I’ll put it out there – as surprised as I was that Tango Gameworks had secretly made and released a new game, I was more surprised that it very quickly had me fighting a giant, cel-shaded robot to the beat of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘1,000,000’. Because Hi-Fi Rush is something practically unique: a rhythm-action game in the most literal sense — a classic action game driven by rhythm.
While the initial shock might be that it’s available to play on Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC today (and free to those with an Xbox Game Pass or PC Game Pass subscription), the follow-up feeling will be surprise that this is a Tango Gameworks production. For a studio best known for its horror leanings – having created The Evil Within series and last year’s Ghostwire: Tokyo – this is a much warmer, funnier, weirder new game than we could ever have expected.
If you’re still trying to get your bearings, let me give you a rundown based on just the first hour of the game (so no spoilers here!):
Perfect Sound Forever
Think of this as a game-length concept album, telling the story of Chai – a wannabe rockstar who just wanted a sweet robotic arm from the Vandelay corporation – who gets caught up in a tech company conspiracy when his music player is accidentally embedded in his chest, and begins syncing the wider world up to his own personal playlist. He’s quickly deemed a defective model, and scheduled for violent decommission – and you’ll be guiding him through his escape.
Hi-Fi Rush is something like the ‘Baby Driver’ of video games. It’s not just a game set to music, but a game driven by it in every respect. Combos need to be hit in time to the music for the highest scores, enemies telegraph their attacks more with sound than animation, and platforming challenges rely on you being able to read the music as much as the environment. Hell, Chai’s idle animations see him finger-snapping along to whatever you happen to be listening to at the time.
All of this is driven by a guitar-heavy soundtrack worthy of the most well-curated dive bar jukebox. The bulk of levels are underpinned by music created by Tango Gameworks itself, shifting as you progress, and beautifully growing in tandem with your own combat prowess. The more damaging and in-rhythm your combos are, the more stems you’ll add to the track itself. Once you hit an S-level combo, the soundtrack will be in full force, driving you to keep fighting with finesse just to hear more of the song.
But hit a major story moment or a boss battle, and things kick into high-gear with the addition of licensed music. The opening of the game features an intro set to The Black Key’s ‘Lonely Boy’, and ends with a boss battle set to the aforementioned Nine Inch Nails cut. The feeling of driving some classic tracks by sheer force of your action game prowess is something to behold – and doing it through combat is a fresh new way to recreate the joy of the plastic instrument era of rhythm games. I cannot wait to find out what else the playlist has in store.
The Look of Love
As all great bands know, however, your sound is only part of the appeal, and Hi-Fi Rush has the looks to match its tracklist. This has the vibe of some lost ’90s Saturday morning cartoon, with an eye-searing neon color palette, thick lines, and over-the-top animations. Cutscenes are a treat, driven by some lovely facial animation tech that brings Chai to life, and instantly marks its cast of villainous bureaucrats as love-to-hate nemeses we’ll be butting heads (and metallic guitar-clubs) with over the course of the whole game. It backs up that look with a story tone as warm as its visuals – this is a comedy first and foremost, and it’s delivering visual gags from minute one.
All of that’s augmented by some lovely comic book-like touches that bring to mind ‘Into the Spider-Verse’ – onomatopoeic words pop up around you, major moments (delivering the final blow to a boss, for instance) are given a splash page-like redraw, and you can even see Ben Day dots making up some of the textures in the backgrounds of scenes.
Vandelay Technologies, the tech campus-turned-prison that makes up the game’s world, is a jagged, futuristic skyline set under perfect blue skies, and its twisting corridors are built to hide hidden collectibles, humorous lore drops and mountains of loot – all of which will come in handy once you reach your hideout hub base. This is where the game’s more traditional action chops (not a huge surprise, given Tango’s connection to legendary action designer Shinji Mikami) begin to show themselves, offering the ability to tweak your fighting style to your needs, and up those combo scores.
It’s that final point that has me truly excited to play more. Within the first hour, I already knew that Hi-Fi Rush’s unique premise would work for me, and that its looks had charmed me. But that promise that there’s so much more under the surface – the churning mechanical works of action game mechanics we’re more used to from the likes of Vanquish or Devil May Cry – is what I’ll want to dig into as I undoubtedly set this particular playable playlist on repeat.
Hi-Fi Rush is available today for Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC. The game is free to download with an Xbox Game Pass or PC Game Pass subscription.