Following the lukewarm reception to its latest horror game Ghostwire: Tokyo, few might have expected the next game from the Shinji Mikami led-Tango Gameworks to be a brightly colored, rhythm-based character-action game. Hi-Fi Rush saw a surprise release early in 2023, arguably kicking off the stellar year of unexpected brilliance with its tightly designed combat, incredibly likable cast of rebels, and standout boss fights. Each one of Hi-Fi Rush’s numerous boss fights is memorable for one reason or another (the scale and complexity of the final fight against Kale is as awe-inspiring as the first fast-paced duel with antagonist-turned-ally Korsica), but none come close to comparing with what might be the most adrenaline-fuelled three-phase fight of the year: Roquefort.
Like much of Hi-Fi Rush, Roquefort isn’t memorable because of his outright challenge. The character-action presented in Tango Gameworks’ latest pairs rhythm-based sensibilities with the flow of traditional character-action, equipped with an engaging scoring system that judges your aptitude at balancing both. Smart touches around each stage consistently remind you of the beat you need to keep when inputting presses for combos, while enemy attacks (mostly) adhere to the same beat, only breaking out in half-steps when trying to trip you up. Roquefort is the culmination of everything you’ve learnt about this blend of genres to that point, acting as the penultimate boss that is meant to gatekeep your progress from the game’s eventual most-challenging foe, both figuratively and literally.
Given the imposing stature of the bosses before him, Roquefort is an outlier in that he doesn’t come across as menacing or physically imposing, a fact protagonist Chai tries to leverage before the fight with some misplaced trash talk. It’s not long before Roquefort’s nickname, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, bears out in the most literal sense. The short, plump accountant transforms into a giant mechanical wolf, adorned in chrome and brimming with sharp, pointy ends to do damage with. This alone is an exciting revelation that tees up a grueling three-phase fight, and the mood is immediately set with an improvised version of Wolfgang Mozart’s 5th Symphony produced by Wolfgang Gartner, and further edited to tightly adhere to the pace of the fight.
The fight plays out in Roquefort’s opulent and gold-laden office, eventually moving to a vault overflowing with a comical amount of gold coins, with the music blaring in the background as his hulking wolf form moves with a surprisingly elegance according to the soothing and sometimes erratic beat. This makes his movements surprisingly difficult to track, with the beat shifting in surprising ways until you nail down its looping pattern. Learning this rhythm makes you appreciate how much care was clearly given to sync up with the beat in a manner far more faithful than the bosses beforehand. As a direct consequence, this fight feels more like a dance than any other. It’s not long before your inputs are being directly more by musical instinct than reflexes, letting you entire a zen-like flow despite the highly chaotic duel you’re engaged in. As Roquefort starts revealing more and more of his repertoire, this satisfying back-and-forth forces you to keenly adapt, further engrossing you in the enveloping music to get the upper hand. It’s a gradual escalation that doesn’t stop until the final blow is struck, likely leaving you with an aching foot from tapping and an elevated heart rate that punctuates the adrenaline high experienced throughout.
To say that I’ve had Hi-Fi Rush’s licensed soundtrack on repeat for much of the year would be an understatement, but it would be an even greater one to admit that I haven’t listened to Wolfgang Garter’s incredible track more times than any other on the tracklist. Each time, I’m transported back to the thrill of this incredible fight against Roquefort and reminded of the immense rush a meticulously designed encounter like this can invoke, subsequently leaving a powerful impression that’s slow to fade. Hi-Fi Rush might not be as well remembered after a year of stellar releases, but it’s a game with moments like these that are strong reminders that a good old-fashioned boss fight isn’t a dying trend in an industry laden with more grounded approaches to setpieces. Sometimes just bringing it back to basics, and taking care to nail all the little details, can result in one of the most memorable moments of the year.