Harmonix has teamed up with Hasbro to create a really innovative board/mobile/card game called Dropmix that I haven’t been able to stop talking about since I first saw it this past E3.
I don’t think it’s too far of a reach to say that people are drawn to Harmonix games because of some deep down love of music. I mean, who doesn’t have an inner rock star itching to come out—especially during those impulsive karaoke nights that go on into the wee hours of the morning and usually result in a headache the next day. The primary limitation of games like Rockband and Guitar Hero is the fact that, at the end of the day, and as much fun as it is to bang drum pads, strum plastic guitars, and belt out songs at the top of your lungs (thus initiating an uncomfortable visit from security because apparently, your neighbours do not, in fact, like your rendition of Ballroom Blitz at two in the morning), they’re still beat-match games.
They’re great beat match games, but they’re as close to actually making music as clapping along to a song on the radi-, I mean YouTube? Spotify? iTunes? Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is Dropmix is the closest a game I’ve played has come to letting people at any level of musical ability actually make music while still getting the same amount of instant gratification that comes with a Rockband or Guitar Hero experience. By the way, I know I’m leaving Rocksmith out of the discussion. That’s a whole other kettle of fish fit for another article at another time, and frankly, my editors already hate me right now for how long and rambly this intro paragraph has already become.
It’s hard to do this game justice with an on-paper description, but I’m going to try. Dropmix is a music mixing game played with cards. The base game comes with a Dropmix Gaming system (a long board with card holder slots and a slot for your smartphone or tablet) and 60 beautifully illustrated Dropmix cards. The cards each contain a track from a song, like the guitar track from The Sickness by Disturbed, or the vocal line from Sia’s Chandelier, or the horn line from Cake’s Short Skirt/Long Jacket. Players place the card tracks in the matching colour-coded slots. The slot reads the chip in the card and the track is played through the Dropmix app on your Android or iOS-running smartphone or tablet. As you lay down more cards, the tracks layer on top of each other, creating a unique mix of song mashups.
The app does the hard part of beat and key-matching each track so *most* combinations sound flawless. You want to hear Ginuwine’s vocals for Pony layered with the drums from Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive and the horns from Ricky Martin’s La Mordita (Ft. Yotuel)? You can make that happen. How about Mike Snow singing Genghis Khan over the orchestral breaks of Call Me Maybe? and the bass line from Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)? Boy howdy, can you ever! OH! The drums from Barbra Streisand, the base from It’s Tricky, and Amy Lee singing Bring Me to Life (you know it, the “wake me up inside” song). Yes! And it sounds better than you’d think. The app also gives you the ability to change the tempo, key, and signature for that extra bit of creative flair. And if you come across a mix you think is particularly “lit”, as the kids say, you can save it at the touch a button and share it with anyone who has the Dropmix app across social media.
That’s just Freestyle mode, one of the three modes available in the Dropmix app, and the mode I spent the most time with. Not that the other modes weren’t fun, but it’s so simple to use and there is such a variety of music to choose from, I found the time I spent with this mode just slipped away as I tried to find the most unorthodox mix I could. I mentioned before that most tracks will fit together to make a good mix. There were a few duds that either overpowered the mix or just sounded so far out there that the tunes were a little unsettling. To get around that, Harmonix and Hasbro have curated the sets of music by genre, such as pop, rock, country, electro, and so on. If you look for the matching symbol on the bottom right corner of the cards it’s easy to sort out collections that work well with each other as you continue to add more cards to your sets. There are also proprietary FX cards that I really wanted to see more of as they made for some great mixes on their own.
Okay so let’s get into the actual games. In addition to Freestyle mode, Dropmix has a Clash mode where you play versus player or in teams. Individuals or teams take turns placing cards down on the board to gain points or remove points from the opposing player/team. You can play cards that add bonus plays to your turn, spin the Dropmix wheel to remove cards—and consequently, points—from the other team, and get bonuses for filling in missing tracks. The first player or team to 21 points wins. It’s kind of like a musical version of any card battle game, as you have to be conscious of the level of each card that has been played and time your special plays strategically.
If you feel like a more cooperative gameplay experience, there’s a Party mode, where players face-off against a timed barrage of requests from the computer in a futile attempt at keeping your insatiable computer-generated audience happy. Requests come in the form of colour, instrument, or combinations of the two. The faster you (if you choose to play by yourself because other people just hold you and your incredible talent back), or your team place cards down, the more points you rack up. Put the wrong card down or miss the timer, you get a PARTY FOUL! (complete with obnoxious party horn) and lose points. Too many (*cringe*) party fouls and you lose. Honestly, this is the most fun of the multiplayer modes. It takes itself a little less seriously than the versus mode, living up to its “Party” moniker.
As into Dropmix as I am, there are a few downsides to it. None of them are particularly terrible, but just a few things to be aware of as they can be a little annoying. First, you need a data or WiFi connection to play, as it is hooked up to your Google Play account. Now, maybe that was just because I was playing the app pre-launch, but the need for a live connection seems to be a thing for most games that use my Google Play account. If this changes upon release, I’ll be sure to update this review. The Dropmix gameboard also only runs on four AA batteries. I get that it’s less expensive to manufacture that way, as it’s easier to control the power supply than to have to accommodate different power outputs internationally, but that also means you have to constantly replace the batteries, which becomes a pricey pain, especially if they die mid-playthrough. Finally, the games themselves. They’re fine, but the replay value is kind of light. I gathered a group of test subjects on a few separate occasions to play the games, but we managed to maybe get through two playthroughs of each before we went back to Freeplay mode. Gentle suggestions (read: begging) that we return to the games were met with little enthusiasm and some annoyance over the fact that I was tearing them away from the thing they liked the most about Dropmix.
That being said, when the Freeplay mode in Dropmix is so much fun that people would rather play that for hours on end, using the games as palette cleansers in-between mix sessions, then Harmonix and Hasbro have done their job of creating a super-engaging, actual music-making device that also has some neat multiplayer games attached to it. And the app has a lot of potential for growth. The great thing about mobile titles is that it’s relatively easy for developers to update according to user feedback. Down the line, I can totally see the potential for additional modes and improved gameplay added to the already well-worked game mechanics in the Versus and Party modes. And since this is Harmonix we’re talking about, it’s not in the realm of impossible to predict additional library support and expansions (*ahem* 80s pack *ahem*).
The fact that everyone I’ve introduced this game to hasn’t stopped talking about it either is another good sign. With continued support, Dropmix could join the ranks of Rockband and Guitar Hero and take the music genre that next step further. With the right marketing, this could be the toys-to-life game this holiday season. You’re welcome, parents.