Hi-Fi Rush Review – Beat It

For years developer Tango Gameworks has tried many times to reach the greatness its company founder Shinji Mikami has gotten with survival horror games. The Evil Within series is good, but it’s still under the shadow of Resident Evil. And last year’s Ghostwire Tokyo didn’t really strike a chord with survival horror fans as it’s more of a spooky first-person action game.

So when Tango suddenly announced that they’re making a new game that doesn’t have a horror or spooky theme, didn’t get leaked whatsoever, and was shadowdropped (the game industry term for “releasing a new game out of nowhere”) so hot that the first few weeks the Microsoft Store version of the game still has its executable file using its codename Hibiki, it was the biggest surprise of the year, and still is right now in March.

But the biggest surprise is that this rhythm-based character action game is slick, stylish, goofy, and fun. And probably one of the most unique video game experiences of the year. Probably even the best game of the year. Yeah, I’m calling it now, in March.


The “high fidelity” in Hi-Fi Rush is expressed fully in its presentation aspects. The game uses cel-shading to mimic the style of a comic panel. There are cinematic scenes that seamlessly transition from real-time 3D models to animated 2D scenes. The intro of every level is sparsely animated to present itself as comic panel animatics. Characters sometimes are purposely animated at lower frames, for stylistic reasons. The font use, the liberal use of half-tone dots, Hi-Fi Rush is drowning in Western-style comics as its main inspiration for looks. But there are some manga and anime references if you know where to look at.

The environment can look busy, but it’s always clear where is the critical path (there are way too many arrow signage for you to miss). And at times, the game does render the characters at a lower fidelity but with the cartoony presentation, it comes off as charming rather than cheap.

But the star of the show, especially for the kind of game Hi-Fi Rush is, is the music. And my golly the music is good. It has to be, and thankfully it is. The composers did a stellar job in making the soundtrack upbeat, memorable but most importantly, something that works for its gameplay (more of that in a bit). There’s plenty of rock music, given the whole rocking theme of our hero, but there are other genres at play as well including electronica and jazz.

Also, having the music details appear as a new song plays like it’s a music video? Chef’s kiss.

The in-house soundtrack understands how to ramp up the pace as the stakes get higher, and when to mellow out to let players chill and take a deep breath. The music transition between combat to exploring and vice-versa is amazing. Just when you thought the good bit of the music had to stop, no, a new beat is dropping and it’s just as good.

Hi-Fi Rush also uses a smattering of licensed music, and the curated choice of music is both eclectic as it is thoughtfully curated. Some of these songs are selected not only for the thumping beats, but entire scenes and jokes are build around the choice selection.

Let me put it this way, “Invaders Must Die” by The Prodigy has been used in many, many games before. The Prodigy themselves are a video game staple by now featuring from Wipeout to Duke Nukem Forever. But Hi-Fi Rush has the best use of The Prodigy in a video game setpiece since Watch Dogs Legion. A quick search on YouTube and you’ll see fans sharing the same opinions with their clips of that bit. It’s fantastic, and that’s just one of the handful of licensed music used.

And to top it all off, there’s also a Streamer mode that replaces all the licenced music with original music by The Glass Pyramids, Bethesda’s in-house band. These songs are also bangers in their own right. Sure, they have riff off the existing licensed music so they can sound like a cover song but with different lyrics and sound, and even have to match the tempo for gameplay reasons, but you’re also not missing out on having these songs playing. A lot of care has been put here, and it’s an impressive feat that you would expect a big-budget AAA production could do when they have enough time and resources allocated.


In Hi-Fi Rush, you play as Chai, an aspiring rockstar signing up for Project Armstrong. This project by the Vandelay corporation provides prosthetic limbs to those who need them, in the case for Chai he needed a strong arm. Somehow, during the process of getting new prosthetics, he is merged with his music player (which isn’t an iPod but let’s pretend it is for a bit). Which makes him able to sense the beat of the world, and see and hear the rhythm. It also makes him a defect so all the robot guards are out to get him. With the power of his magical iPod (and the ability to create a makeshift guitar out of trash) he gets roped into toppling the capitalist corporation by exposing the dark secret of Project Armstrong with the help of acquaintances-turned-friends.

