BY NICK McCOY
Currently, the gaming market is filled with massive, high-budget triple-A titles desperate to push the latest systems to their highest limits. Games where developers take an unthinkable amount of time to render every single detail possible in their games world, where every single fiber of hair and dust is visible on a character’s face. Gameplay takes a backseat to presentation and story, resulting in graphically impressive and captivating experiences…but not much else.
Now, I have no issue with massive triple-A titles with impressive graphics and insane amounts of detail; “Red Dead Redemption 2” is my favorite video game of all time, after all. However, this focus on photorealism and making everything as graphically detailed and impressive as possible has left me wishing for something else, and many gamers nowadays feel the exact same way. Most wanted something different, something unique, something that still provided a fun gameplay experience combined with a captivating story, characters, and an eye-catching artstyle; “Hi-Fi Rush” proved to be the game most people were hoping for.
Honestly, everything about “Hi-Fi Rush’s” launch seemed to be a recipe for failure. The game was released the exact same day it was announced; no fanfare, no massive ad campaign, nothing. Just released on consoles and PCs in January of 2023. And yet, despite this complete lack of marketing, the game proved to be incredibly successful. It seemed everyone who played it couldn’t get enough of it – its artstyle, gameplay, and characters captivated audiences and critics, soon proving it to be the sleeper hit of 2023.
Late to the party, as always, I finally got my hands on “Hi-Fi Rush” via Steam this summer, having gotten a decent enough PC setup. With over 21 hours in total playtime as of now, I can safely say that not only is “Hi-Fi Rush” one of my new favorite games, it’s a contender for my personal favorite game of 2023. Its rhythm action gameplay is fun and incredibly satisfying to pull off, its artstyle is eye-catching and full of personality, and it contains some of the best writing, humor, and characters of any game released recently.
“Hi-Fi Rush” was released on January 25th, 2023, exclusively for PCs and Xbox Series X/S. It was produced by Tango Gameworks, the company created by famed Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, and published by Bethesda Softworks. The game follows Chai, a wannabe rockstar who enters a robotics program known as “Project Armstrong,” overseen by corporation Vandelay Technologies, in order to fix his disabled right arm. After an accident during the surgery, Chai’s MP3 player is embedded in his chest, and due to the foreign object, he is labeled a “defect” and hunted by Vandelay.
Using his newly acquired robot arm and his ability to feel the beat of the music around him, thanks to the music player, he joins various allies as they attempt to take down Vandelay and stop a conspiracy involving corporate mind control. A rhythm-based action game, “Hi-Fi Rush” combines traditional hack-and-slash gameplay while having the players sync their attacks to the game’s music. This soundtrack includes licensed songs from bands such as The Black Keys and Nine Inch Nails, along with various original tracks.
Before you even start the game’s story, its art style and presentation are simply amazing. With photorealism being the sole focus when it comes to the most modern video games, seeing one with an actual distinct artstyle is so refreshing. I have always been a massive fan of the cel-shaded, comic book art style, which “Hi-Fi Rush” runs with perfectly. The entire game is reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon, in both the in-game cutscenes and occasional animated bits. Everything from the backgrounds, the character designs and the visual effects are so vibrant and full of charm, with the cartoon aesthetic only magnified by the game’s writing and characters.
Seriously, the writing in “Hi-Fi Rush” is top-notch. If the presentation and gameplay somehow don’t pull you in, the dialogue and humor certainly will. With the snarky hero trope getting really old really fast, Chai manages to bring something new while also managing to encompass everything that can actually work with a “snarky” main character. He’s cocky, selfish, funny, and at several points, a complete doofus; but he can also be serious, caring, and can work incredibly well in a team. Speaking of teams, the supporting cast around him is amazing, ranging from the tech-savvy and determined Peppermint, the timid but heavy-hitting Macaron, the brutally honest yet charming CNMN (pronounced “Cinnamon”), the fiery yet surprisingly tender Korsica, and even 808, Peppermint’s robotic cat. All of the characters, combined with Chai, make way for some of the most charming, most engrossing and funniest moments ever put to video games. This game got a good laugh out of me several times, thanks in large part to the incredible dialogue and excellent comedic timing. Once you play this game, it shouldn’t be a mystery as to why the internet has fallen in love with these characters.
