Have you ever caught yourself walking to the beat of a song you’ve got playing? If so, you’ll probably vibe pretty hard with Hi-Fi Rush. I’ve put a few hours into Tango Gameworks’ rhythm-action game, and I’m delighted at how satisfying it is to gel with a game that more or less asks you to dance with your enemies even as you mow through them. While it’s an accessible action game for the rhythmically challenged, since I come from a musical background, it feels especially rewarding to lose myself in its pulsating rhythms.
Hi-Fi Rush—which you can play today on Xbox Game Pass, by the way—stars Chai, a cyborg rockstar wannabe who was mistakenly outfitted with a chest-mounted MP3 player similar to but legally distinct from an old iPod. Since that wasn’t part of the plan, the company that gave him his cybernetic upgrade wants to scrap him as a defect, but like Kiki Dee before him, Chai’s got the music in him and it’s affecting every robot sent to disassemble him. Now, he fights with a guitar and swings, slashes, jumps, and dashes to the beat of the music in his chest.
As a retired musician, Hi-Fi Rush taps into every rhythmic and melodic tendency I have. Where similar games like Devil May Cry were reliant on visual cues to time attacks and dodges, I was able to get through several of Chai’s scraps by feeling the beat of whichever song Tango Gameworks set the level or boss fight to. Though you’re actively rewarded for keeping in time with the music, no matter when you input your light or heavy attacks, Chai is built to land these swings on the beat, and his enemies are too. It’s so satisfying to feel out my movements and attacks in an action game like a freeform improv dance where every strike and dodge feels like it’s adding to an orchestra of movement and sound.
Some of my favorite moments in Hi-Fi Rush came as I picked up on musicality in the action, such as when Peppermint, Chai’s gun-toting companion, times her shots to perfectly fire in the triplets of a measure no matter when I summon her into a fight. The beat of the music is pulsing through every action and animation in the game, and watching the design of an action game intersect with sounds of its songs has made it joyful and emotionally expressive in a way that I think will resonate with musicians, especially.
Along with some bopping originals in its soundtrack, Hi-Fi Rush also has a selection of licensed tracks that Chai fights to, which are pretty singular in their genre. There are some great picks here; Nine Inch Nails makes two appearances with “1,000,000″ and “The Perfect Drug.” The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” is heard in the opening, but hasn’t made a gameplay appearance as far as I’ve gotten, and I dig that song, so I hope it shows up again later. The Prodigy, The Joy Formidable, and other names are also featured, and all the songs are great, I think I would have just been interested to see more genre variety. But given the slapstick rocker vibe of the game and its main character, perhaps these are just the best fit tonally.
While I think musicians will get the most out of it, Hi-Fi Rush is still pretty accommodating for players who might consider themselves musically challenged. The fights all play out to the rhythm of the music, but the player isn’t actively required to press buttons in time with it. Chai and his enemy’s animations all execute to the beat, but folks who feel like they’ve got two left feet can still rely on visual cues to keep up and excel in a fight. The game doesn’t punish you for not playing on the beat, but does actively reward you for doing so. Each fight and overall level is scored based on your timing, and if you want higher scores, you’ll have to swing your guitar in time with the music. Thankfully, Tango Gameworks has implemented visual elements like a metronome to help. It might not be enough for everyone, but the game at least has an awareness that some people dance like your uncle does at weddings, and might need some more accommodations.
I’m still pretty early in HI-Fi Rush, but there’s something kind of magical about every fight feeling like it could be choreographed on a piece of sheet music. It excels in style and humor, has some great musical picks, and despite being a rhythm game, it doesn’t lose sight of the depth and skill that you need to play an action game. I’m excited to keep going and see where Chai’s silly story takes me.