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Fuser

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: NCSoft
Developer: Harmonix Music Systems
Release Date: Nov. 10, 2020

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PS4 Review - 'Fuser'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 18, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Fuser is the next evolution of interactive music gaming, empowering players to perform and create sharable mixes for the masses as they play.

Buy Fuser

In September 2017, Harmonix teamed up with Hasbro to release DropMix, a board game that utilized smart devices with RFID-equipped cards to give players a chance to create music from pieces of popular and classic songs. It felt innovative, and anyone who got their hands on the game loved it, but there weren't enough people who did. That sent the existing board and card packs into a price freefall and stopped the development of more cards. Instead of dropping the idea and moving on, Harmonix decided to give the idea another go in the form of something they knew quite well: the video game. Thus, DropMix evolved into Fuser.

If you're unfamiliar with DropMix, Fuser is the studio's approach to making a game out of being a mashup DJ. The title sports roughly 100 tracks, with each song consisting of a maximum of four different parts, whether it's drums, guitar, horns, vocals, and so on. That's important because you aren't putting down the track on a turntable but a specific part of that track on one of four turntables.


Initially, the four turntables at your disposal are color-coded and correspond to one of the face buttons on your controller. You could put down something like the drum track from 50 Cent's "In Da Club" with the vocals of "Jolene" by Dolly Parton, the guitars from Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," and the horns from Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." This might sound like an outright mess, but somehow, thanks mostly to the automatic beat matching that Harmonix does with each part in each song, it all magically works. You can still create something that sounds terrible, but you have to make a concerted effort for that to happen. Compared to the last video game that introduced mashups to the masses — the DJ Hero games for the Wii/Xbox 360/PS3 — the accessibility of the concept and the ability to create decent-sounding tracks might help the genre appeal to more than a niche audience.

Of course, laying down track parts whenever you want isn't going to work, so Fuser rewards you for placing those segments at just the right time. In general, you can do this at every fourth beat, and the game recognizes that as being good enough. Check the scale for each song, though, and you'll notice that each one has colored dots that correspond to the track piece being played. It may not give you more points to perform the switch at that moment instead of at every fourth beat, but it allows you more freedom in terms of when the switch can happen.

For the most part, you can get away with dropping track pieces at the right time, and the songs will mostly sound good. That's how most casual players are likely to approach this, and the game allows your involvement to stop right there. However, for those who want to go deeper, Fuser provides a number of tools. Using the face buttons will only get you one of four track types to put on your turntables at a time, and you can hold down a face button for the part that you want and drag it down to the deck if you wanted the backbeats for both "Old Town Road" and "Happy" playing at the same time, for example.

While the game automatically lines up the right pitch for all the songs you have playing, you can manually change the pitch if you want. You can mute a track or mute everything except for one track. Tracks can be ejected, so your song can play two or three tracks instead of all four by default, and you can also queue up four different tracks so you can have them ready for an instant swap once you escalate things and drop the beat. Beyond the licensed songs in your crate, you can throw in original instrumentals like guitar riffs or 8-bit drums, or you can record your own mix.


All of this is in an interface that can seem overwhelming but becomes second nature if you know what to look for. The tempo-switching action is the only one that requires any precision. You'll lament the lack of precision when you discover that the interface relies on a floating cursor controlled with the left analog stick. It works fine, but it's slower than using a traditional mouse, especially when you want to manually place tracks on your turntable.

Fuser sports several modes, but you'll spend a huge chunk of your time with Freestyle mode, since you're given an unlimited amount of time to play around and experiment with the tools and mixes. You'll also use this mode to record your own songs, which quickly becomes addicting since you can post the creations online for others to see; doing so gives you XP to unlock more songs and customization pieces for your DJ and your stage. (The latter isn't as appealing, since you can only change some parts of the video wall, and fireworks are distracting unless you turn down their volume along with that of the crowd.)

While the Freestyle mode shows off the strengths of the core idea, it does have two issues. There's no elegant way to stop your mix. You can pause the game and quit, but the music stops abruptly, so the end of the set can feel anticlimactic. The second issue is that while you have a wide breadth of songs in terms of artists, decade, and genre, you can only have 24 songs in your crate at any time. It allows you to be focused and conscious of your musical choices, but for a mode that tries to encourage experimentation and discovery, that restriction feels stifling.

The campaign mode is where you'd go for something structured, and while the story of you rising to becomes a famous DJ with the help of big promoters isn't compelling, the mode works well as a fast way to unlock new things and as a giant tutorial for how the game mechanics work. The game introduces the mechanics at a measured pace, so you never feel like you're learning too many things in one set. The levels restrict the number of available slots for your tracks, but some slots are pre-populated with themed tracks, forcing you to expand your horizons about mixing genres.


The scoring system relies heavily on dropping the new track at the right time and changing things often, so the song stays fresh. Bonus points are given for fulfilling requests like throwing in a song from the 1970s or playing two discs from the country genre. It feels out of place to see that sort of thing happen at a music festival, but it works well enough in a game setting. Thankfully, if it all feels overwhelming, you have the option to turn on a no-fail mode, and while the game's 10-hour campaign isn't so difficult that you'll fail often, it's nice to have the option to simply enjoy the ride.

Finally, there are the multiplayer modes, which see you either collaborating with another DJ online to create a supermix or fighting them for stage supremacy. If you're completely in sync with your partner, the former provides some exciting opportunities to come up with something spectacular. For the latter, the scoring system is dependent on how accurate you are with track changes and beat-switching, so your composition can be heard over the competition. It works fine, but the game doesn't inherently breed competition, so the mode feels out of place. Both online modes will likely be overlooked by the ability to watch other people's performances and grab samples of those tracks. That part of the community seems rather healthy, since the game is issuing weekly challenges to spur them on.

At the moment, one of the things that could hold back the game is the relatively unknown schedule of DLC. With Rock Band, the game's early years were filled with weekly releases of DLC that only slowed down when Rock Band 4's release was more than a year old. Contrast that with the developer's own Audica, which hasn't seen any DLC releases since the end of 2019. Their other rhythm games have had DLC release schedules that were also wildly different, so there's no way to predict how this one will go. We already have a launch DLC pack containing 25 songs, and it would be understandable if the first few weeks after launch don't see anything new. For the game to get more playtime, it'll need more songs to come out often, since people will exhaust the remix possibilities sooner than later.


Graphically, Fuser inherits the style that Rock Band had, warts and all. The stages are ornate and playful, while the character designs work with the character customization pieces at your disposal. The visible amount of texture detail pop is disappointing, since that's been present in Harmonix's games for quite some time. As a spectator, the various camera shots of the DJ and crowd are great, but as a player, you'll dislike the fact that the screen can sometimes be so crowded that you can miss the requests from the crowd during the campaign, since that text blends in too well with the environment.

Harmonix has a winner on its hands with Fuser. The ease of use and array of tools ensure that anyone can create a great-sounding track. While Fuser is a good game to bust out at parties, the ability to share small mixes online ensures that the creations will get some exposure until we can have local gatherings again. More so than the campaign and multiplayer modes, the online sharing functionality is what gives the game some legs. Assuming the DLC keeps coming in steadily, Fuser is a title that rhythm game fans should check out.

Score: 8.0/10



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