Then, there are the villains, the various bosses of the Vandelay Corporation. Now, Vandelary, its practices and everything surrounding it is an absolutely scathing satire of corporate America, consumer culture, and companies such as Amazon. Everything from questionable business tactics, unsafe work conditions and crunch time is relentlessly made fun of and called out in this game. With this type of attitude and the quality of the writing with the main characters, you can expect the villains to be the same way. These are not the type of villains who are sympathetic or have some sort of ulterior motive; they are the kind who are so cartoonishly unlikable you can’t help but love them.
Each one is a different level of egotistical with a specific trait based on the particular department they oversee; Rekke, the head of production is an aggressive, muscular drill sergeant-type character; Roquefort, who runs finances, only cares about potential profits and cutting costs; Zanzo the head of R&D is a psychopathic perfectionist, and Mimosa the marketing head is completely full of herself. Kale, the head of Vandelay and the main antagonist, crosses the fine line between a villain you can’t get enough of and one you can’t wait to see defeated. At one point, Kale can be a menace and make you want to absolutely despise him, and then his bratty and pompous attitude reels you back in. It’s truly amazing how Tango was able to make such cartoonishly evil villains, and yet you can’t help but enjoy it whenever they’re on screen.
The gameplay of “Hi-Fi Rush” can best be described as the love child of “Devil May Cry,” “Bayonetta,” and “Guitar Hero.” At first glance, the gameplay resembles your typical hack and slash; Chai takes on waves of enemies using both light and heavy attacks, stringing together combos and getting high scores. However, “Hi-Fi Rush” also has players syncing their attacks to the beat of the music. Due to Chai’s ability, the entire world is synchronized to the beat of the current stage’s song, ranging from background details to the movement of enemies. While the game does not require you to attack to the beat, as each hit will go to the music no matter what, actively going along to the beat greatly increases combo scores and damage.
After defeating each wave of enemies, referred to as choruses, you are awarded a letter grade from D to S based on your combo score, your rhythm, and your clear time. As you progress through the story, you also gain use of different abilities to use in combat, such as using Chai’s robotic arm to grapple towards enemies, and the ability to parry enemy attacks. You can also unlock various combo attacks through the use of gears you collect throughout each level. While the gameplay and combat aren’t super deep in comparison to games like “Bayonetta,” it’s still insanely fun and satisfying to get through enemy encounters, especially when attacking to the beat.
There are a few other factors that help elevate “Hi-Fi Rush’s” combat. There is your “reverb gauge,” which, when filled, allows you to unleash a special attack; Hard-hitting moves that either do massive damage to enemies or have various utilities, such as stunning enemies or leaving them completely open to attack. Chai can also call in his allies, Peppermint, Macaron, and Korsica, into battle with a press of a button. Each provides their own useful mechanics: Peppermint does decent damage and can juggle enemies, Macaron hits much harder but requires much more time to use again, while Korsica doesn’t do direct damage but can stun enemies, making them much easier to take down.
Much like for Chai, various new attacks and moves can be purchased using gears, which can greatly increase combo scores and just spice things up a bit. As the game progresses, new enemy types are introduced, some of which you need your allies to deal with. For example, Peppermint can destroy enemy bubble shields, Macaron can destroy the barriers surrounding usually impenetrable enemies, while Korsica easily deals with fire-based enemies. The combat was already fun and flashy enough, and the use of your friends in battle just takes it up a notch.
