Mixing music is simple and the controls are easy to grasp, making Fuser relatively accessible for gamers and non-gamers alike. You drop discs onto a deck of four slots. Each button on your controller is mapped to a different, color-coded song component. For example, drums are blue, meaning you need to press X on an Xbox controller. It was easy to get into the groove in a matter of minutes.
Fuser features over 100 songs, but the full library opens up over time and is tied to your progression. In my demo, I mixed and matched songs from Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Imagine Dragons, The Clash and more. For example, Gaga’s strong voice was fun to highlight her vocals. Mixing it with the bass in LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” made for a fun dance track. One of my biggest takeaways was that I actually managed to make “All Star” by Smash Mouth sound good, and that’s mostly thanks to Fuser’s impressive tech than it is my music-mixing skills.
The core gameplay feels similar to DropMix, a video game and card game hybrid that Harmonix released in conjunction with Hasbro in 2017. Mixing music was DropMix’s focus too, but it required a card deck peripheral to play.
“Where DropMix fell short was in the relationship between gameplay and the tech,” product manager Daniel Sussman told The Washington Post. "It was effectively a CCG [collectible card game] that when you play, it sounds cool. Here, you’re a DJ making music and the better your music is, the higher your score.”
Fuser isn’t especially challenging, but Sussman notes that difficulty ramps up as you progress. I was shown a stage in the latter half of the game (the campaign has six stages in total), where you tweak the tempo, as well as switch into major and minor keys. Although I didn’t get to play this portion, it looked (and sounded) pretty cool.
For example, you can abruptly eject a disc to pause music mid-track for effect or quickly swap between discs so you don’t skip a beat. Another mechanic that Fuser is still ironing out is the ability to record with in-game instruments like a marimba, to build your own tunes and blend them into hit songs.
The power to dissect songs and twist them into something new is an enthralling concept. For example, haring Lizzo in a minor key is strange but experiencing popular songs in a different light is super entertaining, and breeds creativity.
One feature I didn’t get to see, but that Sussman teases will likely be shown off at E3, is customization. Fuser will have “more customization" than we’ve ever seen in a Harmonix game, with a full-blown character creator for your DJ avatar. The reason for this, Sussman said, is that Harmonix sees Fuser as a game about “self-expression.”
With that in mind, Harmonix paid careful attention with its progression system, making sure player performance is evaluated in terms of meeting objectives and time management, rather than how good your music sounds, since that’s subjective to the player. This is a smart move, prioritizing creativity without burdening players with the quality of the music. It’s all a matter of perspective, after all.
Harmonix has long been known for its peripherals use, like plastic guitars and toy drum kits for Rock Band, but Fuser moves away from that. Why? According to Sussman, he felt peripherals didn’t fit with the core experience of Fuser, because it’s less of an abstract concept than previous games.
“I think for a game like Guitar Hero or game like Rock Band, the peripherals brought a lot with respect to the fantasy,” Sussman said. “The addition of the peripheral and the simplification of the experience was a big part, I think, of the accessibility for Guitar Hero and Rock Band.”
In Fuser, everything is digital, and it’s better for it. It was easy to become immersed into the glow of the festival lights and the crowds demands without looking down at a physical toy in the real world.
“There’s no world where I think a peripheral is going to make Fuser better,” Sussman said.
It makes the game more environmentally friendly, too, and Sussman said that was taken into consideration by the team. He also said that from the get-go, the vision for Fuser was peripheral-free.
With so many hit songs in Fuser’s playlists, Harmonix had to obtain licenses for each one. With plans for sharing capabilities so that users can show friends what they’ve created, the licensing process proved challenging. Some artists outright refused.
“Our ask is super aggressive with respect to the sharing component,” Sussman said. “And we’re working with artists who have deep relationships to the songs that they write. You know, there are folks who are like, ‘That’s not how my song goes,’ and I have a ton of respect for that perspective. But also, I think what we’re doing is really fun.”
Fuser is coming to PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox One this fall.
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the game does not have fail states. It does, in fact, have fail states.