-looking labs and factories. This isn't a fatal flaw, but some of the other locations look incredible, so it's a shame the same creativity isn't utilized across all of its stages.

Despite these missteps, Hi-Fi Rush is a tremendous game that's equal parts explosive, joyous, and dripping with style. It feeds on the power of nostalgia by evoking games like Jet Set Radio and Viewtiful Joe with its old-school vibes and contagious energy, but it's also completely fresh and exciting in its own right. For as much as I adore horror games and have enjoyed Tango's previous output with The Evil Within series and Ghostwire: Tokyo, it's refreshing that the studio hasn't been pigeonholed into creating games within a singular genre, and can suddenly emerge one day with an infectious rhythm-action game that is sure to live long in the memory.

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The Good

  • Excellent rhythm-based combat that rewards timing and is still satisfying even if you're off-beat
  • Boss fights are creative and challenge you in numerous ways
  • Combat is incredibly varied, from the number of options at your disposal to the heaps of enemy types you'll face
  • A visually stunning game that's full of style

The Bad

  • Platforming sections occasionally outstay their welcome with some repetitive environments

About the Author

Richard played Hi-Fi Rush for 14 hours, finishing the main story before returning to previous levels to complete additional challenges and quite simply play more of it.