Saturday, 3 Dec 2022

Hands-On With Fuser: Harmonix Is Bringing DropMix Back From The Dead

Fuser debuted at PAX East in Boston last weekend to an excited but mystified crowd. The music mixing rhythm game is the latest in a decades-long series of audio games from Harmonix, the developers behind Rock Band, Audica, and Dance Central just to name a few. Fuser is a difficult game to grasp until you get your hands on it – that is, unless you’re familiar with Harmonix’s now-defunct collectible card game DropMix. Fuser borrows both the tech and visual style of DropMix, recreating the game’s music-making strategy experience as a crowd-pleasing rhythm game.

What Is DropMix?

DropMix was a game developed by Harmonix and published by Hasbro in 2017 that used NFC-embedded playing cards to create unique music from the individual components of popular songs. Each DropMix card represented a stem of a song, meaning 1 song would be split into 4-6 separate cards depending on the composition: 1 for vocals, 1 for rhythm guitar, 1 for drums, 1 for the bassline, etc. When players drop a card onto the DropMix board the tempo and key of the stem are automatically adjusted to fit into the song being created.

You could, for example, play the card for the lyrics from Sia’s “Chandelier”, the guitar from The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, the horns from Ricky Martin’s “La Mordidita” and the drums from Rum DMC’s “It’s Tricky” and the game could automatically rebalance all of those stems into an actual song. Dropping a new card on the board would instantly remix the song with the new stem. It was a fascinating piece of technology that made for a great party game and an addictive new card game to collect.

Unfortunately, the hype for DropMix quickly fizzled out, in no small part thanks to the extinction on Toys “R” Us in the United States (where many exclusively DropMix sets were sold) and the sales never justified a third series of the game. The final DropMix set released in April 2019.

Fuser Is DropMix’s Second Chance

DropMix had a few different game modes that were all fun but forgettable. All of the cards had a number value and could only be played in ascending order as players competed to fill the board with their own cards and collect points. Fuser uses the exact same music mixing technology but reinvents DropMix as a rhythm game.

The songs that can be sampled are at the top of the screen and, unlike DropMix, you can pull any of the stems from the available songs whenever you’d like. The audience will make requests such as “rock guitar” or “80s drums” and players need to quickly sort through the available songs, select the correct stem, and then drop it onto a slot at the bottom of the screen to add the request to the mix. There is a tempo bar in the center and the game rewards you bonus points for dropping stem on the downbeat.

It takes a lot of practice, even for someone who has played DropMix, because the interface is pretty difficult to parse. There are 8 songs listed at the top of the screen and only the name, artist, album cover, and available stems are visible, so if a player isn’t familiar with the genre or year the song came out they’ll need to scroll over each song to read the info. Between swapping pages, scrolling over songs, and trying to click, drag, and drop the stems onto the right spot, I was really wishing I could play with a mouse instead of a controller. I’m not totally sold on the game’s interface right now and I found that trying to wrangle the cursor distracted me a lot from enjoying the music I was creating.

The Best Rhythm Game For Streaming

Fuser stands out from past music game phenomenons like Guitar Hero and Rock Band because it’s a creative experience rather than a skill-based one. I don’t suspect we’ll be seeing people play Fuser like the Guitar Hero wizards going flawless expert on “Through the Fire and the Flames.” Rather, Fuser is a party game that is as fun to spectate as it is to play. I think Harmonix knew what they were doing when they decided to make audience participation the central mechanic of the game.

Crowd Control has figured how to make audience engagement fun for livestreamers by giving them tools to directly interact with the games being played. Twitch seems to have caught on to the trend as well, with the introduction of channel points recently. Fuser seems in some ways like a game made for streaming. Every streamer gets to feel like a DJ putting on a show for their audience, and every viewer can put in their request and feel like their part of the song being made. Fuser has a ton of potential, and I personally am glad to see the DropMix tech isn’t going to waste.

We don’t have a release date announced, but Fuser will be coming to Xbox, PS4, Switch, and PC later this year.

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