‘Dropmix’ may be a good reason to buy another big plastic accessory

Musical game 'Dropmix' may be a good reason to buy another big plastic accessory

Dropmix is a fun and unique musical party game from Harmonix and Hasbro that combines competitive card battling with a music remixer like DJ Hero. But convincing anyone to buy yet another plastic gaming accessory might be a hard sell.

Between Rock Band VR and ongoing updates for Rock Band 4, Harmonix has plenty on its plate at a time when some believe the rhythm game genre — at least the kind that requires big, expensive plastic accessories — to be more or less dead. At E3 2017, the company is showing off Dropmix, yet another new experiment in convincing players to shell out more than the average price of a game to get a big plastic doohickey to go with it.

Harmonix has partnered with toymaker Hasbro on the new game, which is a surprisingly slick combination of a competitive collectible card game (think Magic the Gathering) with something like DJ Hero, one of Harmonix’s previous games.

Dropmix does surprisingly well in feeling like an actual card game.

For $99, you get the plastic play board, the iOS/Android app, and 60 cards. The board includes a slot for your smartphone or tablet to stand on its side at one end, and five indents for cards, each of which contains an NFC chip coded with an instrument track from a popular song. When you put a card down on the board, the board reads the chip and tells the app on your phone or tablet to play that track, whether it’s the bassline from The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” or the horns from Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”

In a variety of modes, players take turns laying cards on the board, creating unique mixes of various elements from disparate songs while racking up points. Each card has a specific song, color, instrument, and power level, all of which come into play in various ways.

In team-based competitive mode, for example, you can replace your opponents’ red guitar card on the board only if your red card is of the same or a higher power level. In the hectic party mode, shown for the first time at E3 2017, the app tells you what kind of card to put down, and players have to communicate to figure out who has the best option and race to play it quickly and earn more points. Special colorless cards add unique effects to the mix, and you can press a button on your screen at any point to save the current mix as a unique track to listen to later.

dropmix review gameplay  card scoring

There are a couple of things that are really cool about Dropmix. The first is rather obvious: The game is extremely clever in how it combines seemingly incongruous elements from very different songs. This kind of audio manipulation is part of Harmonix’s specialty, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but there’s a lot going on under Dropmix‘s hood to make it work.

Whichever card you lay down first sets the tempo and key of the song, then all the other tracks are manipulated automatically to fit. If you lay down a fast drumbeat from an electronica song, for example, then the iconic bassline from “I Want You Back,” that track will be barely recognizable; but if you put down the TLC vocal track from “No Scrubs,” then the bassline, it plays at a slower speed. And somehow the game squashes all these elements together in a way that always sounds like actual music.

The second thing Dropmix does surprisingly well is feel like an actual card game. The depth and variety of rules while playing both the competitive mode and party mode was very pleasing. Every time you think you have a handle on how to strategize and lay down cards, a new element rears its head to trip up your planning. The reps from Hasbro said there will be instruction manuals and video tutorials to help people get acquainted with the game, which is good, because there’s a lot of depth to Dropmix — and that’s just in the two game modes introduced so far.

Where Dropmix is going to have trouble catching on is in convincing people to shell out yet more cash for yet another big plastic gaming accessory — then possibly more cards on top of that. The initial $99 purchase includes just 60 of the 300 total cards set to be available at launch, with additional packs available at $5 for five cards or $15 for 16. Thankfully, these packs are not randomized, so players will know exactly what they’re getting. That makes it feel slightly less like a cash grab, since you won’t wind up paying for duplicates, but it’s still a lot to ask. Players who want anywhere close to all 300 cards will be out a lot of dollars.

“We’re really excited, I think, because the experience is so different,” Jack Van Leer, Hasbro senior marketing manager, told Digital Trends after the demo. “Out of the box, it’s not another Guitar Hero. It’s not another piece of plastic that way. It’s something that’s so innovative, so brand new, we’re really not worried about it.”

Dropmix is a fun and unique party game, so that confidence may be well-placed.