Review – Hi-Fi Rush
Friday, January 27th, 2023. A mere three days ago, I was complaining about the sheer lack of proper exclusives available on the Xbox Series S/X, as well as my questioning regarding what the hell were the ten trillion studios purchased by Microsoft doing over the past two years. I would have never guessed that, just a few hours later, Shinji Mikami and his Tango Gameworks team would simply stealth drop one of the best Xbox exclusives I have ever played. Hi-Fi Rush is more than just your typical “eh, it’s on Game Pass, so might give it a shot” kind of game. This is the the wacky, Capcom-esque outing we’ve been waiting from the man ever since his departure from Platinum games years ago. Not to mention the first massive big hit of 2023.
In Hi-Fi Rush, you play as a boy named Chai. He’s your typical kind-hearted idiot, a teenager who dreams of becoming a rockstar, but there’s a problem… one of his arms simply doesn’t work. He undergoes an experiment in order to get a mechanical arm from the Vandely Corporation, but something else happens in the process. His MP3 player somehow falls on the surgery table, and is grafted on his chest. As a result, Chai is called a defect to be disposed of by Vandelay (as in, killed), but the iPod inside his body and his mechanical arm give him powers to defend himself against foes. He can conjure a guitar-shaped axe and deal massive damage to everyone around him, if he keeps attacking them to the beat of whichever song is being played at the time.
As a result, Hi-Fi Rush is a phenomenal amalgamation of genres and sources of inspiration. On surface, it’s a Devil May Cry type hack ‘n’ slash, with Baby Driver like rhythm elements. But there’s more to it than that. The game feels like the perfect combination of most games Shinji Mikami had helped develop in the 2000s which weren’t survival horrors. No, really.
There’s a lot of Devil May Cry in Hi-Fi Rush, namely in its control scheme and gameplay. The rhythm-based gameplay may seem innovative, but it did remind me of Mikami’s forgettable (and forgotten) GameCube exclusive, P.N.03, which was also a rhythm-action hybrid. Its sense of humor reminded me of God Hand. Its cartoonish visuals felt like a perfect combination of both Viewtiful Joe and Auto Modellista. Hi-Fi Rush perfectly encapsulates the aesthetics, carefree sense of innovation, visuals, and gameplay from the PS2/GameCube era of gaming, arguably the pinnacle of game development and creativity as a whole, and as a result, it’s brilliant. I loved it.
I don’t like Hi-Fi Rush just because of the nostalgia. Sure, that helps a lot, but the game is more than just the sum of its sources of inspiration. It’s a really freaking good hack ‘n’ slash game that just so happens to use rhythm elements to enhance its gameplay, not hinder it. It’s the kind of fast-paced, unforgiving, ultra-fun assault to the senses Platinum used to make ten years ago at an alarming pace… but possibly better.
So, about the rhythm-based gameplay. If you’re thinking that Hi-Fi Rush plays just like Metal: Hellsinger, being a rhythm game disguised as something else, don’t worry, it’s way more accessible than that. At its core, it’s your standard Devil May Cry/Bayonetta-esque fare: light attack, heavy attack, dodge, parry, and the occasional QTE to unleash a finisher move. It just so happens that music will constantly play at the background, and if you press these buttons according to the beat, they become stronger, and you earn more points and deal extra damage. Basically, it’s not mandatory to play Hi-Fi Rush like a rhythm game, it’s just (very heavily) encouraged.
You can also call in support from a handful of teammates, who are mostly useful to deal with specific kinds of enemies, such as ones with specific kinds of shields. They can also be called up mid-level in order to clear some small puzzles. The responsiveness in these sections wasn’t the best, though. The only other issue I had with the gameplay as a whole was the reliance on mandatory parrying sections in order to defeat a few enemies. They went completely against the game’s overall “balls to the wall” vibe. I don’t want to stop and pay attention to an enemy’s attack pattern in order to kill the damn thing… I want to be the one actively delivering pain, for crying out loud!
It does help if you have a relative knowledge of music, or if you can analyze a beat, but the game does try to help newcomers with an optional metronome bar, which can be toggled on and off, which helps you learn how to play the game according to the beat being blasted through your speakers. It helps that the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. The game’s original soundtrack is a pure banger, with pop rock/punk tunes crafted with the whole gameplay loop’s gimmick in mind, but there are some licensed hits from bands like The Black Keys, Nine Inch Nails, and The Prodigy as well. I can’t hate a game that features “Lonely Boy” as part of its soundtrack. Add in some excellent voice acting, and I have literally no complaints about the sound department as well.
Let’s talk about the visuals as well. As you can already imagine, I love the graphics. Cel-shading is a technique many developers use, but very few manage to deliver a title that actually ends up feeling like a playable cartoon. More often than not, the end result feels more like a developer’s attempt to use this particular textural technique to hide imperfections or to deal with a console’s limited capabilities, such as when Team Ninja opted for cel-shading in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. That’s not the case in Hi-Fi Rush.
This is a playable cartoon that looks impressive as hell, and runs like a dream. Cutscenes are animated at a lower framerate in order to resemble like an actual animated show, but the game itself runs at a rock-solid 60 frames per second at all times, no matter the amount of crap happening onscreen. Particle effects will infest the screen, explosions will cover half of your field of vision, and everything will still run as smooth as butter.
My only complaint with the visuals lies in the level design. For the most part, Hi-Fi Rush is creative as hell with its levels, but a chunk of your playthrough is spent inside narrow, corporate-like corridors. I don’t know if those were used in order to load the rest of the level, or if Tango Gameworks was just extremely fond of simple hallways, but they felt excessive and repetitive. Especially because enemies are rarely, if ever, placed inside these corridors, so they feel even more pointless as there is very little to do or find in these smaller sections of the map.
All in all, my complaints are very minute. I simply loved Hi-Fi Rush. I just wasn’t expecting for such a banger to drop without any buildup, coming from such a talented team, right at the beginning of the year. It’s a magnificent mixture of tons of games from the mid-2000s, resulting in a unique combination of gameplay styles, sense of humor and visuals that easily stands out from the rest of Microsoft’s current exclusives. It’s one of the most entertaining action games I’ve played in recent memory, and a perfect way to kickstart 2023 GOTY contender run.
A fantastic cel-shaded art style that runs like a dream. Cutscenes are animated with less frames, making the game feel even more like a cartoon. The visuals are just slightly hampered by the occasionally repetitive level design full of bland corridors and simplistic rooms.
A fantastic hybrid between a classic Capcom-esque hack ‘n’ slash action game and a music-based rhythm outing. Killing foes and doing combos to the beat of the level is much easier than anticipated. Just a handful of more passive and defensive moves brings the experience down a notch.
Not only is Hi-Fi Rush‘s original soundtrack excellent, but it also features tunes by The Black Keys, Nine Inch Nails, and The Prodigy, among others. Brilliant.
Fun Factor: 9.5
It’s the most Shinji Mikami game ever made, blending elements from most of his non-horror outings into an addictive and joyful action game I can’t stop playing.
Final Verdict: 9.5
Hi-Fi Rush is available now on Xbox Series S/X and PC
Reviewed on Xbox Series S.