‘Hi-Fi Rush’ harmonizes with classic rhythm game mechanics

'Hi-Fi Rush' harmonizes with classic rhythm game mechanics

Tango Gameworks' new action game has a diegetic soundtrack, a cel-shaded art style and a simple character design.
Published: February 21, 2023
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There was a much disagreed upon idea set forth a few years ago that all games are, at their core, rhythm games. If a player cannot keep time with a combo in a fighting game, or follow the rhythm of gameplay in an adventure or first person shooter title, then they will be unable to succeed. Tango Gameworks’ new title Hi-Fi Rush pushes that idea to its logical extreme as an action game that harmonizes with all of the mechanics and design of a rhythm game as well.

As soon as players begin to hear the introductory beats of Reo Uratani’s incredible diegetic soundtrack, as well as tracks from a myriad of popular bands, they’re instantly given a throwback to the likes of Smilebit’s Jet Set Radio, with a cel-shaded art style and simple character designs in verse with design sensibilities of years past.

With a literal song in their heart, courtesy of a misplaced MP3 player during surgery, players are in full control of Chai (Robbie Daymond), a wannabe rockstar with a disability and newly-acquired robotic arm. Chai’s disability, beyond providing a setup for the game’s inciting incident, is far from a piece of idle representation. Not only is the game’s core cast a chorus of people with disabilities, but they end up far stronger than they would be otherwise.

Hi-Fi Rush video game
Accompany wannabe rockstar Chai on his missions in "Hi-Fi Rush."

The music determines the flow of both combat and movement in Hi-Fi Rush, with Chai’s every step coinciding with the beat as players navigate through its winding levels and moving bridges. In its Devil May Cry style combat, button presses may only form combos if they are timed precisely to the beat as well. For the rhythmically challenged, one button press will present a more traditional rhythm game style beat counter at the bottom of the screen, allowing them to get used to the precision timing necessary to excel and swing their guitar back and forth at enemies like a metronome.

While the game’s writing, courtesy of writer and director John Johanas, often feels dated, it manages to bring a type of undeniable charm to the player experience. Coming out at the same time as other games reliant on more metatextual humor and small references left Hi-Fi Rush open for comparison. However, with lines presented earnestly and in-character every time, it all falls together in tune — there’s no negative feedback here.

There is, undeniably, nothing more rock ‘n roll than sticking it to the man, and Hi-Fi Rush strikes a chord with the Platonic ideal of that concept, as players are forced to fight their way up the corporate ladder to face off against scumbag CEO Kale Vandelay (Roger Craig Smith). With a near-perfect soundtrack and flowing action that perfectly combines stellar sound, character, and gameplay design, Hi-Fi Rush leaves players demanding an encore as the outro fades.