Hi-Fi Rush is for the folks who live inside of their music. The people who toe tap on the bus, ever so slightly bang on their seats to the rhythm of the song in their head, or quicken their pace to meet a song’s beat and fantasize about looking cool. I feel music like this everywhere I go and have been looking for something that resembles that feeling for some time. Now I have Hi-Fi Rush and it fucking rips.
Seemingly made in complete secrecy by Evil Within developers Tango Gameworks, Hi-Fi Rush is my dream game come true. I’ve always been a sicko for action and rhythm games, but have admittedly only excelled at the latter since music was a significant part of my upbringing. And though I’ve always heard the analogies about combos in action games being rhythmic, few games have ever taken the actual step towards visualizing that in the way Hi-Fi Rush does, or made it as simple to understand. That is just the first in a long string of things that the game gets right. Setting players up against a metronome that’s brought to life in the world around you makes the game feel magical, and by extension you are magic for harmonizing with it. I loved, for example, during one particular combo that needed me to hit the light attack four times with a rest breaking it up into two segments, that the rest was realized in the character model, clearly delineating when it was time to continue. Because of the constant visual and audio aids, slapping enemies with your magnetically assembled impression of an electric guitar to the beat has never made it simpler to execute short but satisfying combos, only made better by many of their flashy finishes, which also demand accuracy to land most efficiently. I swear the game will have you counting beats, and I often caught myself head banging ever so slightly to Hi-Fi Rush’s impeccable score while wailing away at enemy encounters.
Most satisfying among those are the boss fights, which tend to take things up a few notches, especially as they often use licensed songs such as Nine Inch Nails’ “1,000,000” or a phenomenal Flaming Lips cover that made me feel like a plucky underdog overcoming insurmountable odds. It’s corny but it works to such tremendous effect that it’s hard—nay, impossible—to argue against it. In these particularly scripted flights of fancy, it becomes especially important that you be able to pick up on the song’s construction and intuit when to dodge or parry and when to close in and strike. The music here accomplishes what it does in my real life every goddamn day: lead me by the hand to some revelation, or at least some clarity.
While you begin the game as a bright eyed wannabe rockstar, Hi-Fi Rush does such a great job of onboarding players into its rhythmic action that it actually gets away with a continually additive experience, regularly introducing some new mechanic or character that shapes Chai, our protagonist, into a proper hero. It’s almost miraculous that the game doesn’t feel burdened by tutorials or cumbersome controls by the end, but while it gets to feeling just a smidge stuffy, it actually pulls off a simplistic sense of depth shockingly well where other character action games just go off the deep end and typically lose me. It never forsakes depth for simplicity though. There are plenty of combo strings that layer atop one another to make combat a modest joy for experienced players, while being a flashy revelation to more novice players like myself. I can’t think of an experience I’ve had with a game that feels more tailored for every possible skill level to enjoy.
Hi-Fi Rush gives players all the tools they need to be great in an approachable and attractive package. The game is gorgeous to boot, blending 2D and 3D cartoon animation to make one hell of a Saturday morning cartoon come to life. The cast is literally vibrant, coming in all shapes, color, and sizes, and breathe even more life into what’s already a lively game. I love how Peppermint puts down all of Chai’s bad jokes, or how Macaron reluctantly beats the hell out of walls or robots. And who can’t love 808, your robotic cat companion that keeps you on beat? The game is couched in inspired levels that run the gamut from a riff on a Persona 5 heist—down to the freakin’ music—to an egomaniacal trip through an altered reality department, all the while poking fun at rampant capitalism. It is also littered in references spanning Twin Peaks, Katy Perry and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, to give you an idea of what the game’s got to offer. Hi-Fi Rush radiates incredibly good vibes across every fiber of its being to become pure, unadulterated light and joy from its characters and their writing to the setting and the gameplay it facilitates.
What I love most about Hi-Fi Rush is how much it refuses to settle. Level after level, Hi-Fi Rush introduces something new, whether it be a mechanic, scenario, character, or implementation of a song, that deepens my appreciation for it. It’s relentless in its pursuit of being a phenomenal game and unendingly proves itself time and time again. At the end of every mission, I couldn’t help but think of how games this expressive and big and bright seem a growing rarity, but if Hi-Fi Rush is any indication, they’ve got a bright and bold future ahead.
Hi-Fi Rush is developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda Softworks. Our review is based on the Xbox Series X|S version. It is also available on PC.
Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.