Fuser’s music-mixing tech is great fun to play around with, but the gameplay surrounding this concept feels rather thin for a full-priced release.
The latest release from Rock Band creators Harmonix and publisher NCSOFT feels like it harkens back to the glory days of plastic instruments as stand-ins for the real thing in a lot of ways. Fuser, a game about rhythmically mashing up songs like a DJ, could be a platform for a whole new type of customer for years to come. Its creation tools are intricate and complicated, but approachable for anyone who goes through the tutorial-heavy campaign. Even as a toy to play around with hit songs, Fuser provides a good deal of fun, but the main issue is that none of these high points add up to much of an actual game at the end of the day.
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For anyone looking to experiment with an eclectic soundtrack that ranges from the expected dance and pop hits to the Numa Numa song and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Fuser is a must-purchase. During a set, players can mix-and-match four different audio tracks from each song, usually drums, vocals, and two other instruments. The tech works wonders in making even the most nonsensical pairings work out, although the tools are there to crank things up and produce a cacophony of noise too. Listening to DMX rap his most famous song with no backing music at 50BPM and then dropping in three unrelated vocal tracks to back him up was a hilarious highlight.
All this is easy to mess around with using the Freestyle mode from the moment players load up the game, but anyone who wants to get serious will want to go through the campaign. Over the course of a few hours, Fuser teaches players how to alter pitch, keys, layer in effects, and create a dubstep drop, and none of it is too complicated for the layman to grasp. Players can also choose to lay down their own beats with a surprisingly vast number of unlockable instruments, although doing that while also trying to keep up a good score during a single-player set is one too many plates to keep spinning.
Much like Rock Band, Fuser scores players on their performance, but the way scoring works is unclear at best. Players have to complete requests from the audience at large and specific fans simultaneously, but they’re also scored on constantly changing up the mix. The campaign makes it seem like the game judges the composition of the music, but it’s hard to imagine that the AI has a personal preference for mixing 50 Cent’s “In da Club” with “Take On Me” over “Call Me Maybe.” This is where Fuser starts to feel like full-priced music software more than a music game.
Most of what surrounds Fuser‘s impressive music tech also leans in that direction. Once players have mastered the basics in the campaign, they can take their skills online for a freestyle co-op mix or duke it out in a head to head battle where two DJs fight over one stage. This is the closest Fuser comes to putting its tech to use as a game, as dropping in songs and making changes on the beat ensures that your records stay on the mix over an online opponent’s. It’s fun, but it’s not the thing that’s going to keep players coming back, and it certainly doesn’t merit a dedicated battle pass filled with unlockable cosmetic options.
Outside of this lack of a gameplay hook, Fuser‘s biggest negative is an unnecessary layer of cosmetic fluff and account progression. There’s no reason that a game like this needs the same hooks as a game like Overwatch, especially considering that the progression hands out currency that can unlock a good chunk of the songs that come with the game. Players earn enough to secure what they want early enough, but an arcade mode that unlocked songs as rewards would be much more appealing than grabbing a helmet and a different color of pants for a player avatar.
It’s commendable that Harmonix has found a way to salvage the technology from its board game Dropmix and present it to a (hopefully) much wider audience in Fuser. If messing around with songs or producing a DJ set to share on the Internet sounds even remotely appealing, then this game is a solid pickup. The existence of an in-game store (which was empty during the review period) indicates that more songs are coming, and Fuser will likely produce some unusual jams in the coming months. Just know that an inconsistent scoring system and limited modes mean that Fuser isn’t really going to scratch the rhythm game itch.
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Fuser will release on November 10, 2020, on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. An Xbox One code was provided to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.
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