The drums from Never Gonna Give You Up, the guitar from Jolene, the violins from Call Me Maybe, and the vocals from All-Star
Harmonix has a long and storied history with rhythm games. After their title Frequency in 2001 they would go on to dominate the world of music-based games with titles like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central. Back in 2017 they took a brief detour from video games to produce their NFC music card game Dropmix, and while that game was really cool it unfortunately did not sell a whole lot. Even so, the technology was still there and it’d be a waste to just never use it again, and so now we have their latest title FUSER. Is FUSER as good a use of this tech as Dropmix was, and is it more worth your time now that it’s been disconnected from the plastic board and physical cards? Honestly, I’d say yes.
FUSER is a game all about mixing and mashing different parts of different songs and different genres to create a cool DJ set. Before you begin a set you will be able to put together a list of songs that you can work with. Many of these songs must be unlocked using currency, leveling up, or completing certain parts of the game’s campaign. Each set in the campaign will have certain songs that are required to be part of your list, but outside of that you largely have free reign in regards to what you bring. For instance I rarely did a set where I didn’t bring Smash Mouth’s All-Star (because I’m that guy), Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, and weirdly enough Dolly Parton’s Jolene. These, and honestly every song I’ve heard in the game thus far, all fuse together way better than you’d think considering their clashing genres.
When you go to put a record down on the turntable you will have an option of blue, red, purple, or yellow. Blue is percussion, red is often the lead instrument (whether that be guitar or trumpet or what have you), purple is often the bass part or whatever the song’s equivalent is, and yellow is the vocals. When a record is placed the game will alter it in some way, be it by changing the BPM or key signature, in order to have it mesh well with the other records that are already on the turntables. The technology for this feature was impressive when Dropmix came out, and it is no less impressive now. You’d think Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up wouldn’t mesh well with Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff but you would be wrong; the game makes it work near seamlessly. The results aren’t always a winner, but more often than not anything you make results in an absolute jam.
FUSER also prioritizes rhythm based gameplay by giving extra points for placing records on either a downbeat or a pickup. An indicator both above the turntable and below any record you have your cursor over will indicate when either of these are, and getting good at dropping records at the right moment is not only incredibly satisfying but basically a requirement if you want to do well. During a set there are three main things to keep track of. The first is the audience satisfaction, shown through a bar on the right side of the screen. If you keep your mix sitting for too long without changing it up, the audience will begin to get bored. If the bar depletes completely, your set will end in failure. Below that bar is where the game’s challenges will appear, usually telling you to place certain types or genres of record before time runs out. Above your turntable sometimes an audience member will make a request for a specific song or for a song from a specific era, and completing these challenges will also up your audience satisfaction.
There are a few criticisms that can be made of FUSER. I found that after a long play session gameplay began to feel slightly stagnant, and while the music and desire to experiment generally kept me going I do wish the gameplay had more room to evolve as you go on. I also felt that the speed at which you gain currency for buying songs was too slow, only earning enough for essentially one song whenever you level up, a process that is in itself rather slow as well. The game also has the occasional technical hiccup; every once and while I would notice the game hang for half a second and jerk back into action very suddenly. This never happened in a way that felt like it overly hurt the experience, but it was definitely noticeable. Some cutscenes during the campaign also seemed to be running at an inconsistent framerate, which made them a bit hard to watch at times.
Overall FUSER is a worthwhile game if you have an interest in music or just want to experience a unique entry into the rhythm genre. Its technology continues to impress me even if the gameplay has a tendency to get a bit stale after long play sessions. There is a Freeplay option that is a really fun way to mess with the game’s music library, and it may even be a cool thing to put on at a party to let guests mix and match songs at their leisure. Technical issues aside, the Switch seems to be the perfect place for this game, as it being easy to transport means the party can go wherever you go. I don’t think FUSER will set the world on fire quite the same way some of Harmonix’s earlier titles did, but I think it’s definitely a game worth looking at.