The beat goes on with Fuser

Daniel Lim

While the release of the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X has enamoured gamers across the world, games aplenty are still being released for existing consoles. One such title to come out during this transition between console generations is Fuser, which aims to reinvent the music genre in video games once again.

Redefining the music genre in gaming can come once in a blue moon, but when it does, it can be impactful – from the plastic guitars that formed the basis of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, to dance mats which evolved to Kinect style body tracking that helped pave the way for dancing games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Dance Central to flourish in their eras.

While the name Fuser might not ring a bell, the development studio behind it – Harmonix Music Systems, Inc – has quite the track record in making video games based on music, from the previously mentioned Rock Band and Dance Central to more experimental expressions of the music genre such as Amplitude and Audica.

This urge to experiment in evolving the way players are able to perceive how music is being played and experienced is the core of Fuser and to its lesser known predecessor, Dropmix.

Dropmix, while not a traditional video game, is a music mixing game that utilises physical cards with chips that can be placed in one of four slots, each representing a piece of the music, from percussion to vocals, on a specialised electronic game board that is paired with a mobile device, which can be used to create a one-of-a-kind remix of well-known music titles.

A crowd reacts to a performance. PHOTO: HARMONIX & NCSOFT

Released in September 2017, the game was well-received, but did not last long due to many factors, which can likely be attributed to the complicated process of not only playing the game, but also in acquiring new music to remix through card packs, both of which can be labourious and expensive.

The last update by Harmonix was in August 2019, where they had reacquired the server’s from Hasbro, who aided in publishing the game, to continue to support the service of Dropmix’s features and functionality, while also noting that there are no more plans to introduce new cards or boards.

While this might have been a setback for Dropmix, it certainly was not for naught, as the tech that went into ensuring all the tracks from the curated list of music were able to jell together to create a one-of-a-kind remix are used to their full effect in Fuser.

Released on November 10, Fuser’s initial ad premise showcases how anyone can become a rising DJ star, which is reflected in the campaign, where players can create their in-game personas guided by various fictional representations of DJs of all types, with each teaching the player the various mechanics of the game.

This can start out from dropping your first track onto the DJ Deck, which replaces the specialised electronic game board from Dropmix, before adding three more tracks to form a weird but cohesive remixed track that can be head-banging and an ear-worm.

One might not think that the drums from Take On Me by A-ha, coupled with the bass and keyboard rhythms from Rock the Casbah by The Clash and High Hopes by Panic at the Disco, topped with the vocals from The Middle by Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey would work, and yet in this case, Fuser through its magic somehow fuses these pieces of music into a decent remix that one can expect to find being played on a dance floor.

It doesn’t stop there, as delving deeper into the campaign sees the game slowly drip feeds of many other mechanics – such as applying filter like a Flanger and Low-Pass, to Muting, Changing Tempo and Keys from Major to Minor, all of which can lead one to wonder whether Fuser is less of a game and more of an actual bona fide instrument for DJ-ing.

Regardless, Fuser does offer some challenges to make it more game-like, such as your fictional DJ issuing certain criteria like dropping certain tracks and applying effects, the latter of which is also used to serve as an introduction to the many aforementioned mechanics of the game, as well as audience requests that can pop up from time to time for certain tracks to be played.

Despite this, the game does have some issues, which include weird control quirks that not only can take time to get used to, but can also freeze up in the heat of the moment. However, the game’s larger, more prominent flaw is that it can quickly be outpaced by the player, as the player might be encouraged to play to their own creative beat only to be taken aback by the challenges, criteria, and requests thrown forward by the title.

All in all, Fuser might be quite an experience not as a game, but as an expression of creativity and music finesse, as it is at its best when it’s cracking out addictive head-banging jams that can stick with you even in your sleep.