All Vandelay Technologies employees, please be on the lookout for a scruffy looking man wielding a guitar. This Project Armstrong defect has been seen styling on employees to the beat of the music. If you see this individual, please notify the nearest security officer who will investigate. Note that you will not be paid for any time spent informing, and any loss of limbs, time, or company property will come out of your pocket.
Hi-Fi Rush sounds like my perfect video game. Combine Devil May Cry with rhythm games, add in a gorgeous cell-shaded art style, an anti-capitalist plot that never takes itself too seriously, and an adorable cartoon robot cat and I will buy your game ten times over. Heck, I’ve been trying to make something like this in Unreal but as a JRPG for several years now. Tango Gameworks latest title isn’t quite a perfect game, but it comes so damn close that it might as well be.
You play as Chai, a college dropout who has just joined Vandelay’s Project Armstong. As he’s entering surgery to replace his right arm with a robotic one, the self styled rockstar’s music player (a Zune as a cute Microsoft throwback) somehow lands on and is fused to his chest. Now everything is grooving to the beat of the music, and I do mean everything. From platforms to decorations on the walls to yours and enemies’s attacks, it all moves to the rhythm. After a brief tutorial easing you into things, you’re set loose on the first combat encounter.
In battle, Chai’s bread and butter are light and heavy attacks with his junk guitar, performed by pressing X and Y respectively. While you can press buttons whenever you want, his attacks will only land on the beat, so being off timing will leave Chai vulnerable as he swings. In addition, while light attacks are immediate, heavies take two beats to come out. You mix and match these two attack types to create a combo, for example a light, light, heavy, heavy will lead into a launcher and aerial combo. Every combo will also end in a big finisher, where you can press either attack button as a circle overlaps with another to deal some serious damage. As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock even more combos for purchase using gears, partners to call in for attacks, finishers, or counters with RT, a grappling hook with LB, and even a parry.
Special attention should be paid to that parry, because it is just so satisfying. Pressing B as an enemy attack lands either on beat or with a musical cue will completely negate any damage. After an upgrade, holding the left stick in the direction of the attack will also reflect some of the damage, and calling in a partner on the next beat will have them counter. You can parry almost everything too. Rapid sword strikes? You can parry that. Volcano spewing lava? You can parry that. Sign about to hit you on a high speed train? Why yes, you can parry that too. When I encountered attacks that I couldn’t parry, I initially thought I was just getting the timing wrong. You can’t quite parry every single hazard, but the game comes close.
Parrying contains the game’s highest highs and lowest lows. In fact, this is where my only big complaint about the game comes in. There are a few enemy types that, when low on health, will essentially challenge you to a duel. They’ll set up a rhythm you need to follow, and in turn you parry or dodge (RB) to that beat. If you fail, the enemy will simply start the attack again and again until you succeed. This isn’t awful on its own, and even sets up a cool boss fight, but it does break the flow of combat if they’re not the last foe in a wave. The problem is that this happens way too frequently in the game’s back half with almost every encounter usually having more than one. I’m fine with it every once in a while, but doing it this frequently feels like it limits player expression. Character action games are all about fighting your way and expressing yourself to raise that style meter, and this all or nothing minigame goes against that.
Hi-Fi Rush is otherwise very lenient and freeform when it comes to scoring. Your style meter, called the Rhythm Meter, is constantly depleting and increases a bit when you correctly time moves to the beat and decreases when you get hit by about half a rank. Getting hit or using the same combo too many times will also multiply any more points you gain by 0.8 for a short time, while doing well and doing things like aerial raves or using a special attack (R3 + L3) will add up to a x4 multiplier. It’s not the most punishing system out there, and it doesn’t need to be. It fits the more relaxed, fun vibe the game exudes.
If you do want more or less of a challenge though, there are difficulty and accessibility options to help you out. From the start, you can choose from Easy, Normal, Hard (which I played on), and Very Hard with Rhythm Master available once you beat the game. As for accessibility, you’ve got some nice subtitle options including captions for in-game signage, color blind configuration, and an auto-action mode that performs combos and other movements automatically if you press any attack button to the beat. You can also set any rhythm minigames to use a single button. The beat is the whole point of the game, so I can see why there are no options to affect the timing of button presses which is already pretty generous. It’s a nice suite of options to complement a fantastic combat system.
