Overall 8.90
In the most surprising launch of a game in recent memory, Tango Gameworks shadow dropped a hack and slash action game onto gamepass during a MS show. The bright Saturday morning cartoon animation instantly stood out, and then came the hook, the entire game is driven by a beat. In one quick trailer Tango delivered all that really had to be known about this action game, and it was available to play immediately to all gamepass holders. This could have been some small experimental title shadow dropped to get some attention but no it’s a full fledged action game and best of all it’s GREAT.

Hifi Rush stems from the DMC action game tree with its focus on getting stylish combos and air juggling enemies. Compared to the recent DMCV and Bayonetta 3, Hifi Rush keeps it simple with just one protagonist, Chai, and one weapon. It’s quaint in comparison but Tango adds so many skills, moves, and builds everything around the concept of attacking on the beat; the depth is still there, your options are just more limited. The beat is what separates this game from the rest and is the secret sauce that makes it all work. The entire game world is reacting to the beat, from the UI to the environment; every attack you do lands on the beat no matter when you push the attack button. If you press the button at the exact moment of the beat you get bonus damage and at the end of a combo you get to do a finisher that has to be hit on the beat to activate. Every enemy attacks on the beat as well meaning you must dodge or parry on the beat to avoid damage. The result is a rhythmic dance where your attacks and dodges all happen in rhythm, it’s elegant and works well.

But what if I am musically challenged you may ask, well I am so here is my personal experience trying to master the game. The beat never changes and this game gives a multitude of ways to track the beat. You can even activate a huge bar at the bottom that might as well say “follow this you idiot”, even with all that I struggled. The combat scoring system scores you in three categories, combo, being on the beat, and time. I regularly got S on combo and time but never could get the beat at a high percentage meaning I didn’t get S ranks much to my chagrin. When the action got heavy I instinctually would start bashing buttons, yeah the combos still work but I lose all bonuses. Even when I tried to get back on beat (which means hit the button as the character hits, making getting back on beat easier than starting on beat) it would be hit and miss. But every once in a while I would finally get in sync and it’s glorious. Especially when dodges and blocks start to all fit in, it absolutely gives the rush of the best action games.

I was shocked to find how much depth this one weapon action game has. It starts off slow, lots of tutorials, kind of makes the first few levels a slog, but I did like having new skills and abilities added nearly every level. The biggest additions to your standard combos are the partner attacks which can be used with a button press. Eventually there will be three different partners to flip through, each with a cool down timer. They each have their place in combat as they help take down the defenses of enemies. There will be enemies with energy shields that can only be broken by the gun blasts of Peppermint, some enemies have armor on that can be shattered by Macaron. You can upgrade the partners abilities to include special pair attacks which activate if you summon them at the exact moment a combo finisher ends. These attacks can add multipliers to your combo and many times launch enemies into the air allowing combos after their health has dropped to zero.

Chai has the usual set of combos found in most of these games, a series of light and strong attacks done in a row to activate different combos. Some launch enemies into the air opening a whole different set of air juggle combos. Some combo strings knock enemies back, some do an area of attack, others do quick strikes. A lot of the time it doesn’t really matter what combo you do, especially against the bigger enemies. It matters more to stay on beat and try to nail those finishers. I did enjoy having new combos and abilities to buy after each level.

There is also a super meter that charges the more you stay on beat. Those partner combos I mentioned earlier take a bar of that meter to use. There are also special attacks each with different costs, the strongest taking the entire bar. All of this is customizable and adds to the character building you do as you play. There are also “chips” which add smaller modifiers which can mix and matched, stuff like faster cool downs for the partners.

Early on Chai will gain the hookshot ability which allows you to pull yourself quickly to enemies to keep those combos going, especially useful for airborne enemies. For defense there is a dash which can be chained up to three times ONLY if you are on beat, if you aren’t you are stuck with one dash. Many boss enemies require multiple dashes in a row so being on beat is paramount. Finally mid game the parry move gets unlocked and this feels like the final ingredient to push the combat to a new level. Enemies will clearly telegraph when an attack is coming with visuals and sound, of course it will land on beat. A successful parry will open up different counter attacks available, sometimes it’s the only way to do massive damage on an enemy. All these elements come together to make this games combat system surprisingly deep. The best way I can put it is it feels like Nero in DMC but with even more options; there are going to be plenty of players that prefer the focus and elegance of having an entire game work with one weapon and one set of skills.