Hi-Fi Rush is predominantly a character action game. A stylish action game. A Devil May Cry-like if you will. The game is mostly about fighting in an enclosed arena, doing sick combos by mixing light attacks, heavy attacks, and doing combos on the ground and in the air. You even have a grappling hook to bring you closer to an enemy and dodges that do the opposite. Later on, you can call in an assist from your buddies, and cash out on the meter you build to use strong, special attacks.

But its big gimmick is that everything else in the world moves on the beat. Chai’s run steps are on the beat. Enemy attacks only on the beat. Platforms move around on the beat. Many other sceneries in the background are on the beat. The music you hear has a clear beat rhythm to follow. Entire action cutscenes are animated on the beat. Heck, you’ll soon be supported by a robo-cat named 808 that can blink on the beat. That name, 808? It’s a little reference to the Roland TR-808 drum machine that, you guessed it, can produce beats.

Didn’t expect Crypt Of The Necrodancer’s influence of playing to the beat to reach this far, but it has, and it’s awesome.

Hi-Fi Rush has made the effort to ensure that playing in the rhythm isn’t a chore or becomes inaccessible for those who don’t have the feel of the rhythm (not all people can hold a tempo like a metronome). So there are many methods for you to sense the beat, including visually.

And also, you are not punished for not being on the beat when in combat. Mash buttons away. The attacks will still and only be played on the beat. Rather, Hi-Fi Rush rewards you for only pressing the right buttons. From having the crowd cheer you on on each perfect beat like it’s an FGC gathering where the crowd goes “ayy ayy ayyy ayyyyy” on queue, to hearing guitar chords that not only amplify but gives more texture to the current banger of a music that’s playing in the background. And also the biggest reward, seeing an S Rank at the end of the encounters, which favours “just timing”- how in sync your button presses are to the beat.

Because of this reliance on being on the beat, the combat in Hi-Fi Rush can be as chaotic as any action game but never overwhelming. You’re always in control as long as you can be on the beat. You can always see the timing of the attacks, and you know that one good dodge on the beat, or maybe three, will get you out of harm’s way. There’s at least one attack type that will attempt to throw you off the rhythm (don’t get hit by fire) but in general, so long as you can keep up with the tempo combat will always be manageable, and rewarding.

Speaking of rewarding, like any good action game should have, there’s a parry button in Hi-Fi Rush. And guess what, parries work on the beat as well. And that makes this one of the easiest games to pull off constant parries should you be musically inclined and can keep a constant beat. It’s a heck of a sensation to finally be able to do this action: in other action games this is the biggest risk-versus-reward move that rewards the deftest of players that can time the reaction properly.

But to spice things up, there will be QTE-style moments where the parries you do aren’t supposed to be on the beat, but to match a specific beat, Simon-says-style. Or rather, Space Channel 5-style. It’s a nice homage to another classic rhythm game and the context of having to repeat patterns because the enemy is projecting an attack and you have to parry them makes a whole lot of sense. It’s a brilliant way to bring back that specific brand of gameplay that otherwise felt too specific to be replicated in any other game.

Oh, and there also QTEs that just plays out like a typical rhythm game.

Each level in Hi-Fi Rush allows you to run around and explore a bit of the Vanderlay campus. There’s a bit of platforming, and it’s by far the Achilles Heel of the game. The platforms move on the beat, but if you decide to only move and jump on the beat you’ll have a bad time. It’s the only part of the game where you should play like a normal game and ignore the gimmick. The jumps are not floaty enough and not high enough, so you will always need to incessantly double-jump over every platform just to be safe. There are QTE moments where you need to call an ally to bypass an obstacle, and there’s one QTE that only works by visual cue and not audio cue, which I’m betting has thrown many people off (it’s those generators).

These platforming bits act as the downtime before the action ramps up in the fights, where you are enclosed in an arena until you smash all the robots into scrap parts. But there are also non-combat action bits with some of the set-piece moments you encounter.

After each level, you can chill out at the hideout (despite whatever the context of the story is, you will always be able to be there- and there are fourth-wall-breaking explanations for it because the devs thought about it). You can upgrade your moveset, invest in different passives to promote different playstyles, and even just practice in the training mode.