If you do have trouble finding your rhythm though there are a ton of ways to get stuck in. Your floating cat (and precious baby) 808 will pulse to the rhythm along with the UI and the environment. If that’s not enough, you can press select at any time to bring up a bar showing you the timing. As for other options, you can turn on streaming mode to swap out any licensed tunes, remap both keyboard and controller layouts, and of course adjust vibration, hints, and even calibrate for any latency in your setup.
On PC, you’ve got some great graphics options too, with Vertical Sync, Chromatic Aberration, and Camera Shake toggles as well as various levels of quality for Camera Motion Blur, Dynamic Shadows, Foliage, SSAO, SSR, and Depth of Field. Hi-Fi Rush supports several upscaling modes for free frames including NVIDIA’S DLSS, AMD FSR 1.0, Intel XeSS, and TSR.I don’t really know what all of those mean or their specifics, but each come with their own suite of options. Finally, you can change video playback from Quality (4K) to Performance (Full HD) if you’re having performance issues in cutscenes.
The game runs incredibly well on my medium to high power rig, though the auto FPS setting does lock the game to 60 so any frame dips don’t desync the music and gameplay. With the Steam version, Hi-Fi Rush has cloud saves and is verified on Steam Deck. It’s a perfect fit for the platform too, with Medium settings getting a mostly consistent 60 fps too. The lower resolution does leave things looking a bit jaggedy, with the game clearly intended to be in 1080p or above, but at 800p (filling the entire 16:10 screen) the art style still shines through.
Hi-Fi Rush has a gorgeous cell-shaded art style, and that really shows in the cutscenes. There are some incredible, seamless transitions from 3D to 2D and back again. Everything’s got a comic book/manga inspired look to it too, with lots of Ben-Day dots, thick linework, and a ton of onomatopoeia in both English and Japanese for sounds like snapping. It’s clear there was so much passion put into this game, with minor details like Chai’s footsteps being synchronized with the beat or the Vandelay statues you can beat up for gears changing expressions after a combo.
As you’d hope for a rhythm game, the music is incredible – even in streaming mode. (Yes, I will probably need this on vinyl.) You’ve got some killer tracks here from the likes of REO, The Glass Pyramids, and more. As you’d expect from a game about hitting things with a guitar, the soundtrack is mostly rock but does dip into a few other genres. I do wish there were more vocal tracks when fighting, because it always feels hype as hell when you hit A rank and the song pops off.
Simply put, fighting to these beats just feels great. You don’t have a ton of combos, Chai is more comparable to Nero than Dante and all his weapons, but that just lets you focus on hitting what you do have to the beat. It’s incredibly satisfying when you’re in the middle of a combo, cancel into a parry, counter by summoning a friend, then grappling over to your next target. Combat flows very naturally and is so much fun.
As you explore the Vandelay campus, you’ll need to platform, solve light puzzles, and navigate hazards – all to the music as well. The music also keeps your movement flowing nicely, with Chai able to string three dodges together to move faster and any on beat actions causing collectables to float towards you. There are some 2D segments too, which adds some more spice to this delectable platforming pie.
While Hi-Fi Rush only takes a few hours to beat with 12 stages, it’s incredibly replayable and adds even more things to do once you finish the story. You unlock some standalone challenges hidden in stages, the ability to buy costumes for Chai and the rest of the team (including 808), the Bloody Palace-esque Rhythm Tower, and of course you’re encouraged to go back and S rank every level. Even without the endgame content, which is enjoyable and challenging, I’d still be playing this game for dozens of hours because it’s just that fun. The silly story and characters are charming even on a second or third run, with Chai being a lovable moron who grows from being selfish to… slightly less selfish. Peppermint is a stylish hot head who always needs a plan, Macaron is a beefy pacifist, and CNMN is a hilariously useless and direct robot. On top of providing some amazing boss fights, the villains have some larger than life personalities. Rekka is basically a robotic wrestler, Zanzo is an ambitious scientist with no care for his budget or employees, Mimosa is a stylish singer with a flair for the dramatic, I could go on. There’s even some hints at a lesbian romance later on in the game as the cute cherry on top. All this comes together for a hilarious adventure that joins No Straight Roads as some of the best rhythm action games out there.
David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.
Hi-Fi Rush presents some of the best action combat out there and combines it with rhythm game mechanics to make something truly special. This is a game that’s firing on all cylinders constantly and bursting with creativity and style.