Saturday, November 14, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

FUSER Box art I absolutely adore music based games, so when a new one comes along you can bet that I’m all in. From developers HARMONIX, best known for Rock Band and Dance Central, their latest hit is a DJ based game titled FUSER. I played DJ Hero before and expected a similar experience, but got something completely different instead, and thankfully, a much more rewarding experience.

Rock Band has a special place in my heart, as a group of my friends would get together every weekend whenever possible and play for hours without fail. Obviously the gaming landscape became too oversaturated with the plastic instruments over the years, and I can’t remember the last time a group of friends got together for a Rock Band night (not that that’s even an option these days), so HARMONIX had to come up with something different. Thankfully this wasn’t too hard, as they basically had already done it previously with their release of Dropmix, a physical card based DJ game that, while may not have done well sales wise, has been translated into videogame form and what we’re talking about today; FUSER.

Described as a nonstop virtual music festival, FUSER has you controlling the music for the masses as a DJ. Not only will you be crafting unique and interesting mixes, but you can combine multiple parts of over 100 songs or work alongside friends online to create some really unique and awesome tracks. Thankfully with HARMONIX behind the wheel, their track record proves that once again that they’re the masters of the musical genre, as I haven’t been able to stop playing since headlining the stage.

After creating your DJ to look just how you want, complete with that signature HAMRONIX character art style, you’ll begin your DJ career as a nobody and obviously work your way up to the main stage the biggest music festival. The campaign will start out simple and with very basic mechanics. As you complete sets and move up the stages, you’ll learn new mechanics that adds another layer of difficulty, but also the creativity opens up fully by the end.

Each set gives you a certain amount of songs you can utilize however you wish, and you’re obviously tasked with not only making a great sounding mix, but trying to appease the audience requests and scoring as high as possible. The requests can come in different forms, such as a specific song, instrument, genre or year. Doing so properly and in the short time given will earn you extra points and make you a better DJ overall, allowing you to freely switch on the fly, not only purposely, but awesomely. You’ll work your way across six different venues, each with its own style and crowd, becoming progressively more difficult.

If you just want to mess around without the pressure of much else, then Freestyle mode is where you’ll want to hang out and mix, though I highly suggest playing completely through the campaign as it’s going to teach you all the nuances and how to create a better sounding mix overall. Simply jumping into Freestyle will allow you to mix songs no problem, but without knowing how to change key, pitch, modes, loops and more it won’t be as possibly good as it could be.

A music based game is only going to be as good as its content; the music. Thankfully HARMONIX knows what they are doing when it comes to musical content and has included more than 100 tracks across a variety of genres, decades and artists. There’s something special about being able to create a mix with 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ beat with Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gunna Give You Up’ vocals then fade it into some ‘Old Town Road’ mixed with some Salt-N-Pepa ‘Push It’. The options are limitless and can really show your creative side. While listing every track would be far too long, here’s a handful of the notables that I really enjoyed and constantly put in my crate (usable songs on a set):

50 Cent - "In da Club"
A-ha - "Take On Me"
Ace of Base - "The Sign"
Benny Benassi presents The Biz - "Satisfaction"
Blue Öyster Cult - "(Don't Fear) The Reaper"
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Call Me Maybe"
DMX - "X Gon' Give It to Ya”
Labelle - "Lady Marmalade"
Lady Gaga - "Born This Way"
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Wanz - "Thrift Shop"
Megadeth - "Symphony of Destruction"
Rick Astley - "Never Gonna Give You Up"
Salt-N-Pepa - "Push It"

Being that this is a music game, and if you ever played Rock Band, you most likely also purchased a handful of extra songs here and there. There are also another 25 songs that will be in the first batch of DLC, but is also included in the slightly pricier VIP Edition. I am curious to see what new additions will come in the future, as the store was not live or populated as of the time of this writing pre-launch.

So before you start to set the stage on fire with your mixes, you need to pick the right look for your DJ. While not a ton of options, you can customize them to look almost exactly however you wish. There’s a decent amount of options for clothing and accessories, but I did expect a lot more for some reason. Not only will you customize your character, but everything that goes into your stage as well, including lighting, fireworks, pyrotechnics, video screens and more. Again, while not a ton of options, at least it’s there to add some personality to your stages.

Your main mixing will come from the four different colored turntables that sit in front of you on stage. This is where you can easily choose any song and drop it on your table, deciding if you want the beat, instruments or vocals. Somehow FUSER makes the majority of even the oddest song mashups work. It’s not perfect, as there’s the odd times where certain mixes don’t sound all that great mashed up together, but for the most part, they have some sort of magic that makes it flow and sync together nicely. Blend any pairings from any song in your current crate to make a totally neat and rocking beat for the crowd.

While the core gameplay comes from mixing in this way, there’s a lot more you can do to really amp up your mixes as well. You’ll eventually gain access to instruments, many of which are unlockable, and can be played on top of your current mix or even have loops crated than placed on one of your turntables to fit right in with the rest of the music naturally.

You can also eject discs at any time if you abruptly want to drop a beat, instrument or vocals, mute any layer, or even have any disc solo if you want to focus on one component of the mix at any time. There’s also a bunch of effects you can lay over your individual tracks, or have them play over the whole mix. There’s so many options here at your disposal that it really just comes down to your creativity and style. Yes, the controls for it all takes some time to get accustomed to becoming proficient at doing exactly what you want quickly and when you want, but once you learn how to queue tracks, blend in and out and more, your mixes start to become elevated the better you get. There are even colored markers on the moving timeline that indicates the best time to drop a part of a track for extra points. Again, the timing takes getting used to, but eventually it becomes second nature to drop and swap tracks on a downbeat for a natural flow.

As you complete sets you’ll earn XP, leveling up as you fill the bar each time. A level gives you access to new customization options and will also give you a handful of points that you can spend to unlock new songs. Yes, not all songs are unlocked from the beginning, but they can all be unlocked by simply playing FUSER, the only issue with this is that the rate for XP growth is so slow that it’s going to take quite a while to get enough points to unlock each song and instrument over time.

Given that I was reviewing FUSER before its official launch, I wasn’t able to test its online capabilities, even though I tried numerous times, but no one joined. There is cooperative and competitive DJ modes, depending on your preference. With online freeplay, 4 DJ’s can work together on a set, each having their own time in the spotlight, able to cheer one another on when waiting for your turn. The Battle Mode is the competitive side where you go one on one versus another DJ, attempting to deplete their health by making a good mix, matching audience requests and forcing tracks to drop form your opponent. The best part about the online and social aspect is that you’re able to save your mixes and share them out to the community, or even enter weekly challenges with unique prizes for the top DJ’s.

There’s just enough musical variety that FUSER can appeal to nearly everyone from any musical taste or genre. No matter what mix I was trying to attempt, my head was constantly bobbing and my foot was tapping along to the beat. While I don’t fully understand the scoring system, as getting 5 stars on songs seems quite difficult, I still have fun every time I play and try out some new combinations of songs, always having a smile on my face and grooving to my own beat before sharing it online for everyone else to hopefully listen to. FUSER has recaptured that something special that Rock Band did years ago.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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