I found the enemy variety to be a huge plus, especially with how well paced they are introduced. It begins with the standard grunts which are your classic combo punching bags. Then comes in the heavies that absorb plenty of punishment before going down. Soon there are shooters, heavies with various shield and fast striking ninja like robots. It keeps getting more and more creative from there. Most of the boss battles are show stopping moments, they come with their own great variety and really test your skills. It’s not hard in the way a souls game is but if you want to get an s rank against a boss or clear it without losing a life that could be a substantial challenge.

After the parry is learned certain enemies have super attacks that play like a parry rhythm game. I don’t think this was a great addition, it halts the game and forces the player to hit a string of perfectly timed parries. First the enemy will show the player the timing of the attacks, sometimes it’s simple, four beats at different speeds, but with bosses and bigger enemies it can reach a string of nine notes at different speeds and you get that one example before the attacks come. Fail to perfectly parry on the beat at any time in the string and you fail, taking damage. In most fights it just starts over again and again and again until you win or die. If you die you have to do the entire fight again. So imagine an epic boss fight, you finally reach the end with a sliver of life left, the game stops and the boss readies his string of attacks that’s nine notes long, you miss the eighth note, the attack kills you… start the fight over. That said if you are in the zone and you nail all these attacks it feels great. For regular enemies it’s a great way to instant kill them and it’s also avoidable, it’s the bosses where I felt it was a poor choice to force this mini game like moment on the player.

Part of the charm of Hifi Rush is that it feels like action game from the early 2000s, but that comes at the expense of the level design. The game is extremely linear, that’s fine for an action game like this but I expected those levels to have some better gameplay outside the combat. For a game about rhythm it’s surprising there wasn’t really any great platforming rhythm sections, there are a few areas especially later on where you have to do a series of jumps to the beat but it’s all very basic. It’s also odd that some of these levels are long with lots of space between battles where all you really do is hit a switch or two and move on. There are hidden power ups around usually hiding behind a corner. Usually these kinds of games have optional hidden battles, that’s usually why it’s fun to explore the levels but for some reason Rush locks away the optional battles as a post game bonus. This gives players a reason to play again as there is plenty of post game content but I much rather have bonus battles the first time I play. By the very end levels do get better, more exciting and tie better to the action of the story but over I feel the level design left a lot to be desired.

I loved the Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic and presentation. The story is filled with lovable memorable characters, each growing throughout the story. It’s a classic coming of age hero story as Chai learns the lesson of teamwork with his pals, it’s done effortlessly with the skill of the best animation studios. I cannot stress how amazing the animation is, the graphics overall are stunning, with colors that pop and incredibly smooth motion. The villains are all over the top and make for great boss battles. I enjoyed every moment of the story, sure it has predictable twists and turns but it has the charm of cartoons I grew up with. It’s funny at times with loads of video game inside jokes, never takes itself too seriously but still having a strong heart with characters that grow, it’s so well done and ultimately elevates the entire game.

An entire game based on musical rhythm should have a fantastic soundtrack and Hifi Rush has its moments but I was expecting more. Most of the time there is just a background beat to some music that fades to the background. There are moments of new tracks and licensed music that usually hit right at a big boss battle or at a pivotal moment of a fight. These songs fit the vibe of the game perfectly, I just wish it was more music than mood music for most of the game.

Hifi Rush will take a good 10-12 hours to beat on its first go which is a great length for this style of game. With loads of post game content there is plenty to do for those who want to master the game. There are loads of optional achievement like goals, plenty of moves to unlock and mess around with. Like most action games there is the “tower” which gives you nearly endless waves of enemies to truly test your combat mettle. Plus there is extra story moments dealing with the aforementioned  bonus rooms locked during the first go of the campaign. If you have gamepass you would be a crazy person not to play this game, for everyone else it’s a modest $30 game that is well worth every cent.

What a gift this gem of a game is. To come out of nowhere and to be this polished, this well designed and with a style that stands out is a remarkable achievement. Tango Gameworks has focused mostly on horror games, well now they show they can hang with anyone on action games as well. It might be a more simple action game than the best in the genre but it’s so polished and well executed. It takes an idea and explores it in every way to create a memorable unique action game experience.
Posted by Dvader Sun, 19 Feb 2023 04:26:29
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