Even if you rip out the beat gimmick of Hi-Fi Rush, I think the game can stand on its own as a decent character action game. But put that gimmick back in and it’s a whole different beast. It’s a musical where you too are contributing to the music and stage by pressing the buttons on que. And you have free reign on how to do your guitar solos by just making up different combos on the fly. Like a practised jazz musician that can come up with the sickest of beats spontaneously while still following along the established beat the whole assemble continues to play. You do feel like a rockstar when you S-Rank an encounter. That feeling, that sensation, it’s quite the rush.


Hi-Fi Rush, like any character action game, isn’t a long game. But it can be. I took about 11 hours to see the credits rolling. And after that, the post-game begins.

Apparently, there’s plenty of content that only opens up after beating the game. You have cosmetics unlocks (you can get Chai fight with a real guitar, and by real, I also mean a licensed Epiphone Flying V guitar), a challenge tower and a reason to revisit all of the levels.

You also can take the time to unlock all the painting pieces of the mural in the hideout by doing in-game challenges.

If you want to keep playing, you absolutely can. But if you’re just here for the story, it’s also short and sweet, with a conclusive wrap-up.

Oh, the writing is decent. The story goes where you expect it to be, but the banter between characters and bosses really makes up for it. And plenty of good jokes that lands. Not saying that you won’t cringe at them (there are plenty of puns and wordplay). But at least you’ll come to appreciate that someone might laugh at it because the jokes land.

Chai as a protagonist starts off as an insufferable dork, but the game gives him an arc that makes him humble (by way of being the butt of the many slapstick comedy moments), and eventually becomes an okay hero helping out friends in need.

Personal Enjoyment

There are so many layers of enjoyment that I personally had with Hi-Fi Rush. For one, I felt seen that my rhythmic capabilities are somehow advantageous in video games- it’s the same reason I enjoy Crypt Of The Necrodancer, realising I have one good skill in life that I never used anywhere else.

I really love the idea of not only incorporating music as an aesthetic choice, but also into the gameplay. I’m one of the people who place blocks in time with the music in Tetris Effect. But now there are more games that really want you to be in tune, be in the zone, with all the senses. Hear the beat. See the beat. Press buttons on the beat. To me, it makes a whole lot of sense, and a whole lot of fun.

The other is seeing so much passion and care being poured to put together this game. There are so many “the devs thought about everything” moments that I come to the conclusion that with no added pressure from fan expectation, Tango got to make the game they want. I still cannot stress enough how there are not only set-pieces, but also jokes and punch lines clearly designed around the choice of music.

Not to say this is clearly the best way to make games (the nerves they must have had not knowing how the world will react and there’s no way to course correct anymore, I really can’t imagine that). But there are benefits to such a release strategy, the developers take full advantage of it and it shows clearly in the end product.

On another note, there’s one thing that needs to be addressed. This game drew a lot of comparisons to the locally-made indie star No Straight Roads at launch. Admittedly I’ve made comparisons to that as well, making which one I like more clear. But I won’t make direct comparisons any more- these two games are aiming to do something different and operating at different budgets (Hi-Fi Rush is a AAA game, don’t let the cartoony looks deceive you). Though they just share the same aesthetic of “rockstar toppling the corpo”. And if you love that aesthetic you should check out Metronomik’s efforts as well.


Hi-Fi Rush is the equivalent of a rock band reinventing their sound in an unexpected way and for the better. Tango Gameworks brought their A-game by creating a joyful and adrenaline-fuelled rush of an experience delivered in high fidelity. The presentation goes hard with its choice of comic-book-based aesthetic, and the music is full of bangers. The platforming bits are a bit rough, but the combat is immaculate and wonderfully crafted.

Hi-Fi Rush is the surprise chart-topping hit of the year. We’ll see if it can still stay at the top of the video game Billboards equivalent throughout 2023.

Played On PC. Review copy from reviewer’s own subscription of PC Game Pass


Hi-Fi Rush

Hi-Fi Rush is the surprise chart-topping hit of the year. We'll see if it can still stay at the top of the video game Billboards equivalent throughout 2023.

  • Presentation 10
  • Gameplay 8.5
  • Content 9
  • Personal Enjoyment 10

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept