We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Hi-Fi Rush won over its publisher with “the most un-Bethesda game”

Director Jon Johanas explains how Hi-Fi Rush won over Shinji Mikami and Bethesda with its striking, distinct style, leading to success on Steam and Game Pass.

Hi-Fi Rush - Chai, a young man with a metal arm, gasps in surprise

It might be “the most un-Bethesda game,” but Hi-Fi Rush won over its publisher, as well as Tango Gameworks executive producer Shinji Mikami, with its striking and distinct style that stood out from the studio’s other games. Released out of the blue to widespread praise as one of the most exciting new rhythm games on PC, it wasn’t long before Hi-Fi Rush hit the Steam top sellers list alongside similar success on PC Game Pass.

It’s certainly a far cry from the likes of Starfield, The Elder Scrolls, Doom, and Dishonored, along with the trademark horror games we’ve come to expect from Mikami’s studio Tango Gameworks. But, as Hi-Fi Rush’s director John Johanas explains, that’s exactly why he wanted to create it – and why it caught the eye of the higher-ups at both its developer and publisher.

“Just from a personal standpoint, I felt like I needed a palate cleanser,” Johanas tells IGN, explaining that development began “right after The Evil Within 2” while pre-production was getting underway for Ghostwire Tokyo. Despite his feel-good concept of hits landing to the beat the way you see in trailers, Johanas worried, “this’ll never get approved.” The throwback visual style harkening back to the Playstation 2, Dreamcast, and early Xbox era made it feel like “the most un-Bethesda game you can possibly imagine,” he says.

Nevertheless, Mikami approved, telling Johanas, “It sounds really cool – I don’t know if it’ll work, but why don’t we try prototyping it.” That was in late 2017, and now five years on we see the fruits of that idea. Johanas explains that the game began to spread via word of mouth: “Internally [at Bethesda] some people had played it and they spoke about it to each other… There’s this weird sort of viral positivity to just playing this game.”

That viral positivity was perfect for both the shadow-drop launch at Microsoft’s Xbox Developer Direct and the pick-up-and-play nature of Game Pass. “Game Pass just felt like an excellent opportunity to let something, that maybe the onboarding is a little bit tricky or maybe people can be sceptical about, lose that scepticism immediately by just playing it,” Johanas remarks. The accessibility of the game, he says, makes it easy for fans to encourage their friends to try it as well.

As for the complexity of implementing the systems, Johanas calls it “extremely, extremely, extremely difficult.” He details how the animation system has to interpolate every animation so that it’ll land on the beat. Cutscenes were animated to a click track, taking an estimated three times as long to make as normal cutscenes might.

“Throwback but not retro”

Perhaps Hi-Fi Rush’s most immediately striking part is its soundtrack, featuring the likes of Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy, and The Black Keys. Johanas explains that the team handed the choice of music to him: “Sharing a playlist is almost the most embarrassing thing that you can possibly do,” he says, “it was a weird personal project for me, so I wanted to pick music that I grew up listening to or reminded me of an era where I really just had fun playing games or things that stuck with me.”

Speaking to the “throwback but not retro” art style, Johanas explains, “We just wanted people to be reminded of games as being fun. I was like, whatever we make, we want it to pop and be remembered like those games [from older generations of hardware].” Hi-Fi Rush certainly succeeds in that regard, and the results are plain to see.

If you’ve yet to jump in and see what the fuss is about, take a look at the Hi-Fi Rush system requirements to see if you’re ready to go. We’ve got more of the best upcoming games for you as well, including the latest on the Starfield release date for those of you who fancy some more traditional Bethesda fare.