The Comeback Tour

HIGH Creating my first mix in the tutorial.

LOW Mixing DMX, Dolly Parton and Smash Mouth into some bizarre and cursed song.

WTF I have my own list of 50+ songs I’d like to see added.

Harmonix is a studio that needs no introduction. They’re the developers famous for getting twentysomethings in the mid-2000s to drunkenly play plastic instruments and sing horrible renditions of You Oughta Know by Alanis Morissette while ushering in an era of rhythm games. Titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band remain important cornerstones, and some of the biggest success stories in the industry.

Fuser, the latest effort from the team, is a music title in which players assume the role of a DJ trying to attain status as a headliner. After creating an avatar and watching a few cheesy (yet endearing) cutscenes, they’re thrust into their first set.

After selecting different tracks that span a variety of genres and over six decades of music, players are given a virtual mixing table with four empty record players. Every song selected is broken up into four colors, each one representing a different instrument, and this is when Fuser introduces its hook — mixing.

With this setup, just a few button clicks can take the iconic beat of 50 Cent’s In Da Club, the vocals to the Clash’s Rock The Casbah and the string arrangements from Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life to create a strangely beautiful mix.

The rush after Fuser first showcases this mixing mechanic had me completely in love with the concept, thanks to how intuitive it felt.

The campaign teaches players different DJ techniques like using filters over parts of songs to change up the sound. Similar to Rock Band, the campaign also sees players trying to win over a crowd’s love by correctly timing when they drop discs, fulfilling requests from the crowd and making the most of the songs they’re given — certain missions restrict what songs can be used, so Fuser got me used to Country and Dance, two genres I usually never listen to.

The setlist is gargantuan, comprising well over 100 songs, and the VIP edition includes 25 more. What makes Fuser more interesting than most music titles is that every song serves a purpose. Sure, I really don’t like Imagine Dragons, but the song Thunder proved useful when an audience member wanted vocals from a 2010s rock song. This breadth in variety gives the DJ more options to choose from.

Songs are unlocked with in-game currency earned through gameplay and can also be used to build up the player’s crate, which acts as an inventory of sorts. Before every set, players fill an in-game crate of items that will be used for that set. These include songs, instruments, stage effects and even things the audience can throw around, like beach balls.

For me, the real star of the show (and one of the biggest time sinks of the year) was Freestyle Mode. Here, players are given free reign on what songs, stage effects and other items they want to use. After well over 30 hours in this mode, I managed to craft a bizarre synth-wave song featuring elements of Bananarama, Grandmaster Flash, Erasure, and Rick Astley that I was proud of. Sure, most of my mixes went nowhere, but the fact that I spent this much time simply messing around and loving it speaks to how enjoyable the act of mixing is.

While the setlist is great, I do find it odd that some obvious picks didn’t make it. I would have loved to see artists like Daft Punk, Madonna, Depeche Mode or Shakira make the cut, but I guess there’s always DLC for that.

One final aspect I was surprised by was multiplayer. The competitive mode sees two online players face off creating mixes under varying conditions. It took a while to get used to, but I appreciated how creative Harmonix was in crafting a bizarre (but enjoyable) competitive experience. Plus, there’s a great battle pass system full of cosmetic unlocks to encourage repeat play, which I always appreciate in online games.

After years of letting gamers simply play other people’s songs, Harmonix has now decided to let players create new music using those songs. It truly feels like a fully-realized vision of melding music and games in ways that haven’t been done before and feels like the next step in music games. Harmonix is back in fine form, and that’s a tune we can all dance to.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by NCSoft  and developed by Harmonix. It is available on Switch, PS4, PC and XBO. This copy was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PS4.  Approximately 40 hours were spent across the campaign and freestyle mode and the game was completed. About one hour was spent in online play.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Mild Lyrics and Mild Suggestive Themes. A lot the songs deal with themes of sex, drugs, and other things that might not be appropriate for younger kids. Still, most of these are censored enough where most naughty words won’t get through. They even covered up the “F*ck you, I won’t do what you tell me” heard in Rage Against the Machine’s Killing In The Name Of!

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present in the options menu.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: Dialogue is subtitled throughout the campaign. Gameplay itself is mostly visual, despite centering around music. All the cues needed to drop music are on screen, with indicators letting players know if the track will fit the song or if it’s the right time to drop it for more points. Unfortunately, calibrating the game requires the players to listen for an audio cue, so those who have difficulty hearing might not be able to play as well if they aren’t able to set it up. I would say this game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable and there is no control diagram. The opening tutorial shows players that each face button (X, Triangle, Square and Circle on PS4) corresponds to a different track. When clicked, they will drop onto their respective records. The left and right sticks are used to move the cursor and adjust the volume of each track respectively, as well as navigate menus. The bumpers are used to move through the in-game crate.

Cj Salcedo
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