Aside from combat, various aspects of Chai can be upgraded using gears. By exploring the different levels, you can find life gauges and electric cores. Life gauges increase Chai’s maximum life, while the cores increase the number of gauges in his reverb core, allowing for more special attacks and the use of other combo attacks. A stand out for this sort of thing are the chips, guitar pick-shaped power-ups that grant Chai a variety of different buffs. These range from decreasing recharge time for your allies, increasing combo windows and decreasing the amount of time it takes to gain reverb. Each chip can be leveled up to increase its passive trait for the cost of extra gears. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of room to mix and match; there is a maximum of five chip slots, and each level of a chip requires multiple slots, so you are restricted in what you can choose. At the same time, this just leaves more room to decide what best suits your playstyle, and what you feel will benefit you in combat the most.
Even after you complete the main story, there is still plenty to do. “Hi-Fi Rush” hosts plenty of post-game content. For one thing, you can now go back into each of the different levels, go for higher scores, complete challenges or go for any collectibles you may have missed. Then, there are the spectra doors: mysterious doors that are only accessible after completing the main story. These doors lead to rooms that offer various different challenges; These include defeating all enemies without touching the ground, defeating enemies using only parry counters and defeating all enemies without taking damage.
By completing these doors, you will gain access to a brand-new room and a secret ending. Then, finally, there’s the Rhythm Tower, an endless gauntlet that takes you through a variety of rooms and floors, all on a time limit. Time is increased by defeating enemies, successfully parrying, and so on. Both the spectra doors and the Rhythm tower gives you plenty to do even after the credits roll, and allows you to experience the excellent gameplay of “Hi-Fi Rush” even more.
Considering “Hi-Fi Rush” is a rhythm game, it wouldn’t feel right not to talk about the game’s soundtrack. Well, this game’s soundtrack, while definitely not the most expansive in terms of artists, still gives way to some absolute bangers, both original and licensed. Now, those who are using streamer mode, which takes copyrighted music out, won’t hear the licensed tracks, but instead hear some excellent original songs that sound vaguely similar, but still are great on their own merits. Those who aren’t in streamer mode, however, and are just playing the game casually will be able to fully experience the excellent use of songs from the Black Keys and Nine Inch Nails. While there are only a few licensed tracks, one from Black Keys and two from Nine Inch Nails, the way they are implemented is absolutely perfect.
“Lonely Boy” is the first song you hear when you start the game and makes for an excellent opening theme. What really got me pumped, however, was the use of “1,000,000” by Nine Inch Nails as the theme for the first boss. Those opening drums, guitar riff and groove got me absolutely hyped during this battle. And finally, Nine Inch Nails’ “The Perfect Drug” serves as an amazing theme for the final boss battle. Then, there is one final licensed song played during the credits for the main story: “Honestly” by Zwan. Equal parts heartwarming and nostalgic for many people, it is the perfect song for an equally perfect ending.
Aside from these, the majority of the music in the game is original, but they all serve the game well and are really fun to listen to. Songs like “I Got This”, “Heatwave”, and “Production Destruction” are just a few standouts. The songs that play in place of the licensed songs for streamer mode, “Too Big To Fail” and “The Beacon” are solid tracks in their own right, even if they’re meant to emulate the originals. From fighting enemies to the groove of these songs or just listening to them on their own, there are some absolutely killer tracks in this game. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a rhythm-based game, though.
Even with its sudden release, “Hi-Fi Rush” has proved to be a massive success, and for good reason. Its characters, story and humor are some of the best you’ll ever see. The graphics and presentation are simply stunning. It features an excellent soundtrack with both original and well-known songs, and probably has some of the most fun, engaging and satisfying combat of any game released nowadays. If the game was actually given a proper ad campaign and room to breathe, it could’ve gotten so much more recognition, but with more content coming down the line with a July 5th update, it should hopefully get more people into the game. Seriously, if you have a PC or an Xbox Series console, you need to play “Hi-Fi Rush”. You won’t regret it for a second, and it’s well worth $30.