PAX East 2020

Fuser Mixes the Best Elements of DropMix and DJ Hero Into a Killer Beat

Fuser, the upcoming new rhythm game from Harmonix, takes inspiration from the studio's past and pins up a new rhythm game that's all its own.

Since the studio first started spinning beats with its early projects like Frequency and Amplitude, Harmonix has been the go-to studio for finding creative ways to mix video games with music. That trend would continue for decades with the studio’s major successes like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, to its more experimental ventures like Fantasia: Music Evolved and what we would see from FreeStyleGames in DJ Hero. This is especially the case with its entry into tabletop gaming with DropMix, a board game that utilized physical cards to have players spin their own song mixes. The game itself was almost magical in how it blended together wildly different music genres, and with the studio’s upcoming Fuser, that essence continues in what is more or less DropMix’s spiritual successor.

During PAX East 2020 a few weeks ago, I got to spend some time with the show floor demo of Fuser, which was announced by Harmonix at the show and is coming to consoles and PC later this year. In the tradition of Harmonix’s past games, Fuser is an experience aimed entirely at giving players the chance to live out their dreams as a turntable DJ and assembling their own mixes. From an outside glance, Fuser seems to draw a lot of elements from DropMix as players take different strands of music and combine them together. But in motion, Fuser manages to take these elements from some of Harmonix’s best games and blend them together for an energetic and thrilling experience.

Part of this was aided by the fact that Harmonix’s demo booth for Fuser at PAX East 2020 was turned into an almost literal concert venue, as attendees were greeted by a gigantic statue with a DJ spinning beats at its base, pulsating lights, and some fog machines. It definitely helped enhance the immersion of spinning different mixes together while a literal DJ did the same thing a few dozen feet away, but it also captured what exists at the heart of Fuser: pleasing a crowd and drawing from their energy to make exciting music happen.

The simple way to express how Fuser plays is that it essentially works like DropMix, just without the physical cards that players used in that game to create different mixes. As the DJ in front of an excited crowd, players are given a variety of different tracks to utilize in different combinations and instrumentations. With each “song card,” players can take a specific element of the songs in front of them — drums, vocals, guitar/rhythm, piano, etc. — and mix and match them to their liking combined with the game’s lineup of different songs. From what I played of the demo, Fuser already boasts a mix of a lot of current hits like Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” alongside plenty of older favorites like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”

While the final game will have over 100 licensed songs (and I would assume more to come through DLC), Fuser is already off to a strong start with its song selection and a strong sense of experimentation at its core. Want to hear what Smash Mouth’s “All Star” sounds like when you mix it with the bassline of Lizzo’s “Good as Hell”? Fuser lets you do just that. Even with some of its most outlandish combinations, Fuser manages to spin some incredible magic by connecting the different threads and elements of these songs and making them work together, feeding into the sense of players getting to be creative with how they combine these sometimes wildly divergent songs.

“Even with some of its most outlandish combinations, Fuser manages to spin some incredible magic.”

What really feeds into this sense of discovery in Fuser is having to play to the crowd, as players will have to react to what the in-game audience wants and use that to their advantage for a higher overall performance and score. During the course of a game in Fuser, the crowd will shout out suggestions for specific song types, genres, or music elements — ‘70s rock music, ‘00s pop, the vocals from an Imagine Dragons song, etc. — and then challenge the player to assemble that mix within a certain amount of time.

Adding on top of that is a meter that shows players the beat of their current mix, and if players are able to drop a new track or song element in time with the beat, it will enhance how the crowd reacts to their new mix. While you can simply ignore this feature and drop in new beats or segments of songs when you please, this additional timing element gives a bit more depth and mastery for players to experiment on top of trying to find new mixes that work to please the crowd.

“Harmonix have proven themselves before several times over that they know how to bring life to the music genre.”

Given Harmonix’s track record with taking the joy of listening to music and making that an interactive experience through its past games, what I’ve played so far from Fuser already has me excited to jump back in and get creative with new music mixes. As a fan of the underappreciated DropMix, I’m glad to see that the innovative and unique tech behind it can live on in a new form, and I am interested to see how it plays in its final release with a full song library (especially being able to play it on-the-go on Switch). Harmonix have proven themselves before several times over that they know how to bring life to the music genre, and Fuser already seems like it will be the life of the party.

Fuser will release later this year on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Update: A previous version of this editorial said that DJ Hero was developed by Harmonix, but was actually developed by FreeStyleGamesThe preview has been edited to correct this information.

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Ryan Meitzler

Ryan is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers and has been a lover of games as long as he can remember. He holds a BA in English and Cinema and lives in New York City.

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