You need to play the best Xbox exclusive in a decade on Game Pass ASAP
The new noise.
The last few years have been pretty sparse for first-party games from Microsoft, especially if you aren’t a fan of racing games or shooters. But things are starting to change as Microsoft continues to release experimental titles like As Dusk Falls and Pentiment. But it’s all come to a head with the surprise launch of Hi-Fi Rush. The new title is a massive deviation for studio Tango Gameworks, creators of The Evil Within, but it’s also the most vibrant and imaginative game Xbox has put out in nearly 10 years. The new rhythm action game is unlike anything else out there, and it’s an absolute must-play title of 2023.
Hi-Fi Rush follows a young wannabe rockstar named Chai, whose life changes after he’s subjected to a shady experiment by the Armstrong Corporation. This experiment doesn’t go quite right as Chai’s iPod inadvertently ends up being a part of it, getting implanted into Chai’s chest in the style of Iron Man. This gives Chai an incredible power that makes the entire world jump along to the beat of the music coming from his chest, and that facet is the main conceit behind Hi-Fi Rush’s unique gameplay.
Combining rhythm gameplay with a character-driven action game might sound a bit weird on paper, but Hi-Fi Rush absolutely nails things right out of the gate.
The entire world of Hi-Fi Rush moves along to the beat, including objects, enemies, and even Chai’s movements. Your light and heavy attacks always land on the beat, but you can increase the damage you cause by actually hitting the attack button on the beat. It might sound daunting, but Hi-Fi Rush takes liberal steps to make the game approachable for those that might not be familiar with rhythm games. At any time you can hit the options button to bring up a meter on the bottom of the screen that displays the beat, giving you a visual cue. At the same time, Chai is joined by a robotic cat named 808 with a light that blinks to the beat.
Realistically, you can play Hi-Fi Rush like a standard character action game, but when combat clicks and you’re moving along to the music, it’s an unbelievably satisfying experience. In games like Devil May Cry, it’s easy to get in a zone with a kind of “rhythmic” flow to combat, but with Hi-Fi Rush that’s quite literally what’s happening, and nailing combos along with the music yields one of the most satisfying combat experience I’ve ever seen in this genre.
The core combat is fantastic on its own, but Hi-Fi Rush isn’t content to let that sit alone, as across the opening hours it introduces some fascinating new wrinkles into the mix. Chai gains the help of a few NPCs who can use assist attacks, like Peppermint who fires a stream of blasts from her weapon, still along with the beat. She can be used to help juggle enemies in the air or take down barriers on tougher enemies. Boss battles are also thrilling spectacles in Hi-Fi Rush, introducing unique mechanics set to some epic rock anthems. Each boss battle is set to a licensed music track, like “1,000,000” by Nine Inch Nails, and the game makes tremendous use of these songs to make the battles feel like climactic affairs. The scope of these bosses is well above normal battles, and they often introduce little rhythm mini-games or unique mechanics.
Hi-Fi Rush’s combat is enough to stand on its own, but what really elevates the game to something special is its overall aesthetic and animation. Everything is rendered in a stunning animation style that sits comfortably nestled between anime and Saturday morning cartoons.
The writing and humor also emulate that Saturday morning cartoon spirit, with consistently funny gags that land surprisingly well, like a robot lamenting how hard his stubby arms make carrying boxes. The general vibe feels hugely reminiscent of Insomniac Games titles like Ratchet & Clank and Xbox’s own Sunset Overdrive, and it really works. Equally surprising is how likable the cast is in general, from the charmingly goofy protagonist Chai to the over-the-top cast of villains, which include a wrestler-inspired Q&A boss named Rekka.
Hi-Fi Rush is one of those exceedingly rare games where everything about it hits just right. It’s hard for me to imagine what I’d change or what the game could do better, as every element seems to come together in perfect harmony. It’s one of the most inventive uses of music in all of video games, and Hi-Fi Rush just drips personality from every pore. Don’t let this instant classic of 2023 pass you by.