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I gotta ask: when was the last time you had legit fun while playing a video game? A game without long drawn cutscenes and constant talking, without any frustrating death mechanics or forceful grind. In a world so oversaturated with realistic narrative style games, an absolute banger has been shadow dropped by Tango Gameworks. And it is so far removed from their previous titles that you would think it might as well be a joke!

But it isn’t! And it is sweeping across all gaming channels, racking up overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam within just hours after launch. Instead of dumping millions into marketing and empty promises to build hype months prior to official release, we get a polished finished product without any of those Day 1 patch or Early Access fiasco! Ladies and gentlemen, this is Tango Gameworks latest release Hi-Fi Rush! An all-new rhythm action game published by Bethesda Softworks, Hi-Fi Rush has slammed us on the face on 26 Jan 2023. Available now on Xbox and PC (you know which one’s missing!).

Scott Pilgrim meets Sunset Overdrive

Enter Chai (yup, that’s his name!), a wannabe rockstar who accidentally gets a music player fused to his heart during a botched arm operation. Labelled ‘defective’ by the Vandelay corporation, he’s supposed to be eliminated (Zero Defect Policy you know!), which is when the music kicks in. You see, the music player in his chest allows him to ‘feel the beat’ of the world. Everything he perceives is synced to the beats that powers up his robotic arm, transforming it from a garbage picker to a badass magnetic guitar made up of junks and scraps. And then what? The beat drops and the battle begins! 

During his prisonbreak, Chai comes across a cast of colorful characters like the gun wielding hacker Peppermint and her cute robotic cat 808 (which is a reference to the English electronic music group 808 State), the pacifist Vandelay employee Macaron and his robot assistant CNMN (cinnamon). Their common purpose? Expose Vandelay’s shady plans to the world, and for that they need to defeat all the 6 bosses from Production and R&D to Marketing and Finance!

It’s as simple as a videogame plot can be—no shoehorned propaganda, no forceful diversity just for the sake of inclusion, and especially no annoying liberal teens who speak in hipster lingo or cuss at the drop of a hat (like you’ll find in Need For Speed games nowadays). Chai is just bubbling (no pun intended) with charisma. In fact, every NPC robot has a better personality than the human NPCs you’ll find in many AAA open world games, especially CNMN who instantly draws facial expressions on his blank metal face to convey emotions. 

This brings to attention to minor details that add more character to Chai and his friends. In his hideout you can find books beside Chai’s sofa like How to Code along with rockstar magazines. Chai must be trying to understand computer jargons as all his companions are tech wizards and he knows he’s just a musical knucklehead. Similarly, you’ll find a set of color pens beside CNMN, the same one he uses to draw anime style facial expressions. All these are a simple ‘show-don’t-tell’ mechanics; a lot of AAA immersive games like Deus Ex and Elden Ring have them. Furthermore, many data-pads are also scattered throughout the levels, and they are almost always comedic, like you’ll be reading about how a disgruntled robot hacked coffee machines to pump out only decaf, or how two robots fell in love despite one being a floor scrubbing bot and the other being a security bot, etc. All in all, everything in Hi-Fi Rush is so peppy, comic and lighthearted that it will remind you of Scott Pilgrim and Sunset Overdrive. And all these despite Hi-Fi Rush being just a AA title!

Crank it up!

I’ll be honest: I was extremely skeptical when I first heard that Hi-Fi Rush is a rhythmic action game, meaning all our actions would be synced to the music. I had played BPM: Bullets Per Minute, Melatonin and Thumper so I thought I knew what kind of mire I was getting myself into. But boy! Hi-Fi Rush is nothing like you’ve seen before! It is extremely user friendly with the way your attacks sync to the beats. No matter how you attack, they will automatically land on the beat, which means you have the freedom to press the relevant combo buttons before your attack animation begins. And the combo mechanism is reminiscent of those from Devil May Cry and Bayonetta! You can dodge, then launch enemies into the air, then grapple them and keep chaining your air combos while keeping them suspended midair, then end your aerial rave combo with a QTE climax to slam them back to the ground and generate a shockwave to stun the enemies standing around while your reverb gage builds up! 

