Fuser might seem, initially, like a simpler concept than, say, strumming a plastic guitar. But one of the reasons the Guitar Hero series fell out of fashion was its reliance on recreating the music of others, rather than the creativity of the player.
With its latest release, Harmonix turns the tables… literally. Here you choose from a bunch of songs from varying genres and lay down up to four tracks in time to the beat, adding in drums, bass, instruments, and vocals. Immediately, Fuser allows you to mix songs in a satisfying fusion that’ll make you feel like an EDM genius, giddy with excitement. The party atmosphere only adds to the hyped-up, good-time vibes.
Through the campaign mode, though, the complexity soon ramps up. Split between six different festival stages, each set adds another element to your musical toolset. You’ll drop tracks on seamless pickups, freestyle on unlockable instruments and effects, manually change keys and tempo, muting and soloing specific tracks and more.
As you progress, you’ll level up and collect points to spend on unlocking new songs, effects, and clothing for your avatar. You can return to previous sets to improve your score, too, though it’s not always clear how the system works – dropping tracks in time isn’t enough. You need to truly understand the music to make the most of your set time and get the crowd going.
Fuser is presented in a vibrant, eccentric package. There’s a welcome diversity to the range of avatar options and DJs who assist in each set, with tongue firmly in cheek in typical Harmonix fashion. If you’ve ever wanted to dress up in neon with a futuristic wolf head to a backdrop of dancing ice cream cones and corgis, mixing Dolly Parton’s Jolene vocals to the thundering beat of Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name… well, now you can.
The colourful visuals mask what is an impressive suite of music manipulation that requires genuine musicality to excel at. This is far more than just rhythmic beat matching.
But Fuser is also a video game, and here it stumbles. During each set you’re given challenges by the resident DJ and requests from the crowd. These teach you the basics, but also get in the way of the mix, tasking you with changing things up in a way that doesn’t always make sense.
The time it takes to tick off these challenges is sometimes out of step with the rhythm, upsetting the carefully curated balance of your mix. And with so many tools at your disposal, the controls sometimes feel fiddly and limited. Simply put, the actual game gets in the way of the fun.
The campaign, though, is essentially a tutorial for the main event: freestyle mode. Without restrictions and requests, you can finally set your inner DJ free, experiment unconditionally, and unleash the flow of creativity the game demanded of you all along. No matter how it might sound, the dancing corgis are always your biggest fans.
There’s a likeable variety of songs from the last few decades to choose from, and while some songs are bent a little too out of shape in the mix, they mostly flow seamlessly together. The unique possibilities are truly exciting – you can even send your best mixes to your mates. Top tip: Deadmau5 goes well with everything.
Fuser is a video game masquerading as a hugely impressive piece of music software.
Format: PS4 (tested) / XBO / Switch / PC
Release: Out now