The video game industry’s hype cycles are typically measured in months and years, not minutes and seconds. So the simultaneous announcement and release in late January of Hi-Fi Rush – the kind of “go and buy it right now” revelation Apple is known for – feels breezily countercultural. So too does its bright, cartoonish styling: this game is as brazenly colourful as a Jet Set Radio fever dream, and even as plastic Guitar Hero instruments clog up the nation’s cupboards, it’s refreshing to play a game that is so unashamedly music-centred.
This is a brawler set to the beat of a drum. You play as Chai, an ebullient teenage boy who enrols in a biological augmentation program with a shady pharmaceutical company. The operation goes wrong when an old iPod-style music player is fitted to Chai’s chest. Marked for extermination, you must guide Chai to safety, then help him to take down his oppressor. As you move through these Shibuya-inspired streets, the world and everything in it pulses to the rhythm of the game’s soundtrack (a blend of originals and licensed tracks from bands such as the Black Keys and Nine Inch Nails).
When fending off attacks by robot guards, you must try to time your punches, kicks, leaps and dodges to the march of the musical stave. Unlike the more traditional music games, even gamers who lack any sense of rhythm can participate; perfect timing merely increases the effectiveness of your attacks (and improves the grade awarded after the encounter). It’s entirely possible to fumble your way through, and regardless of when you press the button the game adjusts the timings of your character’s animations to match the beat, enabling even an inept player to feel skilful. This is a world that, robot assassins aside, is pleasurable to exist within and to explore, made all the sweeter by virtue of its unexpected arrival.