When Leonard Cohen sang “I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord,” he wasn’t talking about Hi-Fi Rush. However, that lyric encapsulates exactly what the Xbox Developer’s Direct show-stealer is: Tango Gameworks’ secret project that many gamers loved. Hi-Fi Rush nails the rhythm platformer genre. Vibrant color schemes, excellent level design, and intense rhythmic devotion that creates an incredible start for Microsoft’s 2023 releases.
Developer & Publisher // Tango Gameworks
Platforms // Xbox Series X|S, PC
MSRP & Release Date //$29.99, Jan. 25, 2023
Reviewed On // Xbox Series X
Vandelay Gets a Hostile Takeover
Hi-Fi Rush takes place across the Vandelay Corporate Campus. When Vandelay tested on volunteer subjects for Project Armstrong, one dream-filled participant, Chai (voiced by Robbie Daymond), turned out defective. His test accidentally implanted his music player into his chest. Since Chai effectively counts as a defect, Vandelay wants to destroy him as soon as possible. As Chai eludes Vandelay, he realizes Armstrong is a nefarious project that needs to be stopped. So, Chai leads a rebellion with a hacker named Peppermint (played by Erica Lindbeck), her robo-cat, 808, who becomes Chai’s sidekick, and more.
While the game itself is not narrative-heavy, that narrative is still decent. The writing and dialogue whip out puns, quips, occasional insight, non-grating self-aware humor, and real corporate experience ratcheted to eleven on the ridiculous scale. Self-aware humor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, especially when overdone, but Hi-Fi Rush knows where to limit it. Vandelay’s department heads, and Chai and Peppermint’s team, build a diverse and fun cast. Each character’s strengths, appearances, and gameplay mechanics stand uniquely apart from each other.
Chai can talk to his team in-between missions to get to know them. Meanwhile, all of the collectibles detail the horrible management decisions each head does, painting Vandelay as a cartoonishly evil company. The heroic pair and cat lead a strong cast of characters both good and evil.
Tango Gameworks Keeps the Rhythm Flowing
Above all else, Hi-Fi Rush nails the concept of rhythm. The gameplay is rhythm-centric, the overworld objects bop along to the beat, cutscenes sync their action with the beat, and Chai snaps along to the beat in his idle animation. Every single aspect of this game revolves around rhythm in a way many games don’t get.
Chai fights with a guitar, assembled thanks to his test. You can string together combo moves, parries, call in teammates, and zip around the battlefield. Traversal shows off the game’s platformer credit that rivals other genre stalwarts. Sometimes, the game will switch from its main 3D design to 2D out of combat. While it strongly reinforces the game’s platforming design, there’s no combat in 2D. That feels like a missed opportunity, albeit minor.
Both of these follow the rhythm; combat rewards you for playing on the beat, while traversal challenges pop-in and out with the beat.
What Tango most importantly understood about rhythm-action was rewarding keeping the rhythm instead of punishing mistimed moves. Players don’t need to keep to the beat to complete their goals, you can button mash to your heart’s desire. However, those goals get much closer the more players time their actions with the music.
Speaking of music, rhythm games need a solid soundtrack like what we have here. Songs from The Black Keys, The Joy Formidable, and Nine Inch Nails play at major moments throughout. Despite their varying tempos, every song fits similarly fast beats per minute (BPM). Keeping similar BPMs throughout the music is important for solidifying player’s muscle memory for combo moves.
Hi-Fi Rush Continually Prints Eye-Candy
Simply put, this game is gorgeous. Colors pop out of the screen, showing beautiful areas throughout the game. The only reason some levels look similar is that they take place in different sections of the same area you previously visited.
Every area leans on a different color palette, making them all unmistakable from each other. You start the game escaping through construction yards before going to an underground magma tunnel, a museum that leads to a concert, and more. While Vandelay’s logos and design do appear throughout the entire game, each level’s unique design is far more noticeable.
Hi-Fi Rush Only Stumbles with Tutorial Pacing
As fun as the game is, tutorials make for a sluggish opening. The first level jumps in and out of Chai’s internal concert to learn fundamental actions like attacking and combos. Players can’t even parry until a quarter way through the game because they haven’t learned it yet.
Parries shouldn’t unlock that late in the game. Most abilities you unlock through gameplay follow a narrative beat, namely recruiting a new team member. Essentially, you need to get something you don’t already have to unlock the ability (you can’t even attack until you get Chai’s stuff from the holding bin after his test). Any sword and/or shield fighting game has some blocking mechanic as a core mechanic, and Hi-Fi Rush doesn’t realize their parry system fits that.
Any player who continues playing after the first level will stick through to the end, but that first hour is not easy to stay interested in.
Conclusion: Lose Yourself in the Music
Even without Game Pass, Hi-Fi Rush is a must-play. Vibrant colors, lovable characters, and a phenomenal gameplay loop solidify itself as an early Game of the Year contender. Anyone who loved Devil May Cry will happily string combos just like Dante again. Adults who spent their childhoods playing Guitar Hero will adore the game’s matrimony to the rhythm. Platforming aficionados who played Ratchet & Clank or Psychonauts will get a kick out of the traversal.
Hi-Fi Rush, a colorful game developed by the same team behind a great horror experience in The Evil Within, is a hit. Go play it.