It’s fair to say, over the last couple of weeks, I have been a little bit obsessed with Hi-Fi Rush, the newest game from Tango Gameworks. While the studio’s previous titles such as The Evil Within were very much horror themed affairs, Hi-Fi Rush is a colourful and cartoonish mashup of character action and music rhythm gameplay. Learn combos, beat up enemies, and get bonuses for acting on the beat of the soundtrack as you play.
I put out a video last week discussing the fact that, despite some small issues, Hi-Fi Rush made such a strong impression on me that, only a month into the year, I consider it likely that the game will end up on my game of the year list for 2023. I’m loving the game, despite usually struggling with both the genres it’s mashing together.
However, one aspect of the game I didn’t talk about last week, due to wanting more time to mull over some thoughts, was the game’s approach to accessibility, which looks good on paper, but has a few issues in its execution. For me, it really opened up the game and made it more playable, but I can see the areas where its approach to accessibility isn’t going to be universally helpful.
So, to start, let’s talk a little bit about how the game plays, before digging into the accessibility settings.
Hi-Fi Rush is, at its core, a character action game in the vein of titles like the Devil May Cry series and similar contemporaries. The player, who controls a young man fighting capitalism using his magnetic trash guitar and an ipod built into his chest, is tasked with defeating waves of enemies using combinations of light attacks, heavy attacks, dodges, blocks and parries, special moves, and combo moves. The combat system is similar to many other games, but what sets it apart is how it incorporates music rhythm elements into combat.
Hi-Fi Rush rarely, during regular gameplay, requires the player to attack on the beat of the music to execute attacks, and get through combat, at least on lower difficulties. There are exceptions, most notably minigames where the player must press specific buttons with decent accuracy to do things like restarting a generator, but during most combat on easy and normal difficulty, rhythm accuracy is not necessary for progression.
The way that Hi-Fi Rush works is that when you press the attack button, your attack will always connect with the enemy on the next beat of the music. If you press the attack button too early you’ll still hit the enemy on the beat. Hitting the attack button perfectly on beat doesn’t determine whether or not you get to attack, but it does come with some rewards. Certain combos will get extenders on the end of them if you are on beat. Certain flashy finishing moves need you to be on beat. Some kinds of parries require you to be on beat to get a little in battle bonus. Being on beat provides bonuses, but you are never punished with failure to execute basic attacks by being off beat during combat.
Hi-Fi Rush, as a game does a lot to try and support the player being able to find, and play on, the beat. Game elements on screen bounce to the beat, the player character walks and runs to the beat, pressing Select on your controller brings up a metronome at the bottom of the screen, and by pressing the attack button when your last attack connects with the enemy, you can be confident that your next attack also hit on beat. Shouts in the soundtrack tell you if your attack landed on beat, little music notes appearing next to your character show you are on beat, and visible words on screen tell you if your timing was, or was not, perfect.
While I personally found this degree of feedback really useful in keeping track of the beat, something I often find difficult in music rhythm games, and even more so in music rhythm mashup games like the First Person Rhythm Shooter “Bullets Per Minute”, I recognise that experience is not universal. Some people I have spoken to, including a close friend of mine, found the sheer degree of visual reinforcement of the beat distracting, and found it made it more difficult for them to focus on playing. This is definitely worth noting. This game may have benefitted from an option to reduce some of the visual cues, to simplify its visual language.
For comparison, I recently discussed a music rhythm game called Melatonin, which contained in its accessibility settings the option to have a single clear visualiser on screen for the beat of the music, as well as a basic and clear metronome sound. This kind of simplified audio visual feedback as an option would be helpful for some players, even if my personal experience was one of valuing how much visual feedback for the beat the game is saturated with.
The last thing I want to note about gameplay is that the music rhythm element of the game actively made some parts more playable for me. I often struggle in games like Bayonetta to know, for example, how long I am meant to wait when a combo asks for me to leave a pause in between two button presses. Here, that is made explicitly clear, it’s one beat in the soundtrack. That clarity was really useful for me as I played.
So, with that all out the way, let’s quickly go through the accessibility settings found in Hi-Fi Rush’s menus.
For players who want to get those on beat bonuses in combat, H-Fi Rush features more forgiving beat timings when playing on easy mode, but unfortunately doesn’t allow those beat timings to be set separately from the rest of the game’s difficulty. You have to take overall lowered difficulty to get that option.
Players can also switch on a hint system, which offers players guidance on how to progress, if they spend an extended amount of time in a single area.
Chromatic Aberration, Camera Shake, and Motion blur effects can all be switched off, if any of them cause issues for you as a player.
Players can alter the volume of specific game elements, including music, voice, sound effects, and musical effects in game, allowing for prioritising elements of the mix that make it easier for you to follow the beat while playing.
In the dedicated accessibility menu, Players can slightly increase text size for subtitles, apply colourblind filters, include speaker names in subtitles, set a background for subtitles, and change subtitle background opacity. Context Subtitles can also be activated, which take in world text on things like signs or a screen on a blimp, and display them as clear to read subtitles. Lastly in the subtitles category, non story related callouts, such as characters shouting out the names of attacks during combat, can also be presented as subtitles, as their own separate option.
In terms of gameplay tweaking accessibility settings, outside of the previously mentioned easy mode tweak to beat timings, players can switch the “beat accuracy mandatory” minigame sections of Hi-Fi Rush to only require a single button be pressed to progress, rather than different buttons on different beats, making it easier to focus on timing. Also, players can tweak the appearance of one of the beat visualisers, a robot cat that pulses light in time with the music.
The final setting to mention, which sounds great on paper but suffers in execution, is Auto Action Mode. With this setting active, which is only able to be used on normal or easy difficulty, players can simply press any attack button to the beat, and the game will control which attacks and combos the player uses.
The mode does require you to hit the button on the beat to function, which is not particularly helpful for players whose issue with the game is difficulty with timings, and additionally the AI functionality of the mode is mediocre at best. Despite advertising that the mode would automatically dodge attacks if pressed on beat, often this fails to happen. Additionally, I struggled to work out if this mode wanted me to press the attack button on every single beat of the music, or only on specific beats, such as when an attack was ending or I was about to be hit. The lack of tutorial clarity makes this mode hard to understand, and hard to use. It’s a shame, a mode designed for accessibility was in many ways harder for me to work out how to use than the default controls, which at least allowed attacks to execute if the button was pressed off beat, or pressed on beats during attack animations that were already ongoing.
Overall, I am glad to see games like Hi-Fi Rush try to make themselves accessible, even if this game is at times a little hit and miss in that regard. For me, the overload of visual reminders of the beat was really useful, but it’s not going to be a good fit for everyone, and there are definitely some areas where the game could have better explained features it contains.
Still, I think Hi-Fi rush is a great game, and it’s great to see Xbox continue the trend of ensuring that their first party published releases at least try to implement these kinds of features.