The reverb gage allows for special attacks where you even have the option to temporarily summon your companions to create new combos. They can also be summoned normally for stunning enemies or breaking enemy forcefields or even extinguishing flame attacks. Your rhythm meter on the side of the screen builds up the more you rack up combos and avoid damage. And the more you try to sync your attacks to the beat, the better the score. Fret not, you’ll automatically ‘feel the beat’ as literally everything—the whole world—jams to the beats. Alarms, steam billowing out of pipes, pistons in machines, elevators, even trees, every single in-game element moves to the beats. All the enemies attack on the beat, so trust me, you’ll automatically know when to dodge. Heck, even the explosions in cutscenes happen as per beats! Hi-Fi Rush is like one big industrial rock album in itself! 

Now what other game has songs by Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy and The Joy Formidable as boss battle themes! The kind of bombastic, head banging fun you’ll experience in Hi-Fi Rush, especially in the boss battles with an absolute banger of a soundtrack playing, it reminded me of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which was also a combo-based, hack’n’slash game just without the rhythm-based mechanics. And all the boss battles in Hi-Fi Rush are all unique! In one you’ll be fighting the boss head on, in another you’ll be running through a simulated gauntlet, and in another you’ll be in a Mexican standoff! The parry mechanics in Hi-Fi Rush is well implemented as it allows you to connect to other combos, but especially because the parry mechanics is in itself a minigame. Powerful enemies when weakened pull you in for a 1v1 battle in the middle of combat where their attack pattern rhythm is shown above them, and in the next beat they attack. You’ve to remember their rhythm and parry or dodge them as per their rhythm only!

A Beating World

I already mentioned how the whole world in Hi-Fi Rush swings to the head banging rock music and you just need to take your time and observe the surroundings to know when to strike, dodge, jump, parry, etc. Chai keeps snapping his fingers and kicking the ground when idle and in battle your trusty robot cat 808 always floats beside you and with its body glowing rhythmically. But the immersion in Hi-Fi Rush goes beyond it. Like soon after defeating the R&D boss, I noticed that the digital notice boards around Chai are displaying the allocation of budget from R&D to Security, besides search warrants for you and your companions. Sound words straight out of comic books pop up on screen when you attack. And since, when you load a game mid-chapter you always start back at the hideout, Chai would break the 4th wall and exclaim how he can take a break within missions and awkwardly teleport back to the levels.

Visuals, Performance and Sound

Umm…where to start? Well, you can never go wrong with celshaded artstyle as the visuals in Hi-Fi Rush are completely off the charts! It would remind you of 2000’s Jet Set Radio and the upcoming Bomb Rush Cyberfunk, as these are also two fast-paced games who dabble in funk and metal music minus the rhythmic mechanics. The transition from celshaded gameplay visuals to animated cutscenes is so seamless that you won’t notice it at first glance. All in all, everything and everyone in Hi-Fi Rush is so cute and lovely that it will instantly lighten the mood right from the instant you click Load Game when you’re welcomed by the supercute cat 808.

I can never get enough of Hi-Fi Rush‘s lovely visuals, but don’t get me started on the soundtracks. Phenomenal! Total bonkers! I think every time I start the game my neck exercise begins as I can’t stop myself from jamming to the beats. I mean why not? The OST is composed by none other than the composer of Metal Gear Solid series—Shuichi Kobori, as well as by Masatoshi Yanagi of Evil Within and Ghostwire Tokyo fame.  And the voice acting? Chef’s Kiss! Not only Chai (voiced by Robbie Daymond of Persona 5 fame) but every single character’s voice actor nails it, especially Korsica’s (<3). God, her accent makes me feel things! Even the NPC robots have a very expressive accent, almost human-like! The funny and quirky banter with them and especially with your companions make up for some warm, light-hearted moments.

And yes, no hiccups performance-wise; Hi-Fi Rush will run as smooth as butter.

Real Talk

Very often for AAA games, the hype is built months prior to their official release. There will be story trailers, gameplay footages, interviews with the developers, months of drip-fed content that would build up an idea of what the final product might be. However, very often it so happens that the final product is different from our expectations if not far removed. The game’s actual quality becomes an afterthought in a series of marketing campaigns and publicity cycles. However, when games like Hi-Fi Rush are shadowdropped, the minimalist strategy essentially forces the title to speak for itself. Audiences judge the title on how fun it is to play; it’s the purest test of the product. And Hi-Fi Rush passes this test with flying colors. The love that the ex-Platinum Games developers, now in Tango Gameworks, poured into the game, it shows! It’s got pop-culture references from Jojo’s Bizzare Adventures, Pokemon, Xenogears and even Twin Peaks!

In other words, Hi-Fi Rush is peak GOTY 2023 contender!


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