By Ronald Gordon
Rhythm games come in all shapes and sizes, but surprisingly few games manage to incorporate rhythm as well as Hi-Fi Rush does. Its environment is entirely infused with the music you hear and vibe to. So you’ll have little trouble both fighting and moving to the beat, as you whack enemies with your guitar made of scrap.
Hi-Fi Rush is a rhythm-based platformer/action game developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda Softworks. In a world full of cybernetic enhancements and technology, you play as a man named Chai who undergoes a procedure that grants him a robotic arm. Unfortunately, that same procedure also fuses his MP3 player to his chest, throwing Chai into a riot of music and rhythm where he’s now being hunted down and marked as “Defective.”
I haven’t played a game with as much character as Hi-Fi Rush since Gravity Rush (odd coincidence since they both include “Rush” in their name), and its charm enlivens even the game’s central mechanics. As a rhythm game, Hi-Fi Rush steps outside the norm set by games like Crypt of The Necrodancer and Muse Dash by allowing for fluidity and the opportunity to change up your play style depending on how you perceive the beat, rather than conforming directly to it. Music permeates every aspect of the game, from the way some platforms move, to how small parts of the environment jump and rock, and you can sync your attacks and movements to the beat for added points. The only way to lose out on points and damage is to fail to hit the beat, which makes the moments when you do manage to get in touch with the rhythm all the more impactful. And the interaction between characters feels hilarious, especially when it comes to bosses and enemies. Little things like second boss Rekka meticulously taking off her gloves one finger at a time just to throw them at Chai, or how one of the enemy types sounds a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger, give the game a comedic flair that makes it all the more entertaining.
I did struggle to get into the groove of Hi-Fi Rush’s combat; rhythm games and I don’t always mix well, as I’m less likely to enjoy them if I’m forced to play in a way that doesn’t come naturally to me. But as a devotee of games such as Devil May Cry and Ultrakill, I found myself enthused by the challenge of syncing up with the music to hopefully get an S Rank in at least one encounter. Following motion that’s forcibly matched to a song can feel rigid and unpleasant, especially when you’re not accustomed to following along with a timing that isn’t your own. Yet I never felt completely lost, or struggled with Hi-Fi Rush’s rhythm since it all flows in a way that even someone as clumsy as I can be will be able to pair with the tune much of the time.
The stylized art of Hi-Fi Rush is magnificent to look at and is one of the reasons why I keep coming back to it. The way many of the animations blend together in a seamless flow of cartoonish expressions feels like a step in the right direction for action games as a whole, especially in a world steeped in hyper-realism. I’ve never been a huge fan of 4K Ultra HD borderline real life graphics, instead preferring the colors and vibrancy of Pixel Art or unrealistically animated games. Hi-Fi Rush benefits from neglecting this “real life comparison” aspect, instead featuring an exaggerated comic book style, smear frames and unique character animations.
Of course, the soundtrack is even more integral than the visuals to a game like this, and Hi-Fi Rush’s features a wide array of lively tunes to jam out to. Music such as Nine Inch Nails’ “1,000,000” is featured as the theme of the first boss, and many original tracks shine alongside well-known classics. There’s even a Streamer Mode for those who worry about copyright to play through the game while listening to all original tracks and remixes from the game itself. One of the things that still helps me while I play is the way that Chai’s animations align with the current song as he snaps, taps, and bobs along. That helps tremendously to get a better sense of timing and establish that even while he’s fighting, Chai will always be a fan of the music. Aside from that, many of the animations for bosses and other enemies are reflected through the beat as well, with most of the attacks they throw at you happening on the same rhythm.
If there was ever a game that was practically made to appeal even to players that dislike rhythm games, it’d probably be Hi-Fi Rush. I’m still playing through it, solely because of how much enjoyment I get from piecing together combos and learning the different ways the music influences the game. I purposely note these questions: when can I adapt to the rhythm and when can’t I, and what can I do to change my play? Moreover, Chai’s loveable attitude and the various wacky enemies you encounter along the way are definite bonuses. And as a fan of upbeat rock and pop songs, I’ll definitely be adding a couple of Hi-Fi Rush’s songs to my playlist because I’ve enjoyed each and every song on offer in the game.