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Hi-Fi Rush review – Rhythm required

Hi-Fi Rush review
Image: Tango Gameworks

Announced and stealth dropped during the Xbox and Bethesda Developer Direct event in January 2023, Hi-Fi Rush is a bit of a departure for developer Tango Gameworks, which is more commonly known for its horror series The Evil Within. An action game with sumptuous cel-shaded visuals, there’s humour around every corner, and its gameplay stands out due to its rhythm based elements. And inexplicably, this first-party Microsoft title is now available on PS5.

The story of Hi-Fi Rush revolves around a goofball called Chai, a music lover who’s very excited about the latest product from Vandelay Technologies. You see, he dreams of being a rockstar, but a disabled right arm makes that a bit difficult. And so, when he hears of Project Armstrong, a cybernetic limb replacement test program, he just has to get involved.

As ever in the world of videogames, things go awry. Not only does Chai end up having his treasured music player embedded in his body as well as getting a new arm, but he also soon learns that the entire program has been created in order to enable mind control.

Deemed a defect that requires destruction, Hi-Fi Rush finds Chai not only fighting for his life, but also taking the fight to Vandelay to put an end to its nefarious machinations. Thankfully it’s not something he has to do alone, with a small group of others joining him along the way. Still, armed with a melee weapon composed of scrap that looks like a guitar, he’s the main fighting force here. Though if you’re going to get the most out of Hi-Fi Rush, you’re going to need rhythm.

Hi-Fi Rush review
Image: Tango Gameworks

The music player implanted in Chai’s chest means that if you perform actions along to the beat, you’re rewarded. Attacks performed to the beat inflict a little more damage, and if you dodge at just the right time you chain up to three of them together. Things get more complicated when you factor in that while standard attacks can be performed every beat, heavy attacks take two beats to be performed.

Factor in other actions that are introduced throughout the game, such as parrying and special attacks, and you have a fairly standard combat system that is made somewhat complex if you want to achieve the best grade available in every fight.

It’s this rhythm-based combat that is likely to make or break Hi-Fi Rush for players. For us, it doesn’t really add any fun to it, with the music for the most part being so generic that it’s hard to discern the beat, let alone perform alongside it. It’s also disappointing that eventually a large proportion of the game’s enemies need to be finished by completing Simon Says-like quick time events, where you need to parry a bevy of incoming blows in order to put them down for good. Honestly, we’d have much rather Hi-Fi Rush be a standard character action game with a banging soundtrack.

We have other issues as well. The companions you gain along the way, for example: you can eventually summon three of them as you explore and fight, each one having unique properties. Peppermint is the one to call if you want to destroy an enemy shield, Macaron can easily destroy walls and enemy armor, and a third character (who we’ll not name for spoiler reasons) can be relied upon to dispel flames. It’s a neat idea, but using their abilities outside of combat can be fiddly and irksome. And during combat, switching between the three to make use of the skills while doing everything else is a bit of a pain.

Hi-Fi Rush review
Image: Tango Gameworks

Along with other issues — such as not being able to manually lock onto enemies in combat, some levels feeling overly long and stretched out, and too many actions requiring rhythm-based quick time events to be completed — Hi-Fi Rush squanders some of its considerable potential. We love the game’s characters and its vibe, and even the core of its gameplay, but there are issues here that suck a considerable amount of fun out of it. And while its rhythm elements make it somewhat unique, they also detract from it in various ways.

The good news is that you can largely ignore the rhythm element during combat: it just means you won’t be able to get the best grade available. There are also some accessibility options available that make playing to the beat and completing other rhythm-based elements a little easier. They perhaps won’t go far enough for some players, though, so if you really don’t have rhythm, this might not be the game for you.

There’s a hell of a lot to like about Hi-Fi Rush: its sumptuous visuals, its over-the-top characters, its silly humour. When it comes to its gameplay, however, we just wish we liked it more. Between its overly long levels, excessive abundance of rhythm-based events, and bouts of combat that ultimately feel overly chaotic and prescriptive, a lot of potential is squandered. Still, there’s some good fun to be had, even once you’ve completed the game’s campaign. And we’d certainly be up for a sequel with some of the rhythm elements toned down.


Hi-Fi Rush review – Gamespew’s score

This review of Hi-Fi Rush is based on the PS5 version, with a code provided by the game’s publisher. It’s available on PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC.
Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!