As 2023 progresses, there have been some very exciting surprises. There are unbelievable announcements, reveals, or shadow drops that no one expected and turned out to be great. However, Hi-Fi Rush is probably the only title announced and released on the same day, generating massive hype. While rumored on the day of Xbox’s first Developer Direct, Tango Gameworks’ character-driven hack-and-slash title was thought to be getting a demo after its announcement. Instead, the entire game dropped for Xbox Series X/S and PC.
It highlighted the power of Game Pass and Microsoft’s ability to release such titles out of nowhere. However, above all else, it was fun. Like an epic Saturday morning cartoon, the story saw protagonist Chai accidentally gains powerful abilities and stumbles into a conspiracy surrounding Vandelay Corporation. The twist is that everything in the game flows with the rhythm – movement, combat, the environment, enemies, etc.
"The real meat is in Power Up! Tower Up!, a variation of Rhythm Tower. While the latter gives you limited time to destroy enemies and advance up its 60 floors, there’s no time limit here."
With an incredible soundtrack and unique mechanics utilizing that rhythm-based gameplay, Hi-Fi Rush became the hit that Microsoft desperately needed and one of the best games of this year. Since then, Tango Gameworks has released updates for accessibility features, Photo Mode, new cosmetics, and so on. Arcade Challenge! Update! is the most significant since it adds some new gameplay modes and content to grind once you’ve finished the campaign. It gives a bit more replayability to the experience, but those hoping for a casual grind session should beware – it’s not for the faint of heart.
The new modes are Power Up! Tower Up! and BPM Rush. The latter is an endless wave of enemies that consistently assail you. Pretty straightforward, but there is a twist. The Beats Per Minute meter increases as you attack to the beat and avoid damage. When it fills, you’ll face a challenge, like a mid-boss. I went up against what seemed to be the new Hound – a multi-slicing robot capable of moving around at high speeds, dealing significant damage.
Dying means having to start over at the beginning. As the BPM meter increases, so too does the tempo of the action, and you need to be on point to have a chance at survival. There are three difficulty levels – Easy and Normal are available by default, while EX has to be unlocked – and you do get to use all of your upgrades and abilities from the main story. Overall, I found BPM Rush a good time-waster – hop in for 30 minutes or an hour, see how far you can go, and hop out. It’s kind of like Turbo Mode with a gradually increasing difficulty curve.
The real meat is in Power Up! Tower Up!, a variation of Rhythm Tower. While the latter gives you limited time to destroy enemies and advance up its 60 floors, there’s no time limit here. As you complete a floor, you can choose Upgrades. When Chai starts, he has nothing – his health, defense, attack and other stats drop to zero (he’s even left with nothing but Power Chord as a Special Attack).
"Along with Upgrades, you also have Bugs. These provide some strong benefits, like increasing the damage of your Light Attack or generating Batteries on successful parries. "
These Upgrades are necessary to increase his overall potency and advance forward. They also provide positive benefits like the chance to insta-kill enemies with each strike, Life leech and so on. You can even unlock Special Attacks to bolster your arsenal.
However, there’s a twist here as well. Along with Upgrades, you also have Bugs. These provide some strong benefits, like increasing the damage of your Light Attack or generating Batteries on successful parries. While they’re undoubtedly worthwhile, you also have to deal with negative modifiers on a floor, like enemies exploding when destroyed, lasers being more lethal (to the point where they can chunk off more than half your health), and more.
To further mix things up, there are Challenge Rooms. Challenge Rooms are more objective-focused, like defeating all enemies without staying on the ground, destroying some Vending Machines and chasing Smidge (the odd Smart Fridge that doles out tutorials) to deliver consistent punishment. Completing these Challenge Rooms provides great rewards, like increasing two stats at once and adding to your Score Multiplier. Failing a Challenge Room causes the multiplier to decrease.
The multiplier decreases with Upgrades and increases when taking Bugs. As such, a single Run in Power Up! Tower Up! is about managing your stats, balancing between Upgrades and Bugs while deciding whether to undertake Challenge Rooms. Sometimes, a Challenge Room may be easier to complete than a floor, especially if the enemy teams teased beforehand look too overwhelming when you’re low on health.
"Some encounters can get a little too hectic with so many different enemy types barely giving any chance to get a combo out."
Some features, like seeing what upgrades a regular floor will provide if you choose to undertake it and refilling your health and Special Attack meter when going into a Challenge Room, are great. They encourage further personalization of your run without taking away the difficulty. Overall, I quite like the idea and execution of Power Up! Tower Up! Even if the first stage is always the same, and I can’t skip the annoying animation showcasing Chai’s stats dropping to zero, it gives a nice rogue-lite spin to Rhythm Tower.
As with other rogue-lites, you live or die based on the Upgrades available, but that’s made better here with the positive modifiers that each brings. So while cooldown reduction for calling in teammates may not seem useful when you need more defense and health, gaining some Life Leech to recover health from the last encounter is a nice bonus.
Of course, I can also appreciate some wackier modifiers, like enemies constantly getting launched into the air after attacks for one floor. The modifier that reduces the resolution to 480p isn’t my favorite due to visibility issues, but it’s not the most annoying one I’ve seen in games.
Some encounters can get a little too hectic with so many different enemy types barely giving any chance to get a combo out. My skills are definitely to blame for that, but note that if you’re not up to date on your parrying or bread-and-butter combos, Power Up! Tower Up! can become frustrating in a hurry, especially with some substantial upgrades tied to parrying.
"Where Hi-Fi Rush could go from here in terms of updates remains to be seen – barring a Boss Rush Mode – but Arcade Challenge! Update offers some fun activities that are well worth revisiting the game for."
If you die during a run, it’s possible to continue from that point, but your Score Multiplier takes a hit. You could always start a fresh run, but for those who only care about advancing through the mode and unlocking some of the new rewards, being able to resume whenever is appreciated.
As for rewards, the update offers 40 new challenges – completing them offers new Stickers for Photo Mode, outfits (like some snazzy dancewear for Chai and friends), accessories and even some new Special Attacks involving CNMN and Smidge.
It’s a decent chunk of unlockables, but once you get them all, your main incentive for replaying either mode is to get a higher score or survive for as long as possible. Those hoping for new story content may be somewhat disappointed, but the overall breadth of this free update is great for players seeking something to do post-game.
Where Hi-Fi Rush could go from here in terms of updates remains to be seen – barring a Boss Rush Mode – but Arcade Challenge! Update offers some fun activities that are well worth revisiting the game for.