Remember what life was like as a modern gamer before Hi-Fi Rush? How you had to sit at home, hyped to the max, counting down the days until the release of a game that some guy in a trendy jacket, T-shirt with a big logo and colourful sneakers announced a year ago on stage at an event, complete with a rock-solid release date. How, with trembling fingers, you made your pre-order and then followed trailers, leaked images, and obscure Twitter accounts that progressively raised your pulse to unhealthy levels, only to crushingly deliver a blow so hard before release that you saw stars. It doesn't matter if the reason is a pandemic, arguments over rights, or creative opinions divided, the feeling in a gamer's chest when a long-awaited game is delayed is brutal. For many, it's the highlight of the year and something to plan for. You may even have booked a holiday to play, told the family you won't be available for a month and cancelled all get-togethers. Once the game is launched, it's not uncommon for it to be broken and lifeless and come with a promise from the developers that "we'll fix it later." Then when the bugs persist year-after-year, there's a "we hear you" and shortly after, a shutdown of the servers and straight on to the next host body to suck the life out of.
Microsoft and Bethesda started the new year by doing the right thing. They travelled back in time, to an era when building hype and breaking promises was completely unknown phenomenon and they just released a game. Directly, with no frills. Where they let the players be the focus and not the shareholders. Last week, we got to experience this again. During prime time, in the middle of the Bethesda and Microsoft Developer Direct. Once isn't a trend in any way, of course, but it still shows that things don't have to be so damn complicated all the time. It's obviously possible to launch a game the same day it's announced, and to make it even better - straight onto Game Pass, so let's hope it becomes a new trend. The fact that Hi-Fi Rush is phenomenal doesn't make it any worse either, of course.
It starts straight away, with an intro that throws me into a world of colour, creativity and tongue-in-cheek humour. To the tune of The Black Key's swinging hit song, Lonely Boy, I get to know my character, Chai, with whom I'll spend about nine hours with from now on. We don't click right away, that's for sure. At first I think the lad is a terribly annoying and whiny zoomer who should grow up and stop living in a fantasy world, where you can title yourself a rock star, but that quickly passes and soon we're smiling and love each other. It's not long before the whole game world starts vibrating to sweet riffs and we have a mission. To smash Vandelay, an evil conglomerate led by the unsympathetic Kale and his motley crew of henchmen, all in rhythm to the music (those of us who have been around for a while does, of course, know that Vandelay is a latex import & export company run by George Costanza of Seinfeld and nothing else). Anyway, one thing leads to another and Chai suddenly has a robotic arm and an MP3 player in his belly. In his fist, a V-shaped death guitar made of scrap metal and at his side, a high-tech kitty cat, who is actually a woman named Peppermint.
Together we set off into a vibrant world, filled with platforming, puzzle-solving and, of course, battles. All the while with a constant beat in the background, which increases in intensity as I hand out a brutal beating at just the right moment so that gears, batteries and thermal paste rain down from the sky. First simple cleaning robots, then full-fledged war machines and finally I'm standing there. Eye to eye, or rather eye to LED light with my first boss. Nine Inch Nails presses the disc pedal to the bottom and I do the same with the attack button. Spamming with light and heavy attacks and finishing with a guitar solo that makes the giant in front of me croak and all the while I'm moving, never standing still. I dodge, I parry, I strike when it feels the most fitting. It's like a symphony of destruction and just like the music never pauses, I never stop. I sit in a trance, with permanent goose bumps. Everything flows seamlessly, and once I get into that sweet place where everything happens in perfect symbiosis, where Peppermint and I line up perfect rounds that make me feel completely invincible, it's all so damn beautiful that the clocks stop and angels sing in chorus.
Finally, after a musical journey as euphoric as it is exhausting, I land on the couch. In the hub world, which serves as both an oasis, a place for rest and contemplation, and a place where I can prepare for the next mission. Using the scrap I've accumulated from smashing mechanical enemies, I can upgrade my robotic arm with new advanced attacks, meaty specials, and eventually chips to give my cavalier feline buddy more punch or shorter cooldown time, and it will be needed because as it should be, each mission gets harder and harder. Never infernally difficult though, although there are a few places where it can be a real trial if you can't find your rhythm, because that's what it's all about. Find the pace and never lose it and you'll be showered with benefits. But here, the focus is not on the challenge, but on other values. Like pure entertainment, for example.
But it's not all fun and games. There's also a story here, which at first glance may seem both trivial and banal, but just wait. Your heart will take a beating, but it will also be filled with such warmth that you'll momentarily forget that you're a guitar-wielding quote machine here to rock. Because if there's one thing Hi-Fi Rush does, it's rock. The amp is on full blast, it's firing on all cylinders. It's wild, it's beautiful, we do it all at a furious pace and there's not the slightest hint of padding or live service components. No greedy business models, no empty game worlds. Plus, not a single bug. Not even one little inoffensive graphics glitch I encountered. No performance issues. Zero lag, no frame drops. Of course, it shouldn't even need to be brought up, but since Bethesda is involved, it's still worth highlighting. The voice actors do a magnificent job of making this story thrilling on an emotional level and on a more light-hearted one where the slightly nerdy humour often lands just right. Visually, it's a colourful retro dream that suddenly comes true. A comic book come to life and combined with the magnificent soundtrack, it's like having the whole of the 80s injected right into your bloodstream.
Hi-Fi Rush is not unique. It's a Jet-Set Radio without the skates, a rhythmic Devil May Cry in the near future, it's impossible not to think of Metal: Hellsinger and the humour is not infrequently reminiscent of that served up in Borderlands, but sometimes you really don't need to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes it's not wrong to pick the finest features from elsewhere and then making something of your own out of it, something that stands out from the crowd. They've definitely managed to do that here, throwing together a game that's incredibly entertaining from start to finish. In fact, it's hard to find anything to complain about. Most of it just works, it's a well-oiled machine like no other, but if I'm going to spoil the upcoming ratings party with anything, it's mainly two things. That it's not always crystal clear where to go, which also has to be said may have been enhanced by my abysmal sense of location but it's undeniably a bit cluttered here and there, despite a mostly linear level design. Then there's combat in the latter part of the game.
When the screen fills up with enemies it sometimes becomes difficult to read the room and it's obviously not optimal when a missed parry or a missed perfect shot that hits the wrong target can result in my final grade for that sequence being a B instead of an A or S. It's one thing when it's my own fault but when it's due to factors beyond my control I'm not quite as forgiving. Now it's not in any way particularly costly, other than for Achievement hunters and completionists, and should I even happen to die in the process, I'll just have to pick up where the music suddenly left off.
I simply have to salute Bethesda and Microsoft, and first and foremost the developer Tango Gameworks for a blockbuster release and a game that I'd probably call one of the best platformers I've played during my almost 50 years on planet Earth. Those are big words, I know, but how many times have I ploughed through a game in a single sitting and not once cursed loudly about microtransactions, bugs, broken game mechanics or just boring content? Few is the answer, extremely few.