Fuser Review — Not Quite Ready to Headline
Fuser has a great roster of music that can, at times, be a joy to mix together. However, the game has too many tools and throws too much at you that makes it a stressful and oftentimes frustrating experience.
Harmonix Music Systems
Switch, PC, Xbox One
Review copy provided by the publisher
Guitar Hero and Rock Band will, without a doubt, go down as two of the most beloved video game franchises of all time. There was something incredibly special about grabbing that chunky, plasticky guitar and rocking out with friends. I speak from experience when I say these games defined plenty of people’s teenage years. In my case, many a late night were spent in my friend’s summer house, rocking out to Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tenacious D.
These two games were released at such an opportune time; a time when peripherals weren’t seen as a hindrance, and it was a complete novelty to use a fake guitar or drum kit as a controller. A time when couch co-op was still very much a thing, and a time when “microtransaction” wasn’t a dirty word. Sadly, despite trying to reinvent the wheel (see DJ Hero and Guitar Hero: On Tour), a flooding of the market caused the games to die out. And with them, the mainstream love of the rhythm genre.
There have been some recent efforts to revive the genre, with both Guitar Hero and Rock Band coming back for brief stints on the PS4 and Xbox One; but sadly, for the most part, both failed to gain traction. Not one to give up though, developer Harmonix created Fuser, a game in which you’ll take the stage as an up-and-coming DJ by mixing tracks and pleasing crowds.
Although rhythm games aren’t typically known for their story, Fuser doesn’t try anything new or different to change that. You start as a small fry DJ at a festival and work your way from stage-to-stage, starting as the opening act and moving up to the headliner. The story is formulaic and uninspiring; however, it is absolutely essential to play through. There are a total of six different stages, each with a different promoter who will teach you everything you need to know about the game. There are so many different skills and techniques that had I not played through the campaign, I would have been completely lost.
While essentially the campaign is one big tutorial, there’s still plenty to get your teeth into in Fuser. Each of the promoters has a different taste in music, so they’ll challenge you to mix various genres, helping to create combinations you wouldn’t have dreamt of. There are so many different stages and challenges that you’ll be able to hone your craft and get plenty of time with the game. However, the problem with the promoters is that while they’re there to help you and walk you through the game, they are incredibly annoying.
Clearly, Fuser is going for perceived realism here. Promoters are seen as loud, brash, and in your face — the ones in the game are certainly that. The problem is, they are too loud and too brash and far too in your face. The dialogue is extremely cringy, and often it just made the cutscenes too hard to stomach. They’ll also shout words of encouragement at you during your set, with the same lines cropping up over and over again.
“With so much to juggle, at times, Fuser felt more like a demanding management sim with a thumping soundtrack sim than it did a rhythm game.”
The core of Fuser’s gameplay is mixing songs and fulfilling requests from both the promoter and the audience. However, that massively oversimplifies things. There are a lot (and I mean a lot) of tools to master. Not only will you be dropping in and mixing four different songs at the same time, but you’ll also be changing the key, the volume, and the tempo. You’ll be fading songs in and out, queuing different tracks, and adding effects to different pieces of music. You’ll be worrying about timings. You’ll have to play your own instruments, create loops, incorporate those into your mix, and more. This is all while fulfilling the audience’s requests and worrying about their happiness.
There is a lot to take on, and more often than not it just made the game feel too stressful. Fuser is generally fair with the pace; it throws these different techniques at you, but there’s so many of them that each set just felt way too hectic. At times, with so much to juggle, Fuser felt more like a demanding management sim with a thumping soundtrack than it did a rhythm game.
Again, this is probably Fuser aiming for too much realism. For those ingrained in the musical world and used to creating mixes, this is probably a walk in the park. For those (like myself) who wouldn’t even know how to hold most instruments, it can feel like way too much.
“The core of Fuser’s gameplay is mixing songs and fulfilling requests from both the promoter and the audience. However, that massively oversimplifies things.”
I also found the scoring and leveling within the game to be quite obtuse. Part of this is almost certainly down to my inability to master all of the techniques, but not once across the whole campaign did I score more than three stars, even when I barely put a foot wrong. Sure, I flirted with four stars a few times, but the skill ceiling to get there just felt too high, which in turn intrinsically hampered my ability to level up.
The experience you earn after each set is tied to your star ranking. Therefore, by making it hard to score points, you make it hard to level up. By the end of the campaign and a few playthroughs on the free play mode, I was barely at level 9. This would be fine if leveling up didn’t mean anything; however, certain tracks and items within the game can’t be unlocked until you reach at least rank 45, which just felt obscene. That means an awful lot of playtime is required just to access all of the songs within the Fuser.
“An awful lot of playtime is required just to access all of the songs within the Fuser.”
Arguably, the most fun I had with Fuser was in the Freestyle mode. Freestyle is exactly what you’d expect; there’s no rabid crowd throwing requests your way or loudmouthed promoters trying to hype you up. Instead, it’s free from the constraints and pressures of the more competitive modes. It allowed me to relax, mix some songs, and use the tools I actually wanted to use, rather than the ones I was forced to within the campaign.
I found genuine joy mixing songs that had no right to work with each other without the burden of turning the audience off and failing my set. Some personal highlights include my “Bodak Yellow”/”Never Gonna Give You Up” mix and my combination of “Trap Queen,” “X Gon’ Give It to Ya,” and Carley Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe.”
While it’s definitely fun to kick back in Freestyle mode, Fuser lacks any free play, high score-chasing mode like its guitar-based counterparts. Sure, you can go back and replay the campaign and beat your scores there, but then you face the same restrictions over and over. The game needs a mode that’s somewhere between the two; a mode where you pick your roster of songs, instruments, and effects and chase your high scores within a set time period.
“I found genuine joy mixing songs that had no right to work with each other without the burden of turning the audience off and failing my set.”
The roster of music in Fuser is impressive. The game boasts an array of more than 100 songs that span a huge range of years, genres, and artists that allow you to get creative. After a while, I did find my favorite songs and tended to stick with those throughout every set I played.
Fuser is definitely designed with creating and sharing mixes with the world in mind. In the Freestyle mode, mixes can be strung together, recorded, and shared with a click of a button. If that’s your cup of tea and you’re looking to create content or produce music to share with the world, then the game more than makes it easy for you.
“Fuser is definitely designed with creating and sharing mixes with the world in mind.”
Fuser definitely deserves some plaudits for trying something new and different. Sadly, more often than not, it does too much. Although it’s not necessarily trying to, it’s certainly no replacement for Rock Band for those hoping it would be. The gameplay is convoluted and oftentimes stressful, the story is shallow, and there’s just too much going on.
While there’s definitely fun to be had with Fuser, the not-particularly-musically-gifted people (like myself) may struggle. The budding Calvin Harris and Tiesto’s of the world, on the other hand, will surely find enjoyment in the game.