In a gaming market where between the announcement and the actual launch, a production can run into some obstacles represented by postponements, reshuffles, changes of direction or last minute leaks, finding yourself in front of Hi-Fi Rush proves to be a real own breath of fresh air. Announced during the last Xbox Developer Direct and released on January 25, 2023 on Xbox Series X|S, Game Pass and Steam, this Stylish Action took just over 8 minutes to get the limelight and amaze everyone. To put it on the level of puns: what was presented by Tango Gameworks resonated with my strings, convincing me to take up the rock star path and try my hand at a solo that would make even Whiplash’s drummer envy.
Hi-Fi Rush: the return of the four-leaf clover
When a AAA development studio like Tango Gameworks, which has based much of their business in the industry on creating horror experiences like the two The Evil Within and Ghostwire Tokyo, tries to step out of its comfort zone and try to embrace a new genre, the discussions around these “experiments” begin to be impregnated with an aura of doubts and preconceptions. And in a scenario of any other AAA title, with a specific deadline visible to everyone and with the specter of hype ready to act as a “sword of Damocles” on the developers’ heads, this halo would only grow bigger and filter negatively the opinion of the players.
However, the complete anonymity of the entire production (started in 2017) and the surprise release of the game to any player who even bought the first trial month of the Game Pass for 1 euro, allowed Hi-Fi Rush to ignore this unpleasant dynamic and immediately show its value. But even without all these premises and looking at the list of authors who have collaborated in its development, Hi-Fi Rush is the closest thing to a “reunion band” of the Stylish Action genre. Do we want to count those present? Producer Shinji Mikami, Masaaki Yamada as game designer, and finally Shuichi Kobori as composer. All prominent figures who have previously worked on great successes such as Viewtiful Joe, Devil May Cry, Vanquish, Bayonetta and the less fortunate God Hand, a dream team that director John Johanas has put together to give life to his first high-profile production level. Will he be able to make the most of this opportunity? Let’s find out.
The protagonist of Hi-Fi Rush is Chai, a wannabe rock star in search of success and with an outgoing and overwhelming personality, despite not being “the sharpest tool in the shed”. However, his life is destined to change when, after being selected for the Armstrong Project of the multinational Vendelay and a series of – for lack of other definitions – “adventurous supercazzole”, he finds himself with a robotic graft instead of an arm and a reader mp3 fused to his heart, transforming himself into a sort of “Iron Man of the poor” and becoming the company’s number one wanted, which as such cannot in any way allow a “defect” to continue to exist. This sequence of events will lead Chai to join Peppermint, a revolutionary inventor and gunner, and the robotic cat 808, in an adventure between the Vendelay structures in search of the most uncomfortable and darkest secrets of the Armstrong Project and its upper echelons.
I don’t think there’s any need to hide it, and most likely the terms used just now have already made it clear, but Hi-Fi Rush is very keen not to take itself seriously at all. If already from this small introduction it is possible to notice how the entire screenplay oozes “American Saturday morning cartoon” vibes from every dialogue, scene, joke, even shot on the screen, know that this is only the tip of a very bigger. What John Johanas himself wrote is the perfect marriage between the Y2K/Cyberpunk aesthetic of the Vendelay industries, the current issues surrounding the company and the personalities of each individual cast member, from the main characters, to the secondary ones up to the various bosses of the “ugly and bad multinational”. Also accomplice a directed the animated scenes by Yun M. Watanabe really interestingand capable of rendering the rhythm of music tracks diegetic towards the game world. In some cases it seems to attend to “a The Boys that has given up on the splatter in favor of the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World comedy” and that’s fine, especially if you consider the real attraction of the “Stylish Action” genre: the gameplay pad in hand.
Saturday morning is also a good time to fight
Before going into the specifics of the Hi-Fi Rush gameplay, a small preface linked to the “Stylish Action” genre is a must, both to put a particular game design context on the table and to inform less accustomed players and new to the genre. Unlike other titles such as Batman Arkham or Marvel’s Spider-Man, where the game action revolves around melee management or crowd control only, games such as Devil May Cry, Bayonetta or The Wonderful 101 point to a much more arcadey and with a strong focus on replay value. In fact, the player is required to perform a continuous rotation between the various moves available, in order to obtain an ever-increasing score depending on the variety shown during the clashes, together with all the “technicalities” of the case such as Dante’s Royalguard or the continuous activation of Bayonetta’s Witch Time. At high game levels, this gameplay loop turns into a choreography of explosions and blows from orbi, and which in some respects also requires good management of its own pace.
