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Hi-Fi Rush Is Exactly What Xbox Needs Right Now

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The difference between PlayStation and Xbox over the past generation-plus isn’t just the quantity of exclusives, it’s the quality of them. Microsoft has had precious few exclusives at all, which in and of itself has been a big problem. But worse, the number of those that have been not just good but fantastic is embarrassingly small. And that’s why last week’s surprise reveal and immediate shadow-drop of Tango Gameworks’ rhythm-action game Hi-Fi Rush was so huge for Xbox. It surprised, it delighted, and it’s a viral hit – and it’s exactly what Xbox needs right now.

Rhythm-action games aren’t new. But they’ve also never really been “hit” games. We’ve enjoyed a steady diet of them over the past few years, likely from game developers who themselves are, like many gamers, mourning the seemingly permanent death of the plastic-instrument genre that Guitar Hero and Rock Band pioneered in the late-2000s. And while a number of the new-age rhythm-action games have been good – last year’s Metal: Hellsinger leaned hard into its theme and was an incredibly fun game for doing so – there’s something more approachable and appealing about Hi-Fi Rush. Maybe it’s the literal-cartoon art style and its equally cartoonish plot about a teenager who cuts the line at Vandelay Technologies to get his disabled right arm replaced with a functioning robotic limb, only to end up getting rockstar powers courtesy of the iPod that gets mistakenly fused to his chest during the automated, factory-like procedure.

Hi-Fi Rush makes this silly-sounding premise sing though, with humor, liberal use of the entire color palette (recalling past Xbox cult classics like Jet Set Radio Future and Sunset Overdrive), and gameplay that rewards combo moves and special attacks pulled off to the beat of its incredible soundtrack – including cuts from Nine Inch Nails and The Black Keys – but, crucially, doesn’t penalize you for failing to stay in rhythm. Every moment literally exudes joy, as even the normally boring bits of the environment bop to the beat as your rockstar avatar Chai snaps his fingers or taps his foot.

Both Microsoft and the Xbox community needed this

The result is an instantly lovable game that feels fresh and has taken the gaming community by storm. And Bethesda knew it had something special. Everyone has been talking about Hi-Fi Rush for the past week, and deservedly so. It’s also the beneficiary of great timing; the only other significant release around the same time was the Dead Space remake, which, while outstanding, is hardly gunning for the same audience. Dead Space and Hi-Fi Rush couldn’t be more opposite if they tried!

Furthermore, to be blunt, both Microsoft and the Xbox community needed this. We thought the cloudy days were gone forever in 2021, but the dark skies returned last year, with even Xbox boss Phil Spencer acknowledging the dearth of exclusive game releases over the past 12 months. Xbox’s no-show at The Game Awards in December only further tested fans’ patience. And so, the fact that Microsoft didn’t just give us release dates for key first-half-of-the-year exclusives at its recent Developer_Direct broadcast but also released a kickass new game that very day was a jolt of positivity, enthusiasm, and downright fun that Xbox has been lacking in for much of the early part of this new console generation.

So where are we now as we head into the second month of a critical year for Xbox? Forza Motorsport seems to be pushed to the second half of 2023, and Starfield is still something of a question mark, release-date-wise, but for the moment Xbox fans are eatin’ good thanks to a joyous, totally-out-of-left-field surprise from one of the studios it acquired to solve its first-party game problem. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some more evil corporate bosses to beat down with my robot guitar arm…

Ryan McCaffrey is IGN's executive editor of previews and host of both IGN's weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He's a North Jersey guy, so it's "Taylor ham," not "pork roll." Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.

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