Fuser Review

Live from the main stage of Ibiza is…you!

Fuser puts you behind the DJ booth to live out your party-rocking dreams. Unlike DJ games of the past such as the DJ Hero series, you’re not retreading the steps of pre-recorded mixes. Instead, you’re given the freedom to mash songs together (and you don’t even need a DJ controller to do it). Does Fuser have what it takes to keep crowds hyped?

Contained in the game are 100 songs. 70 are from big names such as Cardi B, The Killers, and Dolly Parton (!). The remainder comes from lesser-known artists. Its setlist skews towards DJ-centric genres such as EDM and hip-hop, but a tracks from other genres make the cut as well.

At launch, a VIP edition of the game included 25 more songs from known artists. Though I normally don’t shell out for premium editions of games, its a sizeable chunk of music at a discounted price when purchased as part of the bundle. Curious to see how Harmonix continues to support this game with new music.

Each track is broken into records that contain one of its four components: drums, bass, melody, and vocals. Using the four turntables, you can mix-and-match components of different songs to create your own mash-ups. From there, you can keep the crowd dancing by subbing in new components, soloing parts, adding effects to modulate the sound, and even adding your own instrument loops with the in-game DJ pads controller.

As you move tracks in-and-out, the game does much of the heavy lifting to make it sound as good as possible. Beat-matching, tempo correction, and pitch adjustments are handled by the game. You will still create mash-ups from time-to-time that sound horrid, but at least everything is on beat and in the same pitch. Most of the time though, the effect of seamlessly blending songs together really does make you feel like a master DJ.

The sensation shines brightest in Freestyle mode, where you’re given the most wiggle room to mix to your heart’s content. And unlike the campaign mode, you’re given the ability to manually adjust the tempo and key, giving you the ability to fix mixes that have gone awry during the automation process. Once I’m finished with the campaign, I will likely spend all of my time here.

Though I greatly prefer the freedom of Freestyle mode, you really should play the campaign first. It’s designed to act as the game’s extended tutorial, as there’s much to learn about its intricacies. Also, you’ll want to play it for that precious XP, which you’ll need to unlock songs.

Oh, you thought you were going to get access to all of the songs right away? Ha! At the start, you’re limited to a small subset of songs. You’ll get a large chunk of credits upfront to unlock more right away, but you’re going to have to grind out the campaign or the online modes to complete your set.

But what’s so bad about playing the campaign mode? This is where judging Fuser as a video game gets awkward. Its mechanics lend themselves incredibly well towards making one feel like a professional DJ. However, when bound by the framework of a video game where one must complete objectives in order to feel a sense of progression, the freeform nature of DJ-ing butts heads with the structured game design parts.

In each level of the campaign, you’re tasked with completing a plethora of objectives before your set ends. Simple objectives include playing the pulsing drums of “Satisfaction” by Benny Benassi. More involved objectives could include playing two drum tracks at once, adding a low-pass filter on the vocal track, or having three different dance records playing at once. Meanwhile, the audience will also make requests. Throughout the five-or-so minutes of each set, you’re encountering dozens of requests.

Admittedly, it’s hard to keep on top of everything, especially since in-game objectives appear in a menu on the right while song requests pop up in the middle of the screen. Requests are particularly easy to miss as you’re in the midst of queuing up multiple records for a big drop.

More concerning is the way in which these objectives impact your music. While I appreciate how the objectives are mostly loose enough to allow for different mixes to be made each time you play a level, the game presses you to constantly noodle with the track in order to score points. Even if you complete all of the objectives given to you, that in itself is usually not enough to achieve a 5-star score. Instead, you’re greatly encouraged to spam actions in order to score more points, even if it makes your mix sound worse to the human ear.

Though it was tough to fight the urge to achieve 5-stars in every track, it would have been better for my long-term enjoyment to play no more of the campaign than I needed to. Just use it to teach me how each of its tools work, give me the XP to unlock the songs, and then let me work my magic in Freestyle mode.

There are a few ways to share this experience with others. Cross-platform play allows players to share mixes, play cooperatively, or battle head-to-head. Each week, Harmonix provides players with a challenge and players can create and share their own mixes based on that challenge. Mixes can only be 32 bars long, but the added recording interface makes it really easy to edit mistakes out of your mixes until you get it just right. In co-op, you and other DJ’s take turns mixing songs together. Head-to-head play involves scoring the most points with a different scoring mechanic that also runs counter to the joy of mixing music. No thanks.

Your enjoyment of Fuser will ultimately come down to what you’re aiming to get out of it. As a toy for complete novices to experience the joy that comes with mashing music together, this is outstanding. Without knowing anything about music theory or how to operate turntables, you can get the immediate satisfaction of blending tunes together. If you dedicate yourself to mastering all of the tools that the game has to offer, you can create mixes that can make your friends think you’re the next DJ Tiesto. If you’ve ever had the desire to mix music like a DJ, this is an incredibly cool way to dip your toes into that world and its deficiencies as a game won’t matter once you push through the campaign.

But as a video game, Fuser really falls flat. Its rigid objective-system and overall campaign progression run counter to the freeform joy that comes with mixing music however you want. Unfortunately, you need to slog through that campaign to learn how to use everything and unlock all of the music. If you’re looking for the next great Guitar Hero style rhythm game, this simply isn’t it. What would you want to get out of Fuser?

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