Fuser is Harmonix’s latest and greatest music game, which the company describes as “a non-stop virtual music festival where you control the music.” Last week, a couple of developers walked me through a guided demo of the upcoming game, including its robust customization, before letting me run wild in the demo myself, mixing and matching beats, bass, lead instruments, and vocals to my little heart’s content.
My experience with music games, and more specifically rhythm action games, is rather nominal. I’ve played my fair share of the different iterations of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, of course, at various gatherings, but only ever poorly. I never quite managed to play at the same level as my peers, and if I’m being honest, the only music game I’ve ever plugged significant time into is the initial Love Live mobile game. This is all to say, I’m aware of Harmonix’s past works, but they have historically not been for me. And yet, playing Fuser kind of blew me away.
“We make music games, we have for 20-plus years, and we’ve had the opportunity to sort of reframe the category,” Daniel Sussman, product manager on Fuser, says at the beginning of my guided demo. “We’re really trying to change the conversation with Fuser. Typically, our games have really been about rhythm-action and have also featured peripherals that have been really important in terms of kind of heightening that sense of immersion and fantasy, but they also present all sorts of logistical annoyances and costs and all this stuff. So, for Fuser, not only is this not a game about rhythm action, this is a game where players are creating; it’s sort of a sandbox game of sorts.”
Given Harmonix’s pedigree, it should really come as no surprise that Fuser just works. The mixes sound beautiful, regardless of how you cobble them together, and even when I tried to make the wonkiest possible combination with the slowest BPM the game allowed, the jams still came across, albeit with less urgency. Changing the tempo, key, and doing admittedly odd shenanigans like adding multiple vocal tracks… I tried it all, and Fuser just went on mixing it all together, making my mess sound beautiful.
If all of this makes you think of DropMix, Harmonix’s previous mixing game with Hasbro that had a physical board and cards, you’re not wrong. Fuser absolutely comes across like a tweaked all-digital version of that with a renewed focus on just making music rather than trying to compete against anyone. According to Sussman, there’s a clear throughline from DropMix to Fuser, but that’s also the case for basically every single game the developer has worked on to date.
“One of the things with DropMix that I feel like was an opportunity lost was that the gameplay and mix mechanic were kind of tangential to one another,” Sussman adds. “The way to win in Clash mode was not to make the best mix. It wasn’t really a game about making music, and with Fuser, if you’ve played DropMix, you’ll recognize the mix mechanic from DropMix, but the gameplay, the narrative, the setting, all of the framing is all about being a musician and performing for your virtual audience.
The first mission I played in the Campaign certainly fits this goal, and is essentially a tutorial that walks through adding the four core elements of a mix, swapping them at the right time, and generally working to please the crowd while also meeting goals that swap in and out. The goals can be as simple as adding vocals from Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” for four bars to having two Pop discs while also silencing vocals and beyond. And these can crop up while the crowd itself tries to get you to play, for example, “All Star” by Smash Mouth. Do it right, and the crowd’s rating goes up, but get it wrong or miss out on the goals and it goes down, and losing the crowd means the set is over.
It can get a little hectic, and the second Campaign mission I played certainly was, but it’s also part of what makes the whole experience shine: at some point, you get caught up in flipping, swapping, and generally trying to work the crowd. Add to this the fact that you can swap in instruments like hip-hop drums that you can make loops for, cue up songs to then automatically transition to a new beat a la DropMix’s, well, DropMix button, and more. It’s easy to lose yourself in the flow of it all, and if I’m being honest, it left me a little sweaty after more than one session.
Notably, the game allows players to fiddle with a bunch of different customization options, including for their character, the stage, which songs can be mixed, and what instruments can be brought along. While none of these are particularly noteworthy on their own, the robustness of the customization when considered altogether means that any one person’s experience with Fuser should be significantly different from everyone else’s.
Rather than any sort of gender option, the game instead focuses on body types. Nothing is locked in any way, so it’s easy to create any sort of character, whether they have a beard, breasts, both, or neither. Also, players can change the sort of energy level their character brings to the stage by swapping their personality. All of the usual character customization elements are there as well, including clothes, makeup, tattoos, and various colors and styles for all of the above.
As for what music you can bring along, the limit varies depending on the mission. The first Campaign mission in the demo had 11 while the second had 16, and Freestyle -- which is exactly what it sounds like, a continuous mode without any goals -- allows for 24 total. The full list of songs has yet to be revealed, though there will be over 100, according to Harmonix.
There’s still plenty more to be revealed about the game before it releases this fall for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, and several options in the demo were locked and out of reach to me, but even if the full game is just more of the same, Fuser is absolutely something to keep an eye on as it could easily reach the heights of Harmonix’s best games.
Fuser Screenshots #9prev
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