Monday, February 20, 2023.
by Josh Morgan

Hi-Fi RUSH Box art Hi-Fi RUSH is a rhythm-based combat game that is a mix of Jet Set Radio Future, Sunset Overdrive and Devil May Cry. It was in development for nearly 5 years and according to interviews with developers at Tango Gameworks and was almost shown right about the time Covid started. But they decided to hold off, and eventually it was shadow dropped at the January 2023 Bethesda Developer Showcase. Looking at the Steam and Xbox sales it was the right choice, after a barren wasteland first party outing in 2022, Xbox is starting 2023 off with a surprise banger right out of the gate.

The first thing you’ll notice playing or watching videos of Hi-Fi RUSH is the cell shaded graphics with a colorful palette that stands out against an Xbox catalog of browns, grays and blacks. I haven’t played a game this colorful since Sunset Overdrive and it’s easy for me to say that Hi-Fi RUSH is the most beautiful game that I have ever played. There are times that you can pause the game, both in game and cutscenes, and it will look exactly like a panel in a comic book. It runs at a crystal clear 4K resolution with HDR, and at a silky smooth 60 frames (1440p 60fps on Series S) per second that during my 13 hours with the game I never saw a hiccup or dropped frame. It’s a flawless experience from beginning to end, even during the most hectic boss battles.

Comic book style "BOOM!", "BAM!" and "OUCH!" appear on screen at times when you inflict damage, but also rhythm and combo cues such as "PERFECT", "REST" and "REPEAT" appear on your screen to help you know how your timing and combo is going. They not only add to the comic book style the game is going for, but really help you keep your attacks on beat, or if you are off beat, it is a nice suggestion to alter your timing so you are. At times all the text, enemies, explosions and utter chaos fills up the screen, so things can sometimes be hard to see incoming attacks, especially ranged robots that shoot high powered beams that disrupt your combos. Hi-Fi RUSH has excellent voicework even down to the smallest robot sweeper that does not have anything to do with the story. Every character in the game is lovingly voice acted and it really helps bring this story to life. The main cast is amazing and sets a new bar for quality voice acting. I can easily see this game becoming a TV show in the future as more and more properties are going in that direction.

Positional audio works well as expected, helping you know where enemies are when they aren’t on screen in front of you. You can easily pick out enemies during their attacks so you can dodge or parry as you need, which is very helpful as I said above, things can get pretty hectic on screen, so any audio cues really help in these situations. I played Hi-Fi RUSH exclusively with headphones and I suggest you do too. Its foot tapping soundtrack and detailed positional audio is something that needs to be experienced in a controlled environment such as headphones. That’s not to say it can’t be enjoyed with TV speakers or a home theater setup, but it’s definitely better when cranked to 11 straight in your ear holes.

Hi-Fi RUSH’s 1990's and 2000's soundtrack is headlined by Nine Inch Nails, Prodigy, The Black Keys and a band I haven’t heard in nearly 20 years, Zwan. These songs are usually reserved for the larger boss fights and always fit in well with the mood of the game, but during normal fights and smaller cutscenes Hi-Fi RUSH has an original soundtrack that also slaps. It’s these songs that are also used for the streamer mode that allows you to exclusively listen to these songs during streams, so you aren’t nailed by the copyright police. Whatever mode you listen to while playing, you are for sure going to be tapping your foot to the beat and it really helps to know and like the songs you are listening to in a rhythm game.

You play as Chai; he has an undisclosed disability with his arm and signs up for a program with Vandelay Technologies where he gets a new one. Something goes wrong with the procedure and he’s labeled a defect, and then there is an order issued to eliminate him. During the failed procedure Chai is outfitted with a magnetic robot arm and a Zune (RIP Zune, gone too soon) in his chest. His chest Zune syncs with the natural rhythms of the city and soon everything around Chai taps, hums, blinks and hops to the beats of the music playing. It’s a magical sight that I stopped multiple times during my playthrough to just watch the scenery dance to the music. As Chai escapes the facility that deformed him, he is helped by a cat named 808 which is being controlled by a mysterious person on the inside trying to expose Vandelay Tech as the evil company they really are. During your 10+ hour journey you will meet new friends, unlock new abilities, and discover secrets about you, your team, and your main foe Kale, the man in charge at Vandelay.

