As if to counter the (not undeserved) criticism that Xbox has gotten really good at announcing games but pretty bad at actually releasing them, today's Xbox Developer Direct showcase slipped in a good old-fashioned shadow drop. Hi-Fi Rush, an entirely unexpected rhythm action game from the makers of Ghostwire: Tokyo of all things, hit Xbox, PC, and Game Pass today, January 25, just hours after its reveal. Somebody reset the clock: it has been zero days since Xbox released a game.
Hi-Fi Rush is handily my favorite pick from the Developer Direct lineup. Not only is it already playable, it feels like the kind of project I'd hoped to see from Microsoft's many partnerships and acquisitions. Sure it's good to see Minecraft and Forza ticking along, and the Redfall release date is finally official, but I also want more off-beat stuff like Obsidian's freshly released Pentiment, which was an excellent forerunner ahead of the studio's more traditional mega-RPG Avowed. If Xbox is gonna gobble up these studios, I want them to take a big-ol' bag of Microsoft money and the comfort that Xbox Game Pass provides and just make some weird stuff. And that's exactly the vibe I get from Hi-Fi Rush.
Who expected a cartoonish rhythm game from Tango Gameworks, the modern-day house of horrors behind The Evil Within? Absolutely nobody had that on their Xbox showcase bingo card, especially not Tango studio head Shinji Mikami, that's for sure. Mikami described Hi-Fi Rush as the kind of game he "never would have thought of" during today's reveal before passing the mic to director John Johanas, who agreed that it's "like nothing we've made at Tango before." It's bright and colorful and comedic. You've got an iPod for a heart like some kind of alternate universe Crank sequel. You're an aspiring rockstar who fights with a guitar. You can pet the robot cat! It's silly in a way few Xbox games are, and above all, it genuinely looks fun. It almost reminds me of Sunset Overdrive – you know, the bright and colorful and comedic game that Insomniac made with a big-ol' bag of Microsoft money before accepting an even bigger bag from PlayStation.
Games like Metal: Hellsinger, Crypt of the Necrodancer, and arguably even Thumper have shown how satisfying it can be to sync actions to music in a more full-bodied way than in typical input-matching rhythm games like Muse Dash. As someone who's bounced off traditional rhythm games ever since the Guitar Hero era, I'm happy to see yet another spin on a formula I enjoy a lot more. I'm especially intrigued by Hi-Fi Rush's more freeform approach to rhythm combat, where you can attack and dodge whenever you want but are still rewarded for keeping a tempo. Plus that combo counter has caught the attention of my inner Devil May Cry fan.
Hi-Fi Rush will not single handedly dig Xbox out of the slump that it has delayed and no-showed itself into, and I'm sure plenty of Starfield fans won't even blink, but it will give Xbox owners and Game Pass subs something cool-looking to play to kick off the year. It's a pleasant surprise that I hope sets the platform up for a much stronger year.
Read up on everything announced at the Xbox Developer Direct here.