‘Fuser’ review: festive colour and diverse tunes might make you a virtual superstar DJ

Harmonix’s all-digital music-mixing game has sound mechanics and creative potential, if not quite a headline act

In Partnership with Fuser 

With its rich history in rhythm action games and making wannabe musicians out of gamers, it was only a matter of time before Harmonix would make a game about being a DJ, the modern-day rockstar. But rather than learning to play specific songs, Fuser arms you with a crate of hits spanning across time periods and genres, mixing them together to the delight of a virtual crowd as you work on becoming the next Calvin Harris.

It’s a departure from the studio’s Rock Band franchise, as Fuser doesn’t require the purchase of plastic instruments, and neither is it trying to emulate Activision’s DJ Hero series from last-gen. Instead, it builds on Harmonix’s own DropMix, a table-top game using a phone app and NFC cards where you drop the cards onto a special board that would pull isolated samples from a song, be it just the drums, bass, piano or vocals. The same principle applies in this game, where you have a virtual turntable that can place a maximum of four discs, each corresponding to a face button on your controller.

Taken from your virtual crate, you can quickly drop say the drum loop of 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ then mix it with the synth chords of Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’, mixed with the country guitar of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’, before dropping the unlikely vocals of Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’. Whether that’s really something you want to hear at any set is a matter of taste – but that’s the mad chaotic freedom you have at your disposal.

Fuser
Fuser. Credit: Harmonix

Fuser also affords a greater wealth of mechanics than DropMix’s cards were capable of. You can also cue in tracks, adjust the volume, tempo and key, mute or solo specific samples, as well as apply a bunch of filter effects. If the licensed songs in your crate aren’t enough, you can even record your own loops using a range of instrument samples, from synths to drum machines – although it’s a little too unwieldy using a controller to create any meaningful sounds with an onscreen Midi fighter.

If all that sounds overwhelming when all you wanted to do was have your mash-up party, you’re fortunately introduced to each of these mechanics over the course of the game’s single-player campaign. There’s not much of a story here but this is the place for your avatar to learn all the mixing skills you need to become a would-be headliner, as a cast of unconventionally designed DJ personalities take you under their wing.

In essence, this works as an extended tutorial, as each set slowly unlocks more tools and techniques to grow your repertoire. All the while, you level up and earn in-game currency for unlocking more songs or cosmetics to customise both your appearance as well as your stage show’s lights and pyrotechnics.

True to the studio’s roots, Fuser still has an ear for rhythm as you score more points by mixing in tracks in time to the downbeat, while also keeping an eye on the crowd’s requests. On the right-hand side will be campaign instructions, such as keeping to three tracks for a set time or including two drum loops at the same time. There’s also the crowd who might request for a vocal change while another asks for something from the ’80s, in which case laying on the vocals of A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’ kills two birds with one stone.

Fuser
Fuser. Credit: Harmonix

The campaign can get pretty challenging as you progress from one stage to the next. You have to keep the crowd’s energy bar up as you juggle all the demands, though you can opt for a ‘no-fail’ mode too. On the Switch version, however, I found that there would be times where the visuals would stutter towards the end of a downbeat, which can completely throw off your timing.

The bigger issue I have, however, is that even though the campaign isn’t an on-rails rhythm matching experience like DJ Hero, the continuous stream of demands still makes the DJ-ing process feel restrictive. You can’t really allow your mash-up of Carly Rae Jespen and Rage Against The Machine to run for long before you’re already being asked to change things up.

That’s also in part to the condensed nature of these sets, lasting around ten minutes and forcing you to either cram everything in your crate onto the deck or reusing the same samples over and over again. Compared to the genius of the bespoke mixes created for DJ Hero, such as mixing Daft Punk’s ‘Da Funk’ with Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, Fuser offers freedom but with questionable results. Sure, you can mix The Clash with Lizzo, Fatboy Slim and Rick Astley, but should you? Frankly, the game doesn’t care as long as you’re fulfilling its technical criteria.

Fuser
Fuser. Credit: Harmonix

Despite a theme in each of the sets, it becomes irrelevant because even if you’re told to only on R&B and EDM, you’ll likely have to fill your crate with other songs based on what you have. Part of this is because you only start with a fraction of the base game’s total of over 100 songs, while levelling up only earns enough for you to unlock one or two new songs at the most.

Fuser is definitely more technical than it appears and it will take some investment to master the art of mixing – plus plenty of patience to unlock all its content. But beyond its campaign, it’s the freestyling and social functions that have the potential to foster a positive and creative community, especially when cross-platform play allows you to take turns mixing alongside other players, going head-to-head in DJ battles or just sitting in and watching someone else’s set.

‘Fuser’ is out November 10 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

Our Verdict

Fuser is a terrific evolution from DropMix, though not necessarily a game-changer in the way that Rock Band was before it. While there are questionable results to the mixes you might come up with, it’s nonetheless a fascinating outlet for aspiring DJs to mash up songs and genres in creative ways. Plus, its cross-platform and social functions offer just the kind of festival vibes we can’t get in real life right now.

Pros

  • A rich catalogue of songs across genres to create very surprising and unique mixes
  • A staggering amount of tools beyond just mixing songs
  • Great community potential with cross-platform play for co-op freestyling, DJ battles, or just sharing mixes
  • The virtual festival vibe is much needed right now

Cons

  • Tutorial-heavy campaign feels restrictive
  • Progression and unlocking more songs can feel slow
  • Stuttering issues on Switch version that can impact on timing
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