Fuser could revive the whole rhythm game genre

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BOSTON – Fuser will probably be a good game. This, in itself, is not so surprising. It comes from Harmonix, which is the studio that basically pioneered the rhythm game genre, with titles like Amplitude, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band. But Fuser may also be the game that kickstarts the rhythm genre as a whole – and that would be pretty remarkable. Not only is Fuser easy to learn and fun to play, it also doesn’t require any special peripherals, making it the most accessible Harmonix game in years.

I got to work with Fuser at PAX East 2020, and honestly didn’t expect to like him as much as I do. After all, what I loved about Harmonix games was the fantasy of being a rock star. Fuser, on the other hand, is all about being a DJ – and that means you’re going to be dealing with a lot of pop and hip-hop. (There’s a bit of rock, for good measure, but not enough to sustain the whole game.) I have no interest in either genre; what could Fuser offer me?

merger

(Image credit: NCSoft)

merge game

A lot, as it turns out. My Fuser demo was relatively short, but it showed me everything I needed to know to play a session of the game. As stated above, Fuser can turn you into a DJ for an adoring crowd. To do this, you will control four simultaneous music streams: one for percussion, one for a lead instrument, one for a rhythm instrument, and one for vocals. Each stream has a face button associated with it on a controller, which means you’ll spend most of the game watching green, blue, yellow, and red circles spin.

Where things get interesting, though, is that you can shuffle four songs in the game’s playlist and pull out one song that sounds incredibly cool. I don’t know exactly how Harmonix did it, but every beat goes with every vocal track; each instrumental part works with each rhythm part. No matter how outlandish your mix is, it’s probably going to sound like something people could actually dance to.

For example: once the game showed me how to manipulate all four streams at once (it’s incredibly easy; you literally drag and drop track names), I decided to try mixing four genres at a time. With the percussion of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, the instrumentals of “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, the rhythm of “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers and the vocals of “In Da Club” by 50 Cent, I was sure I was going to end up with something inaudible. Instead, I found myself bouncing with the beat and wondering how I could pull off an unexpected masterpiece.

Of course, the game isn’t just a mash-up of freestyle songs – although hopefully there will be a mode for that as well. Instead, in-game challenge comes from two main sources: Requests and Highlights. As you progress through a show, fans in the audience will all be asking for different styles of music. Some might want horns in the rhythm section, or a rap song on vocals, or a 2000s song in any position. You only have a limited amount of time to respond to these requests, and they often pile up in twos or threes on top of each other.

That alone might not be that difficult, but you can’t just change songs at any time. Like a real DJ, you’ll want to wait for the downbeat before changing tracks. Change a song too soon or too late, and even the fans who asked for the change won’t be happy about it. With four song positions, a variety of genres and instruments, constant fan demands, and keeping the beat going, there’s a lot to balance. I think it will get easier as players start to memorize the tracklist – but in the demo there were about a dozen songs. In the final game, there will be over 100.

merger

(Image credit: NCSoft)

List of merge tracks and prospects

List of merge tracks and prospects

  • 50 Cent – “In a Club”
  • Billie Eilish – “the villain”
  • Blue Öyster Cult – “(Fear Not) the Grim Reaper”
  • The Chainsmokers ft. Daya – “Don’t Let Me Down”
  • The Clash – “Rock the Casbah”
  • Fatboy Slim – “The Rockefeller Skank”
  • Imagine Dragons – “Thunder”
  • J. Balvin & Willy William – “Mi Gente”
  • Lady Gaga – “Born This Way”
  • Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus – “Old Town Road (Remix)”
  • Lizzo – “Good as Hell”
  • LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock – “Party Rock Anthem”
  • Migos – “Jump”
  • Post Malone – “Better Now”
  • Smash Mouth – “All Star”
  • Warren G & Nate Dogg – “Regulate”

The funny thing about Fuser is that if you watch a gameplay video, it doesn’t seem that exciting. The music sounds cool, but there are a lot of tedious recording changes without much immediate payoff. But I was absolutely hooked – and, judging by the massive crowd outside the Fuser booth, everyone at PAX East was too.

If I had to guess, I’d say Fuser has such appeal because it creates something worth listening to almost effortlessly. Even at their best, Guitar Hero and Rock Band were just ways to recreate something someone else had already done perfectly. In Fuser, you have the ability to experiment – and unlike real DJ experiences, your results are guaranteed to sound great. It’s a safe and comfortable way to exercise your musical creativity.

If Fuser does well, I’d like to think we could see a whole new generation of rhythm games. This time around, however, they’ll be as much creative outlets as simulators, and they won’t need expensive, bulky peripherals to play. Or maybe Fuser will be a unique experience, in which case it will be all the more memorable for its uniqueness. The game will be released later this year on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch, with no firm price yet announced.

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