As I said before Hi-Fi RUSH is a rhythm-based combat game, and when your hits are timed with the beat, they do more damage. You string together combos of 'X' (regular attack) 'Y' (heavy attack) and 'B' (parry) to the beat, and you can pull off some gnarly combos with a one button quick time event at the end to cap off a finisher for super damage. You can start a combo off beat, but after that you get a bonus score for keeping the combo on beat with the music. This works because that means you don’t have to wait for a beat to hit something, giving them a chance to attack you first. Be aggressive and start a fight, then listen to the beat to continue your combo. You will still do damage if you are off beat, but you’ll get bonus damage and score to keep on beat. Make sense? I’m terrible at explaining these sorts of things but luckily there is a very lengthy tutorial in the game which goes over every aspect of the combat multiple times. The first level is the tutorial and it’s nearly an hour long. You’ll be a pro before it’s over.

As you progress the story you are given more abilities such as a grappling hook (Left Bumper) from your mechanical arm, and a dash (Right Bumper) that works both in air and on the ground. I use the Elite controller and I mapped both of these actions to the paddles, and it works great not having to use the bumpers to perform these heavily used actions. In between missions you are in your base, a hub world where you can interact with your team, change your outfit, and purchase and apply upgrades. There are gears scattered around the world that you collect which can be spent on new attacks and combos. There are hidden parts and computer chips in some harder to reach areas of the game that you can turn into your team and upgrade your health bar and special bar.

Along with your moves, you have a whole arsenal of teammate abilities that you can use during platforming and combat sections. Each of the teammates you unlock during the story brings a handful of abilities to use, and once you start to unlock these the combat really starts to pick up. It may sound overwhelming at first, and it can be right away, but Hi-Fi RUSH introduces these abilities at the right time and slowly trickles them out during the story. I never felt like I was being thrown too much information at once. I am a button masher at the core and have never been very good at fighting games where I have to remember combos. I have vivid memories of being in an arcade when I was younger at a Mortal Kombat cabinet and having a bunch of kids around me watch as I failed to perform Scorpions super simple Fatality. Hi-Fi RUSH does not punish you for missing beats or repeating combos on the normal difficulty, and for me that was the sweet spot in my playthrough.

There are 3 more difficult options you can choose to play and with those difficulties come much tighter rules for landing combos, dealing damage, and even passing some boss fights. Luckily for us wussies there are lots of accessibility options that will let you customize your game to your skill level. You can even have the game auto combo and automatically use teammate attacks if you are having trouble with the difficulty, and you just want to experience the amazing visuals and entertaining story. Nothing wrong with that!

Hi-Fi RUSH is currently in GamePass, retails for $30, and also has a $40 deluxe version that comes with some outfits for Chai and 808. I think the $30 version is the way to go, as I don’t think the additional outfits are worth the extra $10. However, Hi-Fi RUSH is a game I would have easily spent $60 on if that was the price tag, but that’s the beauty of GamePass if you have it. Try it out for yourself and if it’s a game you adore (like me) then support the dev by upgrading to the deluxe version. Since it’s a first party game by an Xbox Studio then it will be in GamePass as long as GamePass exists. It’s playable on Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, and the cloud via GamePass as well.

I had a smile on my face from beginning to end while playing Hi-Fi Rush. Its colorful graphics, loveable characters and positive story made it an absolute joy to play. Don’t let the rhythm-based combat scare you, just give it a try and you’ll be tapping your feet and buttons to the beat in no time.

**Hi-Fi RUSH was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.6 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 10.0 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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