Music games are few and far between these days. Gone are the times when your living room was cluttered with plastic drum kits and guitars, but Harmonix are still pumping them out and the latest, Fuser, is an evolution of their mobile musical card game Dropmix. It also shows the evolution of DJ’ing to no longer rely on two vinyl decks, but four digital decks, a rack of special effects and a selection of electronic instruments.
Through the campaign you play as an unnamed DJ on their way to superstardom, playing a number of sets at different times of day across six stages which have clearly been influenced by the Tomorrowland festival over in Europe. Each stage is home to a promoter who will line up your sets and tell you what to play and when, and as the campaign progresses you gradually unlock new features on your decks.
You have four decks – one each for drums, vocals, and two instrument tracks. To keep the crowd happy you must drop in the required tunes on the downbeat of the song or at a certain cue point: mess it up and the meter monitoring the crowd’s reaction will go down and down until it’s game over. As you progress you can start dropping multiples of the same track element, add in FX, faders, hot ejects, transitions, and play instruments using a DJ pad. The promoter will give you instructions while you are playing and you have a limited time to complete the actions, get it right and your score goes up as you earn XP and points to unlock new outfits and tunes.
It’s impressive just how much control you have over the music. It’s the closest thing to having a digital DJ set up I’ve seen in a game and you can get some really professional sounding mixes playing. It even includes pitch shifting, faders and the ability to shift the key of your mix. Equally impressive is the track listing with over 100 tunes to try out, although many of these are locked to begin with and you have to earn them through levelling up or buying them with the currency you win from playing.
However, there’s a clear flaw to the campaign. When you have completed the tasks assigned to you by the promoter you get a little time to freestyle and get the crowd worked up. Performing any of the actions from dropping tunes to playing effects increases the crowd’s appreciation, but there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same thing over and over. I could drop the four elements from one track on the beat, move the cursor a few centimetres the other way, do the same, then move back and repeat the action and get maximum crowd appreciation almost every time. Activision’s DJ Hero stopped you from repeating the same actions, so it’s a shame this loop hole exists in Fuser.
Unlocks include new costumes for your character to wear including a range of deadmau5 style masks, and new visuals for your stage such as lighting and fireworks. I found the fireworks to be very distracting as they boomed in the middle of a mix, so I turned them off. It’s a good idea to lower the crowd volume as well. Unfortunately you cannot customise your backing dancers, who bop and jig away at the same speed no matter if your playing a 90bpm RnB tune of 150bpm electronic track.
Technically it’s a great game with some toe tapping tunes, amazing intuitive controls and a decent length campaign featuring an admirably diverse set characters. As a gamer, I enjoyed playing it…
As a DJ who has a had number one mash up album, been a promoter of successful club for ten years, and most importantly, someone who loves music, this game made me scream. It is a crime against music. Fuser has absolutely no concept of when tracks work together, so you can mash up Lady Gaga, Otis Reading, Rage Against The Machine and Benni Benassi at 140bpm and the crowd will go wild despite it sounding like a clanging mess. You should be booed you off on stage, but this audience laps it up. You have to play some truly horrific mixes during the campaign and there is no respect for the tunes – tracks are played much slower or faster than they ever should be, and then there’s the Major/Minor switch.
Oh dear lord in heaven, have you ever heard a track when it’s swapped from major to minor? Here’s Aha’s ‘Take On Me’, which is including in Fuser, swapped to a minor key. You can’t do that to songs, it makes them sound horrible, but Fuser matches the key of any new track you add in your mix to the key you are playing in, resulting in Erasure’s A Little Respect and many other songs being utterly murdered.
There are many other issues that will annoy anyone who has dabbled in DJing – for a start, this is clearly a big dance music festival, the promoters list techno and house as their musical styles, and yet they force you to play Ava Max and Dolly Parton. The visual cues for when to mix in are also backwards. In a 4×4 track you always mix in on the first beat, but for some reason it’s represented as the last on screen, and another indicator showing the beat starts as a small line and then gets bigger, which threw me off, it should be a big line getting smaller to represent the thump of the downbeat. I know that’s a very specific complaint, but it really threw me.
Also promoters don’t have fans and no DJ would ever work with a promoter who tells them what to play. Ever. The promoters job is to promote the event, the DJ’s job is to select the tunes, not the other way round. You also have to take requests. Requests! At a music festival with ten thousand people bopping about! And they ask for Country music in the middle of thumping set of 150bpm of electronica! Argh!
Thankfully the game also includes a freestyle mode in which you can mix and match tracks to your hearts content without having respond to requests from promoters or fans. With a little practise you can get some really good sets going if you stick to use a couple of tracks at a time, I particularly liked swapping between two vocal discs using the cue marks which indicate the exact spot where to switch, that works really well and sounds like a real mash up track.
The musical instruments are less of a success. You can choose a particular style such as strings of drums but you have no idea what they are going to sound like until you press one of the pads its hit and miss if they work with your current mix. Each instrument has 25 pads, each with two patterns, and there are 50 instruments so there is no way to remember what each pad does.
There are also multiplayer and co-op online modes as well as weekly challenges where you can share your mixes online. Although you still use the same set of tracks and instruments they are scored quite differently, but as the game has not yet launched I could not find anyone to play against, hence this is a review in progress. We will update this review with a score once I’ve had a good stab at the online modes, but for the moment, despite my DJ diva hackles being raised to the highest point, I can say it’s pretty good.
Just don’t mix Rick Astley, Evanescence and Tone Loc while I’m in the room please.