Xbox did the unexpected this past Wednesday: The company absolutely killed it with its Developer Direct conference, presenting players with an honest, exciting showcase focused on gameplay. We saw developers speak directly to us about their games, and while it was focused on giving us a look at stuff we already knew about, that was blatantly expressed beforehand, which meant we weren’t desperately clamoring for big reveals.
And although we didn’t anticipate it (even after its leak), there was a surprise. However, simply reducing it to “a surprise” is a bit of an understatement. In the world of video game announcements, most surprises, especially those done by Xbox, amount to nothing more than a CGI trailer for a far-off project. Fable, Perfect Dark, Everwild, and Avowed are great examples of this, as each were shown back in 2019-2020, yet we haven’t seen any of them played once.
Instead, Bethesda not only revealed Tango Gameworks’ Hi-Fi RUSH with an exciting gameplay demo, but the presentation ended with a shocking announcement that it would launch the same day. For a company like Xbox to go from its obsession with CGI trailers of projects that have barely started development to launching a new game just a few hours after its reveal is an astounding improvement.
As someone who recently lamented about Xbox’s lack of exclusives, I can admit that the gaming giant is forcing me to eat my words. Yes, Hi-Fi Rush is just one game, but the company has once again proven what makes it special when compared with Nintendo and PlayStation: its diversity in styles and genres.
What makes Xbox special
Both Nintendo and PlayStation boast particular styles of game. For Nintendo, the company’s most popular titles are cute, friendly, colorful, and full of charisma. Pokemon, Kirby, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Mario, Animal Crossing, and an endless number of sport-adjacent titles all have a particular “feel” to them that is indescribably Nintendo.
PlayStation, on the other hand, loves telling cinematic stories through games played in third-person, often boasting a mix of open-world and RPG elements with action-focused combat. God of War, The Last of Us, Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank (the new ones, at least), Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Ghost of Tsushima all have a particular “feel” to them that is unmistakably PlayStation.
This isn’t to say that Nintendo doesn’t have unique moments with Bayonetta or PlayStation with Stray, it’s just not the bulk of what we understand as those company’s familiar selling points.
But what about Xbox? What is the company’s stamp of recognition? Even just trying to compare Halo and Gears, two of the its most prolific franchises, already runs us into trouble. And when going beyond that, it becomes clear how diversity is the company’s greatest asset.
Obsidian, a developer who has made titles as huge as Fallout: New Vegas and The Outer Worlds, crafted Pentiment last year, a side-scrolling narrative-focused adventure game with a style that calls upon medieval art. This team also launched Grounded in the same year, a first-person survival game about thriving in an enormous garden with nasty insects.
We can even shrink our focus down to the four games Microsoft discussed this past week. Redfall is an open-world co-op first-person shooter with a mix of stealth and looter elements that call upon Arkane’s specialities. The Elder Scrolls Online: Necrom is an MMO, Forza Motorsport is a simulation racing game, and Minecraft Legends is a tactical strategy game with cooperative and PvP elements. None of these games are similar.
And as of this past week, we can include Hi-Fi RUSH to that list. Tango Gameworks is a company that is known for its entries in horror. The Evil Within, its sequel and Ghostwire: Tokyo certainly utilize varying levels of action systems to heighten the excitement of gameplay, but they are fueled by scares first and foremost.
Hi-Fi RUSH is not a horror game. It’s a level-based, combo-driven, hack-n-slash rhythm platformer with a western cartoon-inspired aesthetic and a goosebump-inducing soundtrack that will make you squeal with delight every time you keep up with the tempo.
Nothing about this game screams “Xbox” to me because the company doesn’t have a style beyond its recognizable properties. The only things I can say feel quite “Xbox” are Halo and Gears, but that’s because we’ve had them for so long and we associate them with the company.
Xbox needs to work on its prolificacy in releasing good games throughout a console generation, but what makes the company special and gives it an edge over PlayStation and Nintendo is its diversity.
Kirby and the Forgotten Lands reinvented what that franchise can do by shifting it into a 3D space, yet it’s clearly a Nintendo game in the vein of their other 3D platformers; it’s no secret what console that art style and those environments belong to. Ghost of Tsushima was an epic venture into new territory for Sucker Punch, but the graphical fidelity, cinematic story, open-world traversal and third-person action combat scream “PlayStation” at the top of its lungs.
When I picked up Hi-Fi RUSH this past week, at no point did I think “this screams Xbox.” And I imagine when I jump into Redfall, Starfield, Minecraft Legends, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2, I still won’t feel that Xbox has found some sort of trend to nestle itself within and rarely step outside of. If the company has a signature stamp, it’s diversity. Anything beyond that I can’t quite identify, which is what makes it special.
Stay in the know with Laptop Mag
Get our in-depth reviews, helpful tips, great deals, and the biggest news stories delivered to your inbox.
Self-described art critic and unabashedly pretentious, Momo finds joy in impassioned ramblings about her closeness to video games. She has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Media Studies from Brooklyn College and five years of experience in entertainment journalism. Momo is a stalwart defender of the importance found in subjectivity and spends most days overwhelmed with excitement for the past, present and future of gaming. When she isn't writing or playing Dark Souls, she can be found eating chicken fettuccine alfredo and watching anime.