Hi-Fi Rush is a rhythm hack-and-slash action platformer from Tango Gameworks, the same team behind The Evil Within and Ghostwire: Tokyo. You play as Chai, an overzealous wannabe rockstar who volunteers for Vandelay Technologies’ Armstrong Project for cybernetic enhancement in the hopes that a robot arm will help him reach his dream.
When his own music player accidentally gets fused to his chest during the procedure, Chai becomes capable of hearing and feeling the rhythm of the world around him and is labeled a defect marked for destruction. Luckily, Chai’s new ability and robot arm, originally meant to collect trash, gives him a way to fight back.
The game’s goofy premise is easy to get on board with thanks to its hyper-kinetic pacing. Jokes and quips come at you frequently but never feel overbearing. Chai teams up with characters who easily fit recognizable archetypes like Peppermint, the rebellious hacker, or Macaron, the soft-spoken hulk, but they are always fun to chat with and give tons of color and personality to the plot. The show-stealing boss characters however are incredibly charismatic and have clear pop culture inspirations, like the beefy pro wrestler-esque head of production Rekka, or the Jojo pose striking head of R&D Zanzo. There’s a lot going on, but nothing gets lost thanks to an immaculate gameplay loop that centers on rhythm.
Chai experiences nearly everything in the world as part of a constant rhythmic backing track. The surroundings of each level will pulse in step with the music and react to Chai’s actions when he moves in kind. Platforming makes up a large section of the game, and many sequences will match up moving platforms or incoming obstacles with the music. But the platforming doesn’t feel as intricately tied to the rhythm as combat does.
Not only do your attacks all land in sync with the beat, but so do the enemies’, which helps Chai react even in the most hectic battles as dodging and parrying in time will always keep you safe. There is no penalty for the player if you’re off beat, but if you match your offense or defense to the music, you’re rewarded with higher scores, more upgrade currency, and stronger, farther-reaching attacks. And you’ll need every advantage when up against tougher encounters.
The game introduces new enemies over time that require you to use your team’s gradually expanding abilities thoughtfully. For example, Chai can bully most enemies with his basic combos, but he’ll need to call in Peppermint for things like shields or flyers, as she can break shields or stun enemies in place with her dual energy pistols. She and their other teammates jump into the fray like assist characters in a fighting game and operate on cooldowns. Stronger enemies have a rechargeable armor gauge that needs to be broken before you can deal any actual damage. Juggling assist abilities to open up enemies to your high-damage combos adds a small puzzle element in the midst of fights that truly rewards your mastery of the deeper systems on offer and as an added bonus looks spectacular in action.
Hi-Fi Rush is an absolute treat for the eyes; its brightly colored comic book aesthetic looks almost indistinguishable from 2D art and seamlessly shifts back and forth between actual 2D animated cutscenes featuring over-the-top action and exceptional voice performances. The music on offer is great but weirdly isn’t the highlight you would think in a game centered so squarely around it, despite borrowing tracks from famous bands like Nine Inch Nails. But consider that a very small nitpick in an overall incredible package.
There are even a number of additional secrets and game modes that unlock once you reach the game’s conclusion, and it encourages you to jump right back in, which is honestly a hard invite to pass up. I finished Hi-Fi Rush in about 10 hours on the Hard difficulty, as the game suggested that was the “true” experience, and I loved every second of it. If any part of this mash-up threatens to turn you away, I’d highly suggest you give it a shot regardless because it’s for sure much greater than the sum of its parts. The game is out now for $29.99 on PC and Xbox Series X | S and included with Xbox Game Pass.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Hi-Fi Rush.