Hi-Fi Rush is the video game I didn’t know I needed — even though I’m bad at it

The protagonist Chai looks up, with a robot cat on his shoulders, as someone off camera says they like defects in Hi-Fi Rush
(Image credit: Tango Gameworks/Bethesda Softworks)

To paraphrase a certain Dante: I'm not even supposed to be playing Hi-Fi Rush today. That said, this brightly-colored rhythm/action game, which hit Xbox Series X, Series S and PCs on January 25th (and available on Game Pass) has found a place in my routine when I should be doing many other things. But the biggest reason why this all surprises me is that I'm not good at Hi-Fi Rush.

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And that means that a lot of this whole fascination I've found with Hi-Fi Rush can be broken down to a solid axiom: don't give up on things you think you don't like. Just because I've never actually enjoyed a rhythm game before doesn't mean one would come along and change my mind. Which Hi-Fi Rush certainly has.

My shock also has something to do with the fact that I explicitly forbade myself to not pay for any more games until I'd played more of the games I've acquired and not given a serious try to. But the hype for Hi-Fi Rush that blossomed on my social media timelines, and from word of mouth from friends, hit an all-too sensitive pressure point: FOMO. 

Here's why I'm glad it did.

Hi-Fi Rush is a perfect cocktail of tantalizing elements

My early glimpses at Hi-Fi Rush were all static images, and I think that's why I gave it a chance. I could see it offered the cel-shaded aesthetics of Jet Set Radio, and I'd heard it did a fantastic job of implementing music, too. The tunes are in the DNA of the game, as well, as protagonist Chai winds up getting a music player embedded in his chest in a freak accident.

Said accident happens when Chai (a slacker dude), sneaks his way into the Vandelay Industries (love a good Seinfeld reference) to be a subject for the company's revolutionary Project Armstrong. And this secretive initiative gives Armstrong a robotic arm, which uses magnets to pull metallic trash into a guitar-like weapon he can wield — which you need to click the Y and X buttons at certain rhythms in order to do properly. Check it out in this video below:

As I've played Hi-Fi Rush, I've repeatedly remembered that this is not my genre of choice. Fortunately, it's not as intense a rhythm game as Guitar Hero (you're not trying to match four buttons), because I keep getting poor score cards. But for the most part I've been able to get by, even if it's by the skin of my teeth. I've only died once, actually, so the game's pretty forgiving, at least in its opening hours.

When I died, though, it was during the first boss fight that I almost felt helpless playing. My biggest gripe with Hi-Fi Rush is about movement on screen, as I've had trouble with moving on the depth axis. That said, the boss fight was set to Nine Inch Nails' phenomenal song "1,000,000," which had me smiling and rocking out as I was failing.

Hi-Fi Rush has me savoring each moment

Between its rhythm elements, beautiful style, platformer sensibilities and charm, Hi-Fi Rush is the game I didn't know I needed.

Notably, Hi-Fi Rush is referred to as a rather short game, as How Long To Beat claims its main story takes 11 hours to complete, with 22.5 hours for completionists. This, arguably, is why I'm OK with having trouble with Hi-Fi Rush, as I'm not in a rush (sorry) to finish it.

On top of that, everything about Hi-Fi Rush's aesthetic and vibes just speak to me. It feels like a spiritual successor to the Scott Pilgrim movie, and all of the little things (including the cat that helps you early on) feel like perfect touches. Heck, look at this well-stylized 'game over' screen, which looks like a movie poster.

The Game Over screen in Hi-Fi Rush

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks/Bethesda Softworks)

Throughout, Hi-Fi Rush gives you space to explore and play in its platformer experience. Many a trinket and upgrade are hidden in hard-to-get-to areas, which reminds me of the Mario games in the best way. Hi-Fi Rush's rhythm elements also show up here, as you'll move around its world better if you jump to the beat as well.

Outlook: Hi-Fi Rush defies genres to great success

Whenever I think I know what Hi-Fi Rush is doing, it manages to surprise me. Take for example the below moment , where Chai — the defect that Vandelay grunts are hunting — asks "Anyone see the guy that did this?" With his red-and-yellow clothes, Chai is pulling off a clever reference to I Think You Should Leave (one of the best shows on Netflix), with the hot dog suit guy's car crash.

Chai asks "Oh. umm. Anyone see the guy that did this?" in Hi-Fi Rush

(Image credit: Tango Gameworks/Bethesda Softworks)

Between its rhythm elements, beautiful style, platformer sensibilities and charm, Hi-Fi Rush is the game I didn't know I needed — and one I bet I'll be hoping gets DLC soon. Heck, maybe it will teach me to actually be good at rhythm games.

Read next: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot isn’t a great game, and it doesn’t need to be

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.