The exuberant, fun-loving attitude of Hi-Fi Rush, along with its excellent rhythm combat, make it one of the must-play games in 2023.
At the Xbox and Bethesda Developer Direct showcase in January 2023, there was one surprise that the publishers managed to somehow keep under their hats. Hi-Fi Rush is a new game from Bethesda, developed by Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within, Ghostwire Tokyo), and it’s completely unlike the spooky and horrific games the Tango has become synonymous with.
It’s a bright, colourful, and expressive character action game in the vein of Devil May Cry, with a rhythm element. The world moves to a singular beat, and that beat informs everything from character movement, enemy attacks, and your own actions, to the point where syncing your button presses with the beat will enhance the effects of your own attacks and movement abilities.
Hi-Fi Rush was simultaneously announced and released on Xbox and PC. It was also made available on the Xbox Game Pass subscription service.
So far, it’s been a wonderful surprise.
In a 2022 interview with Japanese games publication Famitsu (as translated by VGC), Tango Gameworks CEO Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, Resident Evil 4, God Hand) mentioned that the company did not want to become synonymous with survival horror games, in spite of his legacy as one of the creators of Resident Evil – one of the earliest examples of the genre.
In the same interview, he teased the existence of what would become Hi-Fi Rush: ‘John Johanas, who directed the DLC for The Evil Within and The Evil Within 2, is working on a completely new title that is the complete opposite of horror… It’s a really good game, so keep your eyes peeled.’
‘The complete opposite’ is right.
A half-dozen hours with Hi-Fi Rush so far, and I can’t stop smiling. It makes a very strong impression in its opening hours – the art direction is bright and eye-popping, and the characters are full of life, endearing and self-aware. The Saturday morning cartoon-style animation, where characters move at a lower framerate to mimic a hand-animated cel style, looks fantastic. There is a lot of love, artistry, and attention to detail here.
But the rhythm-infused melee combat is, of course, the main star of the show – a dynamic and flashy system that is satisfying to play with, even in its most basic form. Like the many other character action games that have come before it, strings of continuous light or heavy attacks form combos, but making sure each button you press is on the beat of the soundtrack (every beat for light attacks, and every second beat for heavy attacks) will give the attack extra oomph, as well as come with visual and audio feedback that gives you a small endorphin hit every time.
As the game progresses, Hi-Fi Rush gradually introduces mechanics like combo finishers, dodges, different assist characters that bring their own weapons into the fray, special abilities, a grappling hook, and a parry and counter system. All of these things are tied to the same beat.
It can be satisfyingly complex if you want it to be. Just a few stages in, fighting a group of enemies in Hi-Fi Rush is a highly entertaining exercise in methodically keeping the beat by using your controller as a percussion instrument as you continuously string movement and attacks together – one, two, three, four, attack, attack, pause, attack, jump, slam, grapple, dodge, parry, parry, counter, finisher.
For someone who’s a big fan of both rhythm action and character action games, Hi-Fi Rush is an utter joy – a perfect synergy of satisfying, skill-based systems. But for those who aren’t as rhythmically inclined, the game also features a number of difficulty and accessibility options, such as clearer beat indicators or even automated combat functions that seemingly make it possible to enjoy the game as a colourful, button-mashing brawler.
Many people on social media have remarked that it feels like a video game from the late 1990s and early 2000s that’s somehow made its way to the modern age, something that would have felt right at home on the Sega Dreamcast or Nintendo GameCube – and they’re absolutely right. The vibrant art style and attitude are in-line with games of the time like Jet Set Radio. Some of the licensed music choices initially raised some eyebrows – like Zwan, the short-lived supergroup from Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan – but they’re also from that era, so that kinda makes sense too, I think?
Even the style of game it is – character action and rhythm action – went through a golden age during this time. In fact, Shinji Mikami served as the Executive Producer on some of the best character action titles of that era, like Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and God Hand – though that’s not to discount the obvious work of director John Johannes, and the rest of the team that brought the game to life.
Maybe it’s because it’s the right time for 2000s nostalgia. Maybe games have been long overdue for a title from a major publisher that feels so carefree and exuberant. Maybe it was just nice to get a really good surprise to kick off the year.
Whatever the reason, the existence of Hi-Fi Rush is a blessing. It’s a game that’s easy to love, difficult to put down, and just an utter delight to spend time with. What a great way to start 2023.
Hi-Fi Rush is available now on Xbox consoles and PC via Steam or the Microsoft Store. It’s also available on the Xbox Game Pass subscription service.