Hi-Fi RUSH Review (PC)

Hi-Fi RUSH Review: Not A Single Note Missed

 

So imagine if you will No Straight Roads having a child with Sunset Overdrive that was occasionally babysat by Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Jet Set Radio. Sounds absolutely rockin’ right? Shinji Mikami sure thought so, and how right that glorious man was. Not only did he pump out probably one of the most jammin’ games to come out in the recent decade, the man did it 100% under wraps. Even I had no idea this thing was being cooked up, let alone for several years! Get ready folks, cause this ain’t a game you’ll want to be missing out on.

 

We’re In This Together

 

Everybody needs an 808!

 

One could argue easily that to an extent, some action games are rhythmic by nature, but this game aims to exploit that to its utmost, and boy does it milk it for everything it’s worth, effortlessly tying together the gameplay with the story beats. You start off as Chai, a young man missing a bit of his motor function, hinting that something happened to his right arm, stuck in a sling until Project Armstrong is advertised to him via the not-so-innocent megacorp, Vandelay. Unfortunately, he wakes up with a little more than he bargained for when hoping just for a new robot prosthetic. A stray MP3 player wanders into the mix, installing itself directly to his heart so he can hear the rhythm of the world. Armed with a musical pacemaker and a magnetic trash grabber that he uses to summon his junkwork melee weapon, Chai stumbles out into the brave new world as a changed man. Except he didn’t quite come out of Project Armstrong in a satisfactory way, so now he’s now labelled a defect to be disposed of.

Along the way, Chai comes across a rebellious young girl named Peppermint, a former head of R&D named Macaron, and many more. Probably my favourite of the bunch (excluding Chai of course) is 808, an absolutely adorable robot cat that follows Chai around, acting as both a communication device and a way to visualize the beat, turning into a more mobile floating sphere that pulses to the beat during combat. I cannot overstate how giddy I was seeing such a clever name, referencing the Roland TR-808, a drum machine that’s been featured in more hit records than any other drum machine in existence. To make such a neat reference and also attach that reference to a truly lovable lil’ critter made me gleeful to have 808 as a partner. The character writing for the other speaking characters is top-notch as well, creating realistic, believable characters with simple personalities but extra charm is shown in their relations with the other characters. I don’t want to go too much into the other characters due to spoilers being in that direction, but trust me when I say it’s better to be seen for yourself.

The protagonists aren’t the only hit on this record though, as the antagonists are all just as unique. From Zanzo, the egotistical R&D head (who also acts as a straight-up walking reference to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), to the superstar Mimosa, a glamour queen that runs the marketing department of Vandelay, there’s no enemy that isn’t memorable in some way. Hell, even the mooks are dripping with a malevolent but charming set of quirks. One enemy, the WA-ES-2, is a samurai-themed larger mook that, when he’s been dealt enough damage, activates his own supermove, complete with a haiku that pops up near him as he shows you his attack patterns for you to parry him. He even gets a reskin as the Head Chef, threatening to cut you to pieces with a really long skillet and spatula instead of twin katanas. It’s all so whimsical and silly but it’s so damn neat and funny because of that!

 

Warrior’s Dance

 

There are few things more satisfying than nailing this parry sequence.

 

So while the story and characters are in good shape, what’s a music/action game without good gameplay? As I stated earlier in the review, action games tend to have a degree of rhythm and beat themselves, but this right here is a game that thrives on it. You have a light attack, heavy attack, finishers, air combos, dashes, parries, and you can call in support characters to help with various enemies. For example, shielded enemies can have their protection shattered by Peppermint, or for armored enemies, you’d bring out Macaron.

The key thing to keep in mind here though is that the game really wants you to be attacking to the beat. If you hear something along the lines of “Hey” or “Cha!” sounds, you’re doing extra damage for striking to the beat. Finishers will have a QTE button-prompt that also will do more damage to the beat, and all enemy attacks will also be synchronized to a beat, making moves easy to see telegraphed. Parrying on these attacks will increase the Break meter for enemies, which lets you stagger them more and deal more damage, so keeping to the beat and paying attention to parries. All of this comes off as a lot written out like this, but Hi-Fi RUSH doesn’t want you to get all of this down at once, cleverly incorporating new techniques and abilities over time, using enemy encounters as ways to train you with your new abilities, making the new enemies more prominent in battles, while still throwing stuff you’re used to already in to make sure you’re still keeping track of what’s needed and where. It’s all so very fluid, and once you find your groove, it’s almost hard to break it, and only the most hectic battles have left me button mashing by accident. Hi-Fi RUSH doesn’t punish you for not hitting to the beat, but would really prefer that you do, even if the game could definitely be beaten without making full use of following the beat for extra damage. I really cannot overstate how vital this system is to getting the most from this game, and honestly it’s gotten me a lot more confident in my prowess with action games, as I used to have a lot of trouble with these kinds of games before.

