Hi-Fi Rush is obviously a big success, but it was initially a 'huge challenge' for the horror-focused studio

Hi-Fi Rush Chai and 808
(Image credit: Tango Gameworks)

What you need to know

  • In the latest Xbox Wire, Tango Gameworks developers explained the story behind the creation of its surprise hit, Hi-Fi Rush. 
  • The game was kept in secret development for five years and was a major departure from the developer's usual horror genre.
  • Game Director, John Johanas, had the idea for the game for a while and his vision helped guide the team.
  • Initially, Lead Art Director, Keita Sakai, thought the concept for Hi-Fi Rush was a joke and was surprised that it was selected for development.
  • Though many were initially daunted by the project, the Tango Gameworks team feels like they now have gained important experience that allows them to make more non-horror games going forward. 

Today's Xbox Wire focused on the story behind the development of Tango Gameworks' surprise hit, Hi-Fi Rush — a rhythm fighting game that shadow-dropped earlier this year and instantly became a success. However, it turns out that the game was a "huge challenge" for the studio which had previously primarily created more realistic-looking horror games. 

As explained by members of the Tango Gamework's team — which includes Game Director John Johanas, Lead Programmer Yuji Nakamura, Lead Art Director Keita Sakai, and Audio Director Shuichi Kobori — the initial idea for a rhythm fighting game came from Johanas who likens the concept to something you'd randomly suggest and then forget about shortly thereafter. "It’s one of those ideas that you would say when drunk and then that’s it, you wouldn’t do anything with it... It must have been, I want to say, 10 years ago or something where I had this general idea." Johanas provided the main vision behind the game, created the characters, came up with the plot, and explained his ideas for the rest of the team to follow throughout development. 

If you're not aware, the main plot surrounding Hi-Fi Rush is that a young man named Chai elects to have experimental surgery to get his arm replaced with a robotic one. However, during the procedure, his music player gets embedded in his chest giving him a unique understanding of the world's beat. The company providing the procedure sees him as defective and sends enemies to take him out, but he can fight in rhythm to the sounds he hears to execute powerful combos and beat his assailants. As Johanas explained, the idea was obviously "stupid" but the intention was to make the game "self-aware" so that it would be fun to play.

We're happy that the idea was given the full go-ahead to be developed, but not everyone on the team was sold on the idea at first. As Johanas explains, "Most of the first reactions were, 'We don’t know how to do this; this is totally impossible.'" 

You see, before Hi-Fi Rush's release, Tango Gameworks was primarily known as a developer of more realistic-looking horror games such as the first and second The Evil Within as well as Ghostwire: Tokyo. So shifting to making a cartoony and uptempo rhythm game proved somewhat daunting for many at first. Sakai even talks about how he thought the initial idea submission was a joke and didn't think it would actually become a reality.

At the time I heard about Hi-Fi Rush being submitted amongst other concepts, I thought that this was the one that Tango would not choose. I thought it was a joke and I was surprised that it got chosen [laughs]. When that happened, I learned that I need to be humble. Because as Nakamura-San and John started to work on it — I could see them working hard on it – I learned that it was not a joke, and this is something that [needed] to be taken seriously.

Keita Sakai, Lead Art Director

Obviously, Hi-Fi Rush has proven to be a huge success over the last few months. Although the game had been in development for five years, the project was kept a secret until it shadowdropped as an Xbox console exclusive during the Xbox Developer_Direct in January 2023. The Hi-Fi Rush team did an excellent job, providing a polished project within a new and exciting world. Many within the Tango Gameworks team feel that the success of Hi-Fi Rush has given the developers confidence to work in more genres than just horror going forward. 

Everybody here has now gained that experience of making a non-horror genre game, meaning that we can make other genres. And that confidence has definitely been built up within the studio. It changed the attitude of people here and in regards to like “Hey, what else can we make?” We can challenge ourselves to make something new that is not what the older themes of what Tango used to be. So, we’re looking forward to what we can do in the future. We’re not sure what that is yet, but it has created this new attitude of like, let’s look forward and what new challenges can we challenge ourselves to.

Yuji Nakamura, Lead Programmer

Hi-Fi Rush is available on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox Cloud Gaming, and Steam. What's more, it's currently on Xbox Game Pass, so anyone with a current subscription can play the game without paying additional money to do so. 



For those seeking a refreshing, purely fun single-player gaming experience, look no further than Hi-Fi RUSH. The latest Xbox exclusive is a rhythm masterpiece, and it's an uncomplicated blast from start to finish.

Buy from: Xbox (Standard) | Xbox (Deluxe)

Windows Central's take

Chai is about to run into a new areas in Hi-Fi Rush. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Sometimes it feels like only games with the same old mechanics and concepts get released. As such, it's always nice when novel ideas are given the go-ahead to be developed and I wish publishers would take a chance on more original ideas like Hi-Fi Rush. Of course, having a dedicated director, like Johanas, with a passion for his project and the vision to maintain the integrity of his ideas among the team is a huge part of why Hi-Fi Rush proved to be the fun, unbelievably awesome, and unprecedented game it turned out to be.

I'm incredibly happy that the Tango Gameworks team has gained more confidence from this whole experience and look forward to whatever projects they move onto next. Perhaps we'll see more of Chai, 808, and their friends in the future. Or perhaps, we'll be treated to a completely different experience altogether. Regardless, we can expect exciting new things.

Rebecca Spear
Editor and Reviewer

Self-professed gaming geek, Rebecca Spear, is one of Windows Central's editors and reviewers with a focus on gaming handhelds, PC gaming, and laptops. When she isn't checking out the latest games on Xbox Game Pass, PC, ROG Ally, or Steam Deck; she can be found digital drawing with a Wacom tablet. She's written thousands of articles with everything from editorials, reviews, previews, features, previews, and hardware reviews over the last few years. If you need information about anything gaming-related, her articles can help you out. She also loves testing game accessories and any new tech on the market. You can follow her @rrspear on X (formerly Twitter).

  • fjtorres5591
    This is one of the things about GAME PASS economics that rarely gets mentioned: with a guaranteed audience, game returns don't depend solely on the launch window and cold launches like HIFI RUSH (without the expense of hype campaigns) are not only viable but preferable for labor of love, oddball games that need to be experienced to be appreciated.

    Also games that launch with issues, like REDFALL and FALLOUT 76 get second chances to be fixed and find an audience later. Maybe discounted saled, maybe just engagement on GAME PASS, maybe both.

    Another game to consider is DISHONORED 2, a fine game sent out to die in a bloated release month and ending up in the discount bin a month later. All because ZENIMAX upper management couldn't wait a month of two.

    With GAME PASS as an outlet, Microsoft not only can afford to take chances on games like HI FI RUSH, GROUNDED, and PENTIMENT, they "need* to. GAME PASS needs a steady flow of content to keep subscribers engaged and minimize churn, it needs *variety*.

    Microsoft also needs to stop preannouncing games five years early. They need subscribers focused on the now, on the catalog as it exists and grows, so they engage with the deep catalog. Along those lines, getting the Activision catalog is a gold mine. At a time when SAAS games look to have peaked, MS is getting some of the most deeply entrenched ones so if that category peters out those should endure.

    And them there's that hoard of fallow IPs. At a time when a lot of studios are downsizing. If this holiday season plays out reasonably well, MS might be adding *teams* to the existing studios more than buying studios. Cheaper, after all. (But if CRYSTAL DYNAMICS becomes available...)

    It'll take a while to get things sorted out (2026?) but they have most of the pieces to take GAME PASS to its full potential. This could get interresting.