Hi-Fi Rush, is a game no one knew existed, and was announced and released for basically free on Gamepass the same day. I couldn’t have been happier to play this modern Dreamcast era style game thanks to the team at Tango Gameworks.
Hi-Fi Rush takes place in a world where a mega-corporation has figured out a way to help those with disabilities or messed up limbs by replacing said limbs with robotic parts. They also provide them with job stability by giving them jobs based on their newly acquired robotic aids… all for a profit. So when Chai, the main character of Hi-Fi Rush signs up for a new arm, he is told instead of being a Rockstar he is going to be a trash collector instead, he’s fairly bummed out. It doesn’t help that through a mishap that his faux-ipod gets fused to him during the robotic amputation process either. Which results in Chai “feeling” the music inside of him. It’s all a bit goofy, but endearing in a way that totally works.
With Chai’s ipod fused into his body, his music becomes his heartbeat in a way, and combat becomes a rhythm game. This is where most people will either fall completely off the game or love it. I myself am not good at keeping a beat. You give me a bucket, I couldn’t carry a tune to save my life. But I’ve always enjoyed rhythm games, from PaRappa to Rock Band. But give me a game where there is a consistent beat I have to keep up with 100% of the time, like 2022’s Metal: Hellsinger and I just fall apart. I can’t do it. Luckily Hi-Fi Rush provides a bit of a magical bullet in the terms of attacking will always happen on the beat. It’s up to the player to press it as on time as possible. If someone like me can’t do that, the attacks don’t hit as hard, and I don’t get massive combos.
Those combos come into play for the scoring sections. Just like games such as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, the game sections off enemy encounters into combat arenas. Once all the enemies are defeated, the game calculates a score based on several variables. How much damage Chai doled out, How long it took and a few other things. This is the part of the game I always never liked. Scoring just isn’t interesting to me. I beat the bad guys, and to me it doesn’t matter if I barely held on within an inch of my life, or if I didn't get hit at all. A B rank or an S rank doesn’t do anything for me. Sure I might unlock a new costume if I play through the entire game without getting hit once, but I’ll never do that. So unless I end up devoting my life to the game, I’ll never see the unlockables that only coincide with better scores.
So I don’t like the scoring mechanic. Does that make the game bad and where I wouldn’t give my recommendation of it? No, absolutely not. Didn’t you read the first paragraph? What sets this game apart from most others is both the visual style of the game and its writing. Let’s start with the graphical flair. This game is straight up beautiful. It’s Cel-Shaded with vibrant colors stands out against most modern larger studio title games with realistic art direction. Cel-Shading always holds up in the long term as well, The color pallant is a lot of bright saturated colors that really make it feel like a cartoon come to life. Along with the musical background beat, the world around also bops along to that internal beat structure as well. Giving the world a life of it’s own and makes you feel like you are inside a classic black and white Disney cartoon where everything seems to be bouncing to a soundtrack.
The companions that Chai teams up with throughout the game all have various characteristics like the gentle giant of Macaroon a disgruntled employee who has seen the company he once loved gone down a darker path. Or his robot pal CNMN (pronounced Cinnamon) who is easily the stand out character of the game. His fairly monotone synapse reads of the current situation and calling things like he sees it, along with the dry erase marker he uses to re-draw his expressions depending on the mood in the moment. It’s all makes for a really fun take on the robot who “can’t read the room”.
Chai’s main point of contact is Peppermint a no-nonse archetype who initially teams up with Chai to take down the evil corporation from the inside. And throughout the game she slowly lowers her defensive emotional walls and you learn more and more about her. There is a small twist near the end, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at all. Once you realize it, it kinda becomes a “oh I should have seen that before much earlier”.
My personal enjoyment of the game came from the platforming and exploration along with the wonderfully staged way the game cut back and forth from game to cutscene. The development team clearly went out of their way to craft a fun story that has a lot of comedy in a bombastic fun environment. Sometimes having a small feeling of Scott Pilgrim vs the world at certain points. I mean, you can’t tell me you can’t make parallels between Ramona’s Evil Exs and Hi-Fi Rush’s Corporate Managers. The game itself is full of platforming parts and smaller corridors that lead to a bit of exploring the massive grounds of the corporation’s buildings. And each team member can be called in to preform a special task in certain areas or help out in combat encounters. It makes for a very chaotic but fun experience.
The writing of the game also plays things light and breezy for the most part, and only gets a bit emotional a couple times. But those emotional times actually resonate with the game’s whole sense of being very well. It’s a game that puts fun first and underneath a layer of that fun is heart. There are a few moments the writing becomes a bit, lame. One or two times where it feels it's leaning a bit too heavily on the modern snarky one-liners of a Marvel movie. But it quickly course corrects, and had me laughing out loud a few times, a feat that most games never get out of me.
Hi-Fi Rush is a game that we don’t see much of anymore, the more smaller game that puts it’s focus on fun and doing it’s own thing and not just chasing some sort of trend mechanic or shoved out the door without half of it’s parts working. Everything in the game feels polished and made to tell a fun story while at the same time pulling anyone and everyone in with it’s visual style. It truly is a game that feels like it could have existed in the Dreamcast era. Add on the fact it was a surprise release that also was free with the Gamepass subscription and the first major game of the year, and 2023 already is leaps and bounds better than 2022.