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Hi-Fi Rush: Hands-on with a Surprising New Rhythm Action Game

This new Xbox Game Pass game has some big classic Sega energy.

Dan Ackerman Eric Franklin Adam Benjamin
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Eric Franklin Former Editorial Director
Eric Franklin led the CNET Tech team as Editorial Director. A 20-plus-year industry veteran, Eric began his tech journey testing computers in the CNET Labs. When not at work he can usually be found at the gym, chauffeuring his kids around town, or absorbing every motivational book he can get his hands on.
Expertise Graphics and display technology. Credentials Once wrote 50 articles in one month.
Adam Benjamin Managing Editor
Adam Benjamin has helped people navigate complex problems for the past decade. The former digital services editor for Reviews.com, Adam now leads CNET's services and software team and contributes to its game coverage.
Expertise Operating systems, streaming services, mobile apps and first-person shooters Credentials Adam has been covering streaming services since 2013 and wants to help people navigate the subscription creep in their lives.
3 min read

In a world where new games are subject to months-long (if not years-long) prerelease campaigns, often leading to disappointment when the finished product can't live up to the hype (I'm looking at you, Cyberpunk 2077), a genuine surprise can be hard to find. 

Breaking this mold is Hi-Fi Rush, an unexpected new rhythm action game announced at Microsoft's recent Developer Direct Showcase for Xbox. In addition to updates on upcoming games like Redfall and Minecraft Legends, Microsoft not only announced Hi-Fi Rush, but said the game was releasing that same day on Xbox Game Pass. That means subscribers to the Xbox service can download and play it almost immediately at no extra cost. (It's also available for purchase on PC or Xbox.)

Naturally, several of us downloaded and played the retro-feeling game right away. We were soon trading impressions via Slack, so I asked a couple of my colleagues to share their initial thoughts.

Eric: Hi-Fi Rush reminds me of the glory days of Sega. The late Saturn, early Dreamcast era where teams were just doing seemingly whatever the hell they wanted to do in games like Burning Rangers, Space Channel 5, Samba De Amigo and Jet Set Radio. As much as I love them, no publisher would greenlight these games today. The fact that Hi-Fi Rush channels that era of Sega gaming so thoroughly is such a pleasant surprise. 

I'm impressed by everything in this game so far -- the animation, vibrant colors, controls, combo system, writing and sense of humor. It's an absolute miracle this game stayed under wraps until the Jan. 25 reveal. 

The best thing about Hi-Fi Rush: I can play this game with my 4- and 6-year-olds on easy mode, and they've been able to progress without my help (mostly). They even took out a couple of bosses. This is the kind of stuff I want to see more of from Xbox. 


Dan: Unlike some other surprise games that turn up in the Xbox Game Pass catalog unexpectedly (which can sometimes feel like cheap catalog filler), Hi-Fi Rush is… good. 

It feels like a long-lost descendent of classic games like Jet Set Radio/Jet Grind Radio, where cell-shaded youth take on an oppressive dystopian society through a combination of skating and graffiti (back then) or rock music and melee combat (now). The vibe is so similar, it feels like they share the same fictional universe. 

As a free (for existing subscribers) game that isn't based on characters or themes already wrung dry, I don't have much to complain about. That said, the one part of the game that didn't entirely connect for me was the actual beat-matching, where players must hit buttons in time to the music to pull off effective combos. 

With the inherent lag built into wireless controllers and modern TVs and consoles, the timing never felt exactly right to me. I've played bass for more than 30 years and can tell when something's not sitting in the pocket. Yes, there are tweaks available, like special gaming modes on TVs, but maybe the real culprit is the basic four-on-the-floor rock beat. The game needs to swing a bit more, sitting just behind the beat. I guess maybe what I'm saying is, we need an R&B version? 

Adam: I love surprises -- like finding out the minds behind The Evil Within made a colorful rhythm-based action game that nobody knew about, and it's releasing the same day it was announced. But the even bigger surprise was how inviting the game is. The colors are bright, and the animation evokes the amped-up energy of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The game eases you into the beat-based combat with plenty of tutorials and chances to practice the mechanics. And Robbie Daymond's voice acting turns an otherwise annoying character into a surprisingly endearing protagonist. 

It all adds up a fun and fresh gaming experience. Hi-Fi Rush isn't the first game to put rhythm mechanics in an action game, but it does blend things together in a unique way. It somehow mixes the combat of Spider-Man with the bright palace environments of Persona 5 and sets it all to a rock soundtrack. I'm not very far into the game, but I'm hoping Hi-Fi Rush can keep up this energy once I'm through the basics and working through the later elements of the game.