When you DJ, what the crowd wants comes before whatever you like. Playing Fuser from Harmonix reminded me of that absolute fact. From 2004-2008, I lived for the chance to get in front of a venue and show what I could do. The new rhythm game from the Rock Band and Dance Central creators is a staggering effort to convey the live experience of rocking a crowd. Harmonix knows its way around a rhythm game, after birthing some of the biggest titles in the entire video game space two decades ago (remember Guitar Hero and Rock Band releasing themed single releases with themes like the '80s or The Beatles?). Fuser might well serve as their big reintroduction to mainstream acclaim because of the complete mastery of the form.
One thing that separates Fuser from another excellent Harmonix game like Dropmix is that there's a campaign to tie it all together. It becomes apparent from the moment that you create your player avatar that the story mode is modeled after a personal journey. A promoter named Danny Humbles walks you through the game's bare-bones, and other DJs show you the ropes. At that time, you learn real techniques that give you a sense of the gameplay's musicality. Mixing is really a matter of finding out what songs fit together, and at a more atomic level, how the individual pieces factor into a successful track.
For example, an early challenge has you drop the drums to Rick Astley's now-infamous "Never Gonna Give You Up." If you've spent any time on the Internet at all, you've got a mental snippet of it playing in your mind. But, as someone who has played this song in front of a crowd of more than 400 people before, I never actually considered how crucial the drums were to the track. Fuser will have you thinking those thoughts a lot more than usual as you peruse the last 50 years of music. That's why picking these popular songs is so thrilling; all of them belong here.
Anybody worth their mixing decks knows that the songs at your disposal are just as essential as any tech sitting on the table. Don't worry; Fuser is bringing the hits in a huge way. There are more than 60 songs at your disposal to bring the house down. One of the things many rhythm games have trouble with is having a little something for everyone. With EDM as a central force in both the campaign and aesthetic of the game, the mixing of these inspirations is encouraged. Also, to put it bluntly, these songs just make you feel great. A lot of this stuff would be in the guilty pleasures playlist on Spotify or Apple Music, but that's the point.
Billie Eilish's "bad guy" is a well-crafted song and stripping it down to smaller elements just helps prove that. Dropping the baseline to "Rock the Casbah" by The Clash feels fantastic, as does surprising the people in the audience with the horns from Lizzo's "Good as Hell." Of course, players from different eras will gravitate to what used to get the party started in their heyday. For people who were around two console generations ago, Fuser will have your toes tapping in no time.
Each hour brings a little more challenge as the game tosses new wrinkles at you. Want to add your own drums to go under "In Da Club" by 50 Cent? Go for it. Think the synth stabs on "The Sign" by Ace of Base could be a little sharper? Go ahead and tweak it. Individual instruments and mixes you create are up for customization. To go even further, you can do the same sorts of DJ tricks that people have been doing for decades. Isolating the vocals from "All-Star" by Smash Mouth is an option. The game eventually lets you use multiple instruments in the same arrangement instead of the solitary one of each distinction that comes standard. That means you can go all drums if you so choose, or all vocals if you're some kind of genius.
With the avatar customization, set customization, and unbelievable fluidity in musical choices it offers, there's plenty to love with Fuser. Players with a need for different color modes due to color blindness will be delighted to see three other modes available here, as well as subtitles. This effort might not sway gamers with a distinct aversion to rhythm games, but fans of the genre who have grown through various consoles and popular hits will have a blast. In fact, it is entirely feasible to think you could craft a convincing set with this set of tools, and that's the highest praise I can muster. There's never been a better video game to move a crowd than Fuser.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Fuser is set to release for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC on November 10th. A review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review, and it was reviewed on an Xbox One.