I'll be honest, I wasn't even a little bit sold on Hi-Fi Rush when it was first revealed during yesterday's Xbox showcase, but less than 24 hours later I'm humbled to admit I've truly found the rhythm in this beat-based brawler.
Don't get me wrong, Tango Gameworks' Hi-Fi Rush absolutely stole the show last night, drawing swift and uniformly positive reactions from the GR+ news crew and seemingly just about everyone watching its out of the blue debut trailer. "This looks quite cool," said my esteemed EIC Sam Loveridge. "I'm more a fan of Tango for its horror stuff, but this also looks neat, yeah," I replied.
In reality, I was wildly, unjustly upset. Watching the livestream, I was most eager to see what Tango might have up its sleeve. After all, it had only recently made what I hesitantly call my 2022 GOTY in Ghostwire: Tokyo. The horror-tinged action-adventure doesn't have the most interesting combat system, but I continue to be enchanted by its haunted open-world and often poignant representations of Japanese folklore, even many months after finishing the story.
It was to my unwelcome surprise, then, that what Tango unveiled was in stark contrast a loud, cartoony rhythm game where you beat up corporate goons in sync with upbeat grooves. The characters bounce in time and belt out stinging guitar licks and corny jokes, and of course, you can pet the cute cat. The deafening cheers from my work Slack were echoed across social media as the internet found its daily trending darling. "I am much more into this than Ghostwire," said GR+ news editor Ali Jones. "I LOVED Ghostwire, was not expecting this from them next," I said, swallowing venom out of respect for my boss.
Little did I know I'd be dancing to Hi-Fi Rush's beat about an hour later.
Can't Fight This Feeling
Like everyone else, I wasn't expecting Hi-Fi Rush, but even more surprising is just how dang good this game is. Growing up on PaRappa the Rapper, Samba de Amigo, and Dance Dance Revolution; and more recently having enjoyed Beat Saber and Cadence of Hyrule, I recognized inspirations from all over the place in Hi-Fi Rush, and it manages to marry them in perfect harmony.
When you aren't boppin' baddies to sick beats, you're dodging fast-moving hazards and platforming in 3D and side-scrolling environments. Miraculously, all of these disparate parts feel rich and fully realized independently from each other, but they combine like symphonies in Hi-Fi Rush's boss fights which, at least in the few hours I've played so far, are considerably more challenging than the lead-ups.
The story centers around a kid named Chai who gets an iPod fused to his heart when a diabolical corporation's experiment goes off the rails. But it's fine because now he and the world are in sync with an omnipresent beat and, in an incredibly backwards way, his dream of becoming a rock star can come true - just instead of playing a 10-minute guitar solo behind his head in front of 50,000 adoring fans, he's blowing up evil robots to the beat of his fist-pumping pulse.
Ultimately though, Chai's goal is freedom, but to get there he needs to climb his way up the corporate ladder and contend with department heads from Human Resources, Quality Assurance, and so on. The writing is dense and full of clever quips; the script is like a bullet hell where instead of ammunition it's just puns and pop culture references. There's even a boss that's literally just JoJo's Bizarre Adventure references on legs (opens in new tab), and I'm very much not complaining.
Just beat it
The most astonishing part about Hi-Fi Rush is that it managed to make it all the way to launch without anyone outside of the inner circles of development knowing about it; it almost beggars belief. Even game director John Johanas said during a pre-recorded bit for yesterday's showcase that the game would be "a pleasant surprise" if it "hasn't already leaked" ahead of the reveal. This game is an enigma of the most refreshing variety.
In an age when much of my free time is consumed by The Last of Us TV show, which I'll remind you is about a pandemic even bleaker than the one we're currently living through, and horror games like, well, The Last of Us Part 1, an unashamedly cheerful ditty like Hi-Fi Rush seems to be just what the doctor ordered. Forgive me Tango Gameworks, I'll never doubt your judgment again. (But also please make another spooky game soon.)