When Tango GameWorks announced Hi-Fi Rush was getting a photo mode, I knew I was in trouble. You know I have a tendency to get emotionally invested in games with photo modes (one might say too invested, in the case of my Death Stranding BB Boys road trip diary), and yep, you couldn't have predicted a more likely turn of events if you tried. Because yes, instead of bopping along to its excellent, punchy rhythm action combat and, you know, actually playing the damn thing, I've spent most of my early hours with Hi-Fi Rush fiddling about with image sliders and lining up Chai and best video game cat bot 808 into daft, stupid poses for the sake of a good screenshot. But hot damn, what a great game it is all the same.
Hi-Fi Rush is one of those games that's just unapologetically video-gamey. Hero and wannabe rock star Chai isn't at all bothered about why walking talking robots are after him or what his life might be like now he's got a literal MP3 player for a heart. All he wants to know is 'where's the exit' and 'let's go'. It wastes no absolutely no time getting you into the action, and in 2023, that approach to video games feels just as refreshing as its bright, bold primary colour palette.
Even the way it's tackled rhythm action as a genre feels new and exciting, too. There's an inherent bap bap bap in most third person action games these days, from yer Final Fantasy XV's to your Devil May Cry 5s and what not, but the ones that cast themselves as more overt rhythm games - yer Crypt Of The Necrodancers and No Straight Roads and the like - I've sometimes struggled to find a groove with. I tend to think of myself as someone with a pretty decent feel for the beat most of the time, but even these can sometimes be a touch too exacting to feel totally and 100% groovy, if you know what I mean.
Hi-Fi Rush succeeds because it's so gosh darn generous. Chai will continue to attack and dodge on the beat regardless of when you actually press the appropriate button, allowing even bumbling butterfingers to still look and feel intensely cool while playing. The skill ceiling comes in by rewarding you with extra power when you do, in fact, hit on the beat, effortlessly catering to both ends of the difficulty spectrum in one fell swoop.
It's also especially handy when you're constantly pausing the game to use its gosh darn photo mode. There's nothing more jarring than having to pause and completely lose track of the beat in a rhythm game - I've been playing a lot of Theatrhythm Final Bar Line on my Switch recently, and man alive, I'm absolutely terrified of pausing it even for a second. I know I'll still get a brief 1-2 countdown before the music kicks back in again (a very welcome concession compared to other rhythm games, I might add!), but without fail it always takes me a beat or two to really get back into the swing of things. But this isn't a concern at all in Hi-Fi Rush, as there's simply no penalty for biffing a button prompt in the first place. It's a wonderful thing, and is definitely a large part of why I've spent so long disrupting my own fights to snap a quick screen.
More than that, though, Hi-Fi Rush is just such a glorious explosion of colour and eye-popping chaos. From its comic book-like BOING!s and SNAP!s to its energetic anime action poses, its expressive visual style not only makes it one of the best cel-shaded games I've ever seen, but just one of the prettiest full stop - and its photo mode really lets you see that detail up close and personal. Along with the usual FOV, aperture, roll angle and other camera-based options, you can pick from a number of different poses for each character, change their facial expressions (from a very generous selection, I might add, because I can and will judge a camera mode solely on the number of facial expressions available, you can absolutely count on that *cough*Horizon Zero Dawn*cough*), and even alter their X, Y and Z axis co-ordinates, bringing characters closer together from where you happened to leave them in-game, or even levitating them in mid-air for some reason.
Heck, even its selection of overlay frames isn't terrible, which is usually where photo modes lose me. I don't want to spoil my images with dumb borders or game logos, developers. I want comic book action lines and angular black bars to give it a bit more pizazz and energy. More of this please going forward.
The same goes for Hi-Fi Rush's excellent visual filters, too, which I also don't usually touch with a barge pole either. I love how there are separate options for both the environment, characters and some leftover 'other' ones too, as it just gives you loads of control over the image and what effects are applied where. I could have a whacked up vintage colour filter and video tape scanlines on the background, for example, but have Chai and 808 really pop front and centre without any of those effects in play whatsoever, simply giving them a bit more saturation and luminance to make them stand out. It's a really great little tool, but yeah, I need to stop faffing around with it and actually get on with the game if I'm ever going to finish it in time for our RPS Game Club discussion at the end of the month.
Hey, at least I'll have got some pretty good wallpapers out of it, if nothing else.