Why I didn’t get into Hi-Fi Rush

Hi-Fi Rush may just go down as this year’s most beloved game that I simply couldn’t get into. Granted, in fairness, I do believe it says more about me and my taste in games than it does the quality of Hi-Fi Rush. But let’s get into it.

The art style is nice, with it’s cartoony-anime-comic-bookey look and Saturday morning cartoon vibes. It controls well and is very flashy at times.

But I didn’t care about the main story and didn’t connect with the dufus, Peter Quill-esque main character.

I also don’t like rhythm-based games, but with this one being available on Game Pass and it being the talk of the town (as they say), I figured it was worth a shot. After all, I’ve been attempting to expand my horizons and try genres I’m not normally drawn to, to see if I change my mind. Sadly, that didn’t happen here.

The trailer didn’t get me excited tbh. It even has that oh so cliché part where it freezes on the action so the character can say, “you’re probably wondering how I got here.” It’s laughable honestly…

Admittedly, this one is more accessible than most rhythm-based games, at least initially.

It’s a level-based, action game with collectibles to find in each level and platforming to do between bouts of stylish, combo-based combat.

You’re performing combos and timing your button presses to the beat of the music, and everything in the environment in also moving and throbbing to the beat, including the enemies.

And while you can still perform attacks and combos while off-beat, you don’t deal as much damage, and you don’t get the powerful combo finishers unless you manage to stay on beat.

And because the main character’s weapon is a makeshift guitar that he wields like a club, it plays guitar rifts as you land hits and perform combo button presses to the beat in a whimsical rock concert-turned melee.

It reminded me quite a bit of “The Artful Escape” in the way it felt like you were participating in playing the music as you jumped and platformed your way through levels as the music swelled, and the visuals exploded with light and color in time with the rhythm.

However, “The Artful Escape” was a no-fail kind of game. “Hi-Fi Rush” is not. But to its credit, the developers clearly want you to try this game, learn it, and find success. It doesn’t want to let you fail. But if you’re bad enough, the game will eventually concede.

At the end of a combat section in “Hi-Fi Rush,” you get a grade for how well you performed, much like in a Bayonetta game.

Seeing these grades come in was little more than proof that I’m not good at this kind of game, and, very likely, that I have no rhythm at all.

Still, there are things you can do to help yourself out. In the accessibility features, you can increase the visual pulse of the floating robot cat head that accompanies you during levels to help you stay on beat. And if that’s not enough, you can turn on a HUD element at the bottom of the screen to watch as the notes come together to indicate when to hit the buttons.

Despite all the help turned on, I still felt lucky to finish a combat section at a “C” or a “B” level at best. I did manage a few sections at a higher grade level, but they were few and far between.

That didn’t necessarily make the combat difficult, though, as the game generously threw healing items at me whenever my health got low. And I switched the ability that amounts to an ultimate ability to the one that regains some health, just to have even more survivability.

And frankly, if this had been the extent of the game’s ambition, and I had been able to stumble my way through 10-12 hours of clumsy rhythm-based combos, I might have finished the game and found it a perfectly fine, even enjoyable, little game.

But what really broke the camel’s back for me was the introduction of the parry system.

Unlike the regular combos, when it comes to the parry system you can’t just get by, by “doing your best.” The game will often come to a complete stop and not let you proceed until you finally nail the timing of the parry. And it wasn’t as simple as nailing the timing of parrying one attack.

No, you must parry a series of attacks that come at you to the beat. So if you’re struggling to stay on the beat already, having to suddenly start parrying enemies is where the game’s accessibility to non-rhythmically gifted people such as myself disappeared.

There are also a number of times in which the game comes to a stop to force you into what amounts to quick-time-events where you have to wait for circles to wind down to know when to hit the corresponding button, only for another circle with a corresponding button to pop up. And you must complete the series, with the correct timing, before the game will let you move on.

Often this resulted in a pace-breaking, immersion and moment-breaking, standstill of repeated attempts until I finally got it just right. This often left me exhausted and in need of a break from the game.

In general, I found the rhythm-centric combat had me wishing, more or less, the game was a normal, combo-based, hack and slash game without a rhythm-based system at all, and with no forced parry/quick-time-event sections. I might have liked it more. But then again, that’s the game’s distinguishing feature. So I’m confident, I’m alone in thinking that.

And while combo variety is great and all, it was also a little overwhelming. I quickly got lost trying to sort out all the possible combos (likely a positive point for fans of this genre). Despite the number and variety of the combos available, I really only found need of a few solid combos I could remember the sequence to, and that I can reliably repeat during the heat of battle. I basically just reused two or three combos and only ever did others accidentally.

The game already starts with more combos available than I could be bothered to remember, and then rests its progression system, at least partially, on buying even more combos. And because I couldn’t keep the ones I already had available straight in my head, I often didn’t even bother buying any of the upgrades, despite the game’s insistence that I look at the upgrades menu.

Despite all of this, I don’t hate “Hi-Fi Rush.” In fact, I love that Tango Gameworks is taking a shot with something very out of character for them. And I love that they were able to keep it a secret and release it on the same day it was announced. I love a hot drop, especially when it’s available on Game Pass.

All of this is to say, I appreciate what this game is and how much people seem to be liking it, but I just didn’t feel anything for it. So don’t feel bad if you also tried it, and it didn’t click.

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