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Why Are Hi-Fi Rush’s Levels So Long?

I don't think I 'get' Hi-Fi Rush. I don't begrudge its success, and it's always welcome when a game that does things a little differently becomes a smash hit. It has a cartoonish art style, relatively short runtime, is a major change in aesthetics and theme for its studio, plays with niche genre mechanics, and was shadow-dropped. Regardless of my personal feelings towards the game, I'm glad I get to write that sentence. It's a welcome change from photorealistic triple-A aesthetics in big, bloated beasts that rely on formulaic building blocks of dull familiarity with a year-long bombastic hype cycle. There's one major issue that puts me off the game more than anything else, but as I think about it, I realise I simply do not matter.

I wouldn't say I love music. I like music. I listen to it a lot. I'm listening to it right now, in fact. But I tend to listen to the same few artists over and over again, never leave my comfort zone, and don't appreciate the art in the way I do film and gaming both personally and professionally. Hi-Fi Rush reminds me of Immortality that way. As I sat in Immortality's editing room and searched clips back and forth, deciphering all three movies, understanding the story behind them all, the game lived under my skin. Each genre trope, each inversion, each intertextual reference, every Marilyn Monroe homage only made me love it more. But then I spoke to people about it and the common consensus was that it was 'a bit weird' and 'made no sense' and 'was boring'.

Immortality still reviewed exceedingly well. It has an 88 on OpenCritic, just one mark below Hi-Fi Rush's still-unstable 89. That's because it was primarily reviewed by cinephiles like myself. Conversely, most of the souls reviewing Hi-Fi adore every beat, every riff, every pause for breath of music. I wouldn't want to change Immortality to make it any more accessible – the very fact it loves cinema in such deep and immersed ways is what makes it great. I don't agree that Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is the greatest movie of all time, but I don't begrudge it the title.

The fact that Hi-Fi Rush is too loyal to its rhythm mechanics, that it slows down progress and movement to elevate the soundtrack, that combos break out of internal rhythms to write new songs… maybe none of that matters. For people who are playing this game because of a deeply held love of music, this might be what makes the game. Even if they haven't realised it, this undying service to the beat might be why Hi-Fi Rush is such a smash hit. You strip away those issues, and there's only one that remains – Hi-Fi Rush's length is all wrong.

I have no major objections with it being shorter than a behemoth like Assassin's Creed Valhalla. In fact, I think that's a net good. But Hi-Fi calls its levels 'tracks' in one of a thousand musical references. The problem is these tracks are pushing an hour long. I can't even make it through all nine minutes of Lana del Rey's Venice Bitch. Where everything else in Hi-Fi is slick and quick, the levels can feel like a drag. It takes away the 'just one more level' feeling, transforming it into exhaustion. Even those who love music will surely feel the pick up and play nature the game could capture is derailed by these stretched out adventures.

Let's go back to Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. It's 201 minutes long, that's a deliberately aggressive runtime. For all its stature at the top of Sight & Sound's list, I would not recommend it to anyone besides those who are already full paid-up, certified film lovers. There are a few editors at TheGamer who don't love film, but do watch films, much like my own relationship with music. I give them recommendations, even making curated lists for them, and I always aim for 90-120 minutes for this exact reason. I've gone over 135 minutes just four times across 60 recommendations.

I just don't 'get' Hi-Fi. I don't think it should change for me, certainly not its mechanics or themes or underlying foundations. But just as I skip the four minute Venice Bitch fade out, the long levels feel unapproachably tiresome. As someone who can't quite appreciate the lilt of every melody, even to my ear, they sound like a bum note.

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