Fuser has been a game with a very long gestation period as Harmonix created the seeds for this with the criminally underrated card game Dropmix. With that, the idea of splitting up segments of music tracks such as drums, guitar, keyboards and vocals into their own music loop to mix songs together was born. The tech itself is absolutely superb but the main criticism of it was the pricing and the lack of real game beyond the impressive wow factor. Fuser looks to change that as the idea crosses over to consoles and PC but if I’m perfectly honest, it hasn’t – no matter how exciting and fun the tech is.
Fuser is a very difficult game to review because it is a creative DJ styled tool that is more aligned to Music 2000, MTV Music Generator and the old eJay PC series. If you aren’t interested in being creative and getting lost in mixing up weird and wonderful music mashups – you’ll struggle to ever get engaged here. Unlike other music games, you aren’t really ‘playing’ (although timing is key throughout) in the sense of Rock Band, nor are you able to play much with others creations like Dreams. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement out of the gate but I was sucked into the world of Fuser, just as I was with Dropmix and find the game utterly compelling.
Fuser lets you bring creates of music to a DJ stage to mash up. Each create allows up to 24 songs which will usually have 4 elements to them – drums, two melody lines and a vocal or effects element. These relate to the four discs you mix from. You then drop the discs onto the decks below and you do this to the beat of the music. The ability to mash up anything from those 24 tracks into four channels of music allows a real sense of freedom. You can make masterpieces or utterly trash a mix with weird tempo, key changes and craziness. That is all part of the fun though. I found myself laughing at the terrible monsters I created and that was just as entertaining as when things remarkably worked. You can time your shifts between elements for every 4th beat or at natural break points for that element. You’ll be able to see these with tiny markers on the tempo bars. I wish the interface for this section was a little bigger so its more visible as sometimes these dashes are close together and things look chaotic. These discs can be muted or made solo and you can also cue up a secondary disc for each slot to swap between or switch en mass to with the riser button. These allow you to be very dynamic with your mix and keep things moving without sounding stale. You can also save snapshots of mixes you like to then trigger the swap to those discs quickly too.
Outside of switching elements around you can key change, tempo shift, switch from a major to minor key to made something sad or euphoric and up to 8 special effects to your create too. These unlockables are things like stutters, frequency shifters, filters and faders that you can apply to each element or globally to all. They make transitions sound great and you can add plenty of flair. You also have the option of adding on custom instrument effects too. These appear as a beat making pad for you to mouse or stick over and press buttons to trigger samples. Whilst I appreciate their inclusion, they are far too limited in their design to be of much use beyond very minimal embellishments to music. They lack the fine control that the rest of the music creation has and so often they just sound a mess. This is made slightly worse in that the PS4 version I have bought does appear to have some framerate dips with the instrument sampling on busy tracks.
There is a campaign mode that introduces all these things and more tips throughout 30 stages. Crowds demand requests of genres, eras and certain things and their happiness depletes over time if music doesn’t constantly change. Miss time changes on the end of a bar of phrase and you’ll lose points too. Campaign is an extensive tutorial and unlocks lots of currency to unlock additional tracks, effects and instruments. You can also customise your set projections and your own character too.
Once adept you can enjoy all these moves in freestyle, building out your own creates to tailor to your tastes. The idea here is to really perfect where natural crossovers or surprise mashups work so you can record snippets and submit them to themed events to vote on for prizes and rewards. Events change theme wildly and make you utilise different things to take you out of your comfort zone. The community then votes for their favourites. You can also grace the Co-Op Freestyle stage too with up to 4 of you taking turns changing a mix and viewers can cheer on their favourite for the hottest mix. Then there is also a battle mode that scores your precision of switch ups rather than whether people like what they hear. These last two modes earn you XP to level up and get more currency to unlock more effects, tracks and instruments. Fuser doesn’t encourage you playing alone with any XP which I understand (outside of campaign) but going online against pros can be a bit daunting whilst also fun to see how others play.
Two things are missing from Dropmix. Firstly, the visual representation of how much a disc will effect the mix as some tracks are more overpowering than others. It helped balance a mix. Secondly, the puzzle mode is gone. Whilst the original puzzle mode was a bit bizarre, it was different and its a shame its gone.
Two things that stay from Dropmix are the high price and the fact that the tech is more impressive than the gaming experience. I feel like the game could offer some definitive charts that use the bar chart to cue up some fun remixes and you have to match them up – or that players could upload their own mixes as tracks to follow and score against. Yes, you can download a snapshot of someone elses mix and remix it and that is fine, but its reliance on wanting to create means that pure gamers have little reason to play. The price is also a negative. Music licences are costly and that reflects on Fuser. I picked this up at a 33% off sale and its now a normal day one release price of just under £40. That is frankly, terrible. There has also been two substantial DLC packs containing 20+ tracks each that are another £37 each. I grabbed the VIP pack and those 20 songs beautifully work into the rest of the music – Fuser is fantastic like that. It just feels… expensive. That is especially true when you are playing with a lot of user interfaces that evoke real music technology. I could potentially buy a decent digital audio workstation for the same price of as Fuser and its two DLC packs combined and have complete freedom to make music from scratch. It really is a difficult position Fuser is put in. I’d love to see them offer out slots to lesser known artists that may not cost so much to get and therefore offer a reduced DLC price as a result.
Fuser is one of the most conflicting games I’ve played. I really, thoroughly enjoy it. It is impressive. It is fun. It just doesn’t quite know what to do with everything it does apart from having some jam sessions together. I wished the instruments were more playable so you felt a bit more involved. I personally love Fuser but I can clearly see I am the narrow demographic that would and others I think would get bored fast of its lack of structure and largely hands off approach compared to other music based games.
A marvel in technology but its lack of structure, reliance on self creativity and high price point come as warnings in advance. If you get the Fuser bug though, it'll bite you hard.
The complete freedom to create pure heaven or hell with all the music samples.
Genuinely superb technology that can make anyone sound good.
A decent song selection of Dance, Pop, Rap, Latin and Rock with plenty more added since launch via DLC packs.
Megadeth x Dolly Parton anyone?
The instruments are really just one hit samples but are mapped out like you can play them. It is a messy design.
If you are self motivated to create, Fuser will likely leave you cold.
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