Harmonix’s latest is unlikely to have that widespread Guitar Hero appeal, but playing it has the same sense of magic.
Let there be no question: Harmonix is the master of the music game. The early Guitar Hero titles and the escalation that was Rock Band was solid enough proof of that, but now comes Fuser: a brilliant DJ game that builds on the company’s projects outside of traditional video games.
Dedicated followers of Harmonix will be aware of DropMix, the music-mixing card game that the developer created in tandem with toy giant Hasbro. DropMix was cashing in on the craze for toys that had an accompanying app which could activate features via near field communication. It was a card game, with each card containing part of a music track, such as the vocals, the bass line or the drums. You’d play the cards onto a surface and the app would cleverly mix and match these things together to allow you to create your own music mixes.
Fuser is basically that, but in video game form. You put together a ‘deck’ of a bunch of famous music tracks and then you can choose to play one of four different ‘lines’ from that track, mixing and matching up to four different tracks to build new mixes.
The sections of each track generally correspond to percussion, bass, melody and vocals, and the total playlist of the game pushes 100, with the promise of a practically endless stream of DLC to come if the game is successful.
This is a different sort of DJ Simulator to what we’ve seen in the past. DJ Hero featured pre-set mixes created by talented DJs, and the player simply mimed along on a plastic deck to post a high score. There’s not a hunk of bundled plastic in sight here, but instead you get to feel a different sort of awesome as mixes actually come together from only your own intuition, choices, and imagination.
In this, Fuser is a more realistic DJ experience. You can throw on four records without much timing or thought, but it’s probably going to sound a muddled mess at best and nails-on-a-chalkboard at worst. When you carefully think about your song, instrument, and timing choices, however, you can create a harmonious sound that’s simply awesome – and because you’re creating it yourself rather than just miming along, it feels especially brilliant.
Of course, you’re not really creating these mixes entirely on your own, and that’s where Fuser and what Harmonix has built here is most impressive. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a cheat going on; the game concept here is so similar to DropMix that much of the same technology is surely being reused, but that makes it no less impressive.
Behind-the-scenes, an enormous amount is going on to make sure that your mix sounds correct: tempo warping, pitch shifting, auto-tuning – whatever is required to make things marry up as best they can. Sometimes as best they can is still terrible, but at that point it’s on you to change things up. The important thing is that these automated systems can build incredible, real-sounding mixes from these hundreds of possible tracks.
Fuser comes with a lightly narrative career mode which sees you testing out and improving your skills as a DJ across different venues and events. There are fun little character vignettes here – unique promoters that will ask different things of you, encouraging you to mix up what songs and techniques you use on stage. Through this, more in-depth mechanics are also introduced, as is currency that can be earned and used to unlock more songs and character customization.
The story is fun and engaging enough, with some fun characters and neat little cutscenes. The tasks it sometimes sets you feel as though they distract from the specific mix you might be envisioning in your head, but they do a great job of introducing various game mechanics. After learning new tricks, you can carry them forward into future levels or into freestyle mixing, which is where I think this game will find its future: in actual creation.
I’m only in the early stages of Fuser, having been more than a little distracted by the task of reviewing next-generation consoles, but I can already feel the pull of desire to buy further DLC as it launches. The nature of the game also means I approach its music in a different way: in Rock Band, I buy a DLC track if I love the song. Here, I’ll be tempted to buy just about anything if it has an interesting lick I think I can integrate into a mix.
That’s the beauty of what Harmonix has created here. Usually, these music games offer the thrill of a fantasy of appearing on stage, but none of the substance. Fuser still offers up those euphoric highs, but also allows you to truly create something – and that’s unique.
Harmonix’s music game crown remains in place. Fuser appears to be excellent – which is great. Hopefully But, can we also get a new-generation reissue of Rock Band 4 and its instruments?