An Apprehensive Melody

You’d be lying to yourself if you said you hadn’t felt the stratospheric rise of EDM over the past decade. The genre kept a cult following during the 90s and early 2000s before injecting itself into the Pop and Top 40 artists of current day and leaving an unmistakable imprint on the music scene. With EDM becoming the flavor of the, well, decade really. DJs have risen to worldwide status, using the sweet science of mixing tempo, beat timing, and music selection to bring a crowd to its feet and keep them there for hours. Be real, you’ve seen an EDM concert and thought to yourself, “Man, that would be fun to do.”

So lets say you acted on that impulse and knew a guy. He shows you around his stage, a sprawling bigger-than-man colossus of metal and melody. You’ve been working your craft before and it’s intrigued your friend enough to allow you an early morning set in front of a sea of his fans. You’ve got your four turntables in front of you, a crate of music, and the power to move complete strangers with the sounds of the biggest hits of the past 60 years. Welcome to FUSER.

From rhythm mainstays Harmonix of Rock Band and DJ Hero fame comes their newest dip into the EDM territory, but it’s one that will be familiar with fans of the Harmonix brand. Back in 2017, Harmonix released a rather intuitive and innovative retail gaming peripheral called Dropmix, which used NFC-embedded playing cards to fuse specific parts of songs into four separate pieces, cohesively fusing and mixing songs. These slots had no restrictions on which card could be played, which allowed for on the fly mixing, whether it was multiple vocal or drums tracks or just a hodge-podge smash of bass and pianos: the ability to control the tempo and style of music was as easy as switching between cards on the playing field. The real pull was finding that perfect mix and relishing in your creation.

FUSER takes that foundation of Dropmix and improves on it greatly by adding onto the original technology and upgrading it in the digital world. FUSER takes the Dropmix blueprint of four spaces to mix your music and adds an absolute truckload of additions. Changing BPM, tempo, key, and pitch on the fly is crazy, but the ability to pre-load records and swapping them in by unleashing a riser with a thundering drop on the beat is invigorating. Add on the dozens of sound effects that you can personally loop and add into the four slots and the customization and options to fine tune your DJ’ing experience provides an astronomically high skill ceiling that’s going to be a blast to see what people can come up with.

Thankfully FUSER realizes the overload of bells of whistles needs a bit of elbow grease to set up players for success, so FUSER‘s campaign plays out like a long tutorial. Each of the six stages takes a part of the bigger picture and investigates all the intricate details, giving you a chance to feel out each tool separately to show what it can do, then adds little side-missions and fan requests for specific songs to show what you can do with that new tool. It’s a smart way to slowly introduce the mechanics without being overbearing with the litany of options available.

Though the campaign’s scoring system could use a little tweaking. FUSER‘s heart is finding that beautiful mix and enjoying the creation you melded together, which can be saved any time with a single key press, but scoring is partially based upon how many perfect, or on-beat, swaps are done. Each swap brings the crowd meter higher, which after a few side-missions will give you extra points based on how the crowd is feeling the mix. While finding a good combination is nice, switching records every 4th beat with no rhyme or reason other than the specified genre of the campaign stage’s mix is disappointingly essential to pull a 5 star set.

Each mission completed will net you XP, which rewards you with music and style tokens on each level up. These will help unlock more accessories for your created character, which I commend their inclusivity for the androgynous options, and music to compliment your crate. FUSER provides over 100 songs out the box, which has a great range of Country to throwback Hip Hop to current year Pop and Megadeth, because why not? While the selection is large there are some problems in the formula: firstly, songs are locked on a level cap (which I’ll go over later), but secondly, tweaking was obviously necessary to make sure over 100 songs could work seamlessly within one another, but due to that some of these songs sound like shit. The ear-searing hi-hat crash that was added to DMX’s “X Gon Give It To Ya” and the free website quality of the trumpets in T.I.’s “Bring Em Out” is criminal and get purposely omitted from any playtime.

Once campaign has been run through, Freestyle is a good destination to freely fiddle with song combos and tempos for future use and just to have some casual fun mixing to your heart’s content. Having that prior knowledge is key when you step into FUSER‘s online modes. FUSER relies heavily on the “social media” style, like how you can follow mixers and they can follow you, and they’ve got the tools to make it work so long as the player base stays afloat. Players can co-op on Freestyle, working together like a b2b set in a private lobby or playing publicly for anyone to join in and watch the pot get stirred. Weekly events are posted where you can take snippets of your live Freestyle jams, conveniently brought up with a push of a button, and submit them to see who has the best mix of the week. When you want to throw down your mixes against others, Battle mode pits two players in a head-to-head duel to hold the stage with their set of music.

If you’ve played Dropmix‘s Clash mode you’re ahead of the game, but for the uninitiated: players will use timing and requests from the crowd to play specific tracks, the more in-tune the choice of music is, the more powerful the track will be. Tracks constantly drain your opponent’s health bar until the track’s power runs out or your opponent plays a more powerful track on the same disc. It’s a really interesting and cool idea that can really show off your knowledge of specific tracks, but that also brings me to one of my biggest problems with FUSER.

The heart and soul of FUSER lands firmly on the amount of music available to users, and how much FUSER will be updated in the future. While FUSER boasts an impressive list of music around half of it is locked behind music points, which unlock about 1-2 songs per level gained, and about 10% is level locked. There aren’t very efficient ways to earn XP so songs capped at Levels 30, 40, and 45 will be unattainable by casual players. The best ways to get music are to either put your hours in, or grab your wallet.

DLC is a fickle beast in the rhythm genre, but especially so for FUSER. This game will live and die on how much music is added in the future, and FUSER‘s asking price of $1.99 per song is a hefty sum when you stack up the 25 songs currently available for purchase. Having new tracks will not only benefit the mixes that you can make for weekly events, but for your crate in Battle mode. Those who will whale in the extra cash for more variety will have an advantage, and it’s a little sad to see a video game with a $59.99 price tag lean into business practices that favor free-to-play titles.

If you’re a fan of EDM who’s ever wanted a taste of how handling a set works, FUSER is an amazing and immersive experience that has an astounding amount of customization that places a skill ceiling in the cosmos but is still a blast for musical newbies. But to get the whole experience FUSER asks for a ridiculous amount of time and money, and if you’re unwilling to give FUSER what it demands your mileage, and mixes, will vary.

Reviewed on Steam.