As an added bonus, even when you beat the game, there’s still extra challenges and little odds and ends you can piddle with. You get access to a costume editor, where every protagonist (even little 808!) can get some new, well-designed and thought-out threads. Special mention to Chai, who, while having full costumes he can get, also gets the only pleasure of having different pieces of his clothes changeable. Not a fan of his shoes? Get a new pair! Want a better scarf? There’s that too! On top of all this, there’s an endless mode where you can beat up baddies to your heart’s content that unlocks after you beat the main game. It’s not often enough that we get goodies after the main game is done, so seeing all this extra stuff even after enjoying the hell out of the main campaign was just icing on the cake.

 

Turn Up

 

This is the first boss battle. And we’re starting with a Nine Inch Nails classic. This. Soundtrack. ROCKS.

 

Nine-Inch Nails. The Prodigy. The Black Keys. I could stop here and my point on the music would be complete, I need not say more. You don’t line up a banger of a soundtrack like this for nothing. Hi-Fi RUSH wastes no time strutting its stuff on-stage. There is something about playing games with your favorite tunes that really gets the blood going and the endorphins oozing out of every wrinkle in the ol’ grey matter. The music typically sticks to something more rock focused but doesn’t shy away from trying something different. I do very much enjoy some solid rock, and can honestly say both the licensed songs and the songs that substitute them for Streamer Mode (keeps the copyrighted songs out so people can play the game and not worry about a copyright strike) are all catchy, rhythmic, and driving. When a rhythm game actually starts getting my heart pumping faster, I’m in the groove and loving every minute of it, and there was scarcely a moment in general where I wasn’t rocking out, but one song, in particular, shocked me by its presence in what’s been a mostly rock-focused soundtrack. I’ll admit that, being the EDM junkie I know I am, I had an absolute fit of euphoria when Invaders Must Die by The Prodigy went hard into an action-packed scene. It can’t be stated enough that Hi-Fi RUSH knows exactly what to play, when to play it, and how to turn every licensed song into a centerpiece of rocking out and knocking out baddies.

While we’re on the topic, enough can’t be said about the atmosphere Hi-Fi RUSH aims to create. Vandeley is comically evil, and frequently portrayed that way thanks to a plethora of little bits of lore and such scattered around the levels. Most of these are logs left by workers, some odd, some absolutely hilarious, and Hi-Fi RUSH sticks its atmospheric landing thanks to it, as it all works together to help this hilarious world feel alive. One of my favourite examples is a log detailing a spiteful worker sabotaging the coffee machines so they only spit out decaf. This is brought up by not just one, but two cutscenes featuring the villains, questioning where in the hell the non-decaf went. I always gush over little flourishes like this because they help the worldbuilding feel sincere, if not absolutely comical in this case.

Speaking of little flourishes, the actual world itself gets more than involved with what the gameplay’s doing. So many pieces of the world bob and move to the music, shrubbery getting groovy with it, pistons acting the part of equalizers, even down to the paint on the walls pulsing to the beat. When you talk about a world feeling “alive”, Hi-Fi RUSH takes that concept and sprints off into the horizon with it. The cel-shaded graphics and lighting pull their weight perfectly here, and the result of all this coming together is one lush and vibrant world that you can’t tear your eyes away from.

 

Keep the Hits Coming!

 

 

Look, I can wax poetic about this absolute wonder all I want, but you’ve got to play it to really see how epic this game is. Not even the biggest nitpicker could find a thing to make better in this, because it just does such a damn good job of being exactly what it aims to be. Do you like music? Do you like action games with a bit of platforming? Do you like charm and atmosphere in your games? If you answered “yes” to any one of those three, go boot up your console or PC of choice and find this gem, you owe it to yourself.


Final Verdict: 5/5

 

Available on: PC (Reviewed), Xbox Series S|X; Publisher: Bethesda Softworks; Developer: Tango Gameworks; Number of players: 1; Released: January 25th, 2023; MSRP: $29.99

Full Disclosure: A copy of Hi-Fi RUSH was obtained by the reviewer

 

Cory Clark
With a passion for all things musical, a taste for anti-gravity racing, and a love for all things gacha, Cory is a joyful and friendly gamer soaking up any little gem to come to his little Midwestern cornfield. An avid collector of limited editions with an arsenal of imported gaming trinkets he's absorbed into his wardrobe, he's usually always near his trusty gaming rig if he's not on his PS4 or Xbox One. And when he's not gaming, he's watching anime off his big screen with his lap lion Stella purring away.
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