This surprising new game pass gem feels like moshing through a battlefield

Chai looks nervously at something off screen while 808 the cat on his shoulder looks similarly nervous.

screenshot: Tango Gameworks

Have you ever caught yourself running to the beat of a song you’re playing? If so, you’re probably going to swing pretty hard with it Hi-Fi Rush. I’ve put a few hours into Tango Gameworks’ rhythm action game and I’m amazed at how satisfying it is to get through a game that more or less invites you to dance with your enemies, even if you kill them mow through. While it’s an accessible action game for the rhythmically challenged, coming from a musical background, it feels particularly rewarding to lose myself in its throbbing rhythms.

Hi-Fi Rush– what you can play today on Xbox Game Pass, btw – Stars Chai, a wannabe cyborg rock star who was mistakenly fitted 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 him scrapped as a defect, but like Kiki Dee before him, Chai has the music within him and it affects every robot sent, to disassemble it. Now he fights with a guitar, swinging, slicing, leaping and dashing to the beat of the music in his chest.

As a retired musician Hi-Fi Rush picks up every rhythmic and melodic bias I have. Where similar games like Devil May Cry Relying on visual cues to time attacks and dodges, I was able to overcome some of Chai’s scraps by feeling the beat of the song that Tango Gameworks had set the level or boss fight to. Although you’re actively rewarded for staying in time with the music no matter when you input your light or heavy attacks, Chai is designed to land those swings on the beat, and so are his enemies. It’s so satisfying to feel my moves and attacks in an action game like a free-form improv dance where every punch and dodge feels like it contributes to an orchestra of movement and sound.

An MP3 player is built into Chai's chest via a mechanical implant.

Music as the heart Hi-Fi Rush‘s design and in the literal heart of its hero.
screenshot: Tango Gameworks

Some of my favorite moments in Hi-Fi Rush came as I picked up the musicality in the action, such as when Peppermint, Chai’s armed companion, fired her shots perfectly in the triplets of a bar no matter when I called her into a fight. The beat of the music pulses through every action and animation in the game, and seeing an action game’s design intersect with the sounds of its songs made it upbeat and emotionally expressive in a way that I think resonates particularly with musicians will.

Along with some bouncy originals on its soundtrack, Hi-Fi Rush also has one Selection of Licensed Titles for which Chai competes, which are quite unique in their genre. Here are some great tips; Nine Inch Nails has two appearances with “1,000,000” and “The Perfect Drug”. The Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” is featured in the opening but doesn’t make an appearance in the gameplay as far as I know, and I like that song so I’m hoping it makes an appearance again later. The Prodigy, The Joy Formidable, and other names are also included, and all the songs are great, I think I would have just been interested in more genre diversity, but given the game’s slapstick-rocker vibe and its main character, maybe they are simply the best tonal match.

Chai is shown bringing down his guitar while leaping to attack a giant robot.

Every enemy, from ground troops to giant bosses, fights to the beat of the music.
screenshot: Tango Gameworks

Though I think musicians will make the best of it Hi-Fi Rush is still quite accommodating for players who might be feeling musically challenged. The battles all play out to the rhythm of the music, but the player doesn’t have to actively press buttons in time to the beat. Chai and his enemy’s animations are all done to the beat, but folks who feel like they have two left feet can still rely on visual cues to keep up and shine in a fight. The game doesn’t punish you for not playing on time, it actively rewards you for it. Each battle and overall level is scored based on your timing, and if you want higher scores you’ll need to swing your guitar to the beat of the music. Thankfully, Tango Gameworks implemented visuals like a metronome to help. It might not be enough for everyone, but the game at least has an awareness that some people like your uncle dance at weddings and may need more accommodations.

I’m still pretty much at the beginning Hi-Fi Rush, but there’s something magical about every fight that feels like it could be choreographed onto sheet music. It’s characterized by style and humor, has some great musical cues, and while it’s a rhythm game, it doesn’t lose the depth and skill you need to play an action game. I look forward to continuing and seeing where Chai’s silly story takes me. This surprising new game pass gem feels like moshing through a battlefield

Curtis Crabtree

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