The idea behind the gameplay of Hi-Fi Rush takes these rather advanced notions and tries to put them at the service of any player, novice or expert, making the rhythm an integral part of its combat system. Rather than overloading the player with buttons, combos and whatever, everything is introduced relatively calmly, starting with Chai’s basic attacks – light and heavy depending on the key used – and how these can best be used. While it’s still possible to mash on your controller like there’s no tomorrow and land a few hits, the damage inflicted on opponents would be far from optimal. The best solution is therefore to follow the tempo of the song and press the keys at the right moment. And if in this case the light attacks can be pressed in succession without particular problems, heavy ones need a short break before being used again. At the end of a “string” of commands, a short quick time event is proposed which, if exceeded, allows the execution of a “GO SO!”, or an impact finisher capable of inflicting even more damage than normal.
The loop that comes out of all this manages to deviate from the examples made previously, offering a Stylish Action experience that is original in its own way and capable of gluing the player in front of the screen, even in defiance of some sections of exploration and platforming that yes , in the long run they can be tiring, but which – considering the adrenaline and the effort that the player will have to endure during the most agitated battles that require even more demanding timing – are good opportunities to catch your breath. Speaking of which, most of the explorable areas are chock full of collectibles, codecs, graffiti and additional missions, and which add further replayability options outside of the classic ranking and scoring system of the genre, and which in Hi- Fi Rush includes the percentage of actions performed to the beat of the music. As the player obtains new collectibles, completes new objectives and obtains new resources to upgrade, Chai’s moveset will be embellished with new mechanics and available moves, such as the possibility of parrying, special moves, throwing himself against or attracting an enemy , or summon an assistant. This last mechanic and the effects that each ally brings with it add further depth to the combat system, as well as the exploration of the various levels, between simple but quickly executed puzzles and insurmountable obstacles with the usual brute force.
But as with any title of the genre, the strong point of Hi-Fi Rush lies in the various battles against the bosses of Vendelay, between advanced automatons with increasingly unmanageable power and the 6 bosses of the company, each of them with their own unique gimmick . Starting from the first boss up to the end of the work, Hi-Fi Rush proves to be a fun and continuously growing challenge and without particular too evident peaks in difficulty, with the latter which can vary according to the player’s preferences and which requires a greater or lesser timing of execution. To all this are added the usual extra game modes that can be unlocked at the end of the adventure, such as additional difficulties and the possibility of trying your hand at a horde time trial similar to Devil May Cry’s Bloody Palace. In short, as mentioned before, Hi-Fi Rush aims to accommodate all types of players, from the most demanding to the least accustomed without however penalizing the latter’s experience. In this case, we must applaud the accessibility options provided and the attention to detail, from the simple colorblind mode to the options that simplify (although not too much) the actions to be performed during the game.
Hi-Fi Rush: “Nostaldrenalina” Pura!
Obviously, another selling point of the entire Hi-Fi Rush experience is its aesthetic impact. The use of cel-shading rendering is masterfully managed, with an art style that takes up the stylistic features and the use and abuse of onomatopoeia and explosive effects as already seen in films and animated series that have become cult like Into the Spider-Verse for example, but which once applied to the futuristic aesthetics remind us of a way of showing the videogame son of the PlayStation 2/Xbox/Dreamcast generation and I mean it as the best possible compliment for such a game. All this is accompanied by a stellar sound sector and since it is a rhythm game it could only be otherwise. Both the original songs created by Tango and Bethesda, as well as the few but well exploited licensed tracks, instill an adrenaline rush that manages to compete and sometimes even surpass its direct competitors. Coming out of the role of reviewer for a few lines, the use of Invaders Must Die by The Prodigy, inserted within one of the topical moments of Hi-Fi Rush, managed to give what I would define as the perfect summary of the entire work.
PIATTAFORMA: PC, XBOX SERIES X|S
DEVELOPER: Tango Gameworks
PUBLISHER: Bethesda Softworks
RELEASE DATE: January 25, 2023
All in all, Hi-Fi Rush is an experience that is special in its own way. Tango Gameworks has managed to get a “good first” in the world of Stylish Action (despite the premises made at the beginning) which can not be recommended. Its sudden arrival and its incredible qualities in gameplay and presentation make it the first revelation of 2023, as well as an excellent excuse to at least try the Xbox Game Pass offer. Will it be a possible contender for the title of “Game of the Year”? It’s still early to say, but surely some mention in the Action category will come.
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