I’ve been holding out on subscribing to Xbox Game Pass, mostly because I didn’t want another subscription that I’d have to manage. That and the catalogue of games was mostly things I’d either already played or the upcoming ones were already games that I was prepared to buy in full. But with the weird segregation between Xbox games and other platforms, along with a good number of mates who’d already subbed to it, I eventually caved and used the Xbox Live Gold trick to get 3 years worth of time for about half the price. I didn’t think it’d change my gaming habits much but when I found myself looking for something to play Hi-Fi RUSH stood out as something I might enjoy but had previously discarded because reasons. So, with no real reason not to try it, I gave it a go. Whilst I think there’s a lot of things the game does right the core game loop simply didn’t click with me, as is the case with a lot of rhythm based games.
Chai, a young man of only 25 years old, plagued by a disability in his right arm, arrives at the sprawling campus of Vandelay Technologies. Driven by a desire to fulfill his dream of becoming a rockstar, he eagerly volunteers for Project Armstrong, a groundbreaking program designed to test cybernetic limb replacement. But fate has other plans for Chai. As he prepares for the limb replacement procedure, careless actions on the behalf of the company’s CEO inadvertently cause Chai’s music player to become embedded in his chest. This fateful accident gives Chai an unexpected and powerful connection to the world around him. Chai is quickly labeled a “defect” by the company’s cold and calculated robotic security forces. With danger lurking around every corner, Chai must fight for his survival and prove his worth in a world that seeks to discard him.
The graphics of Hi-Fi RUSH are a beautiful combination of old school saturday morning cartoons, old school comic books and anime stylings. It’s one of the few games that I’d say has been worth playing in HDR what with the vibrant array of colours that it seems to vomit at you any chance it gets. There’s a little bit of asset reuse here and there, with many of the combat arenas looking very similar, and lots of the detail items being copy/pasted all over the place. However it’s clear that they expect you to clear the game at pace, so unless you’re slowing down or struggling through an encounter you’re not likely to notice it. The visual styling really is the game’s standout feature by a long margin.
The core gameplay loop is a combination rhythm game, beat ’em up and exploration-focused-ish platformer. Combat encounters play out in a pretty simple fashion: you’re thrown into an arena with a certain number of enemies (with later challenges spawning more waves) and you have to beat them down before you can progress. In between combat encounters you’ll be exploring the world, solving some rudimentary puzzles whilst looking for the various bits of loot scattered around the place. When you finish each chapter, or when you first start up the game, you’ll return to the hideout where you can spend your various bits of currency on upgrades before heading back out again. At its core Hi Fi Rush isn’t an incredibly complex game but the added rhythm element certainly adds a flavour to the combat that I hadn’t really encountered before.
Every part of the combat sequence happens on the beat of the song that you’re currently listening to. Most of them appear to be on the same beat timing so once you’ve got your ear in a bit you’ll be able to hit things on the beat most of the time. You’ll need to do this as your combos are dependent on you hitting the right combinations at the right time, otherwise you’ll fail it and do no damage at all or reduce it significantly. If you find hitting the beat challenging they do have an option to show it visually at the bottom but, given that your cat companion always pulses to the beat (along with all other actions in the world also doing that) I can’t imagine having that down the bottom helps much although I’ll admit I never tried it.
As you’d expect combat starts out simple and gradually increases in complexity as the game introduces new mechanics to you. This usually comes in the form of specific enemies with certain capabilities that can only be defeated or damaged after you use the right attack/parry/partner summon ability on them. The numbers of enemies also increase, which you’d think would have you looking for new attacks or abilities which could help you clear out enemies quicker. The thing is though I didn’t really notice much of a difference, damage wise, between the early abilities I got and ones I got later on. This meant that I fell to the default combos most of the time and honestly I don’t think I was penalised for doing so. Whilst my overall scores were usually A or B grade the clear time was almost always S, showing I was clearing out enemies as quickly as the game expected me to.
Upgrades come in three flavours: new attacks/abilities for your partners, incremental upgrades to your stats and “chips” which augment/change certain abilities slightly to make them more effective. The good news is that there’s no reason not to buy something to try it out as you can refund any purchase to get most (if not all? I don’t really recall…) of the purchase price, so experimenting with build variety is very much encouraged. However like I mentioned earlier I didn’t find most of these upgrades particularly impactful, bar the incremental upgrades to the base stats.
Now I mentioned before that you should be able to mostly hit things on the beat relatively easily given that most of the songs share a common BPM. However in my testing it seems like there were some occasions where, even though I was pretty sure I was hitting the beat, the game wouldn’t recognise it at such. Now I’m pretty sure this isn’t due to input lag, given I’m running a G-Sync Ultimate compatible monitor and Logitech Lightspeed mouse/keyboard, so I feel like there’s a bit of fudging on the engine’s side which sometimes errs in the wrong direction. I know the game has tools to test this out, which I have blatantly ignored, but I’ve never noticed this kind of problem in other games previously.
The story is also pretty middle of the road not really making any attempts to grab you either emotionally or mentally. The game makes attempts at meta-commentary on its not-so-revolutionary writing are funny at times, although it does more to highlight just how forgettable most of the cast of characters is more than anything else. To be sure it’s enough to drive the game forward but wasn’t enough to keep me playing through all the way to the end.
Hi-Fi RUSH might not have convinced me that Xbox Game Pass is truly worth it yet, but it did at least entice me to take a risk on something that I otherwise would’ve never played. The stylings of the game are top notch and, if you were into rhythm games, then you’re sure to enjoy the combat. However the overall package just isn’t anything particularly special in my mind, the repetitive combat, asset reuse and lacklustre story mean that I’m not really left wanting more from this series. All this being said though I don’t think I’m the target demographic for this kind of game, even if I do dig is style and general vibe.
Hi-Fi RUSH is available on PC and Xbox Series X/S right now for $44.95. Total play time was 4.7 hours with a total of 12% of the achievements unlocked.