When it comes to combining the thrill of performing live music with the fun, social nature of video games, developer Harmonix has long been the studio to turn to. With the studio’s long history of integrating games and music from their pioneering work on Guitar Hero and Rock Band, to their more experimental titles like Amplitude and Beat Sports, Harmonix’s latest project (yet again) takes the gaming medium and music and combines them into a new form through tabletop gaming, resulting in the creation of DropMix.
Originally released this past September, DropMix is a unique project from Harmonix in that it marks one of the developer’s first projects outside of the traditional space of video games that they’ve been known for in the past, primarily as an experience more boardgame-like than anything else they’ve produced.
However, after spending some time with the game over the past week or so, it’s clear that Harmonix’s affinity and love for music and video games has resulted in one of the studio’s most creative projects yet, albeit in tabletop form.
To give a brief idea of what to expect, DropMix is a music-mixing and rhythm game developed in collaboration between Harmonix and Hasbro. The game is played through a long, plastic game board with five slots, and a companion iOS/Android app that drives the music (and action) forward — whether it’s for one player looking to test out their DJ skills and freestyle it, or in a competitive match between two teams of players.
The magic of DropMix comes through on the game board as players put down a variety of NFC-enabled playing cards that each drops down a specific artist and song onto the playing field, which is then fed through into the companion app. Ranging from artists like Bruno Mars, to Imagine Dragons, to Childish Gambino, and more across a plethora of genres, each of the playing cards in DropMix allows players to mix and match different samples of songs to craft their own unique music mash-ups.
Specifically, each of the five slots on the board pertains to a different “stem” of a song — namely, the vocals (Yellow), harmony (Red), beats (Blue), and bass (Green), along with a few specialized cards like effects (Black) and Wild cards that can provide some more randomized elements into your mixes, such as tempo alterations, key changes, and more. As a result, players must use the cards in their hand and align them with the proper color on the board, and then utilize the right combinations of cards to create compelling music mixes in the process.
DropMix offers two main competitive/collaborative party modes alongside a Freestyle mode where players can simply drop down cards to their heart’s content. The first of the two main game types, Clash Mode, has players competing to reach 21 points first by dropping down different cards strategically, and making for what is effectively a musically-inclined version of “Go Fish.”
The second, Party Mode, has players delivering specific mixes or styles of music and gathering together a higher score in a more collaborative effort. Essentially, it turns the players into DJs taking music requests from “the audience” (i.e., the game app), and involves a bit more strategy and cleverness in delivering the right combination of cards and tracks combined with the need to deliver them at the right time, based on what the app tells players to provide.
While DropMix is intended as a lightly-competitive party game to play with friends, the two game modes feel almost more like diversions compared to the real novelty of the game: the technology powering its fantastic music-mixing mechanic. Though I enjoyed my time competing against friends and trying to out-spin their attempts at making their mash-ups (as I’m sure they did too), the real joy of DropMix comes through in the simple act of mixing wildly different styles and genres of music, and yet still coming away with something incredible (and enjoyable) to listen to.
Though the 60 cards included with the game could lead to thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of different combinations of music mixes, the game manages to integrate the vastly different styles of music almost flawlessly.
While in my head I wouldn’t think that I could mix Run DMC, Earth, Wind & Fire, and A Tribe Called Quest together, DropMix manages to integrate them all into a wild new mix that actually works. Likewise, you might not think that Evanescence would mix with… well, anything really.
And yet, I was delighted in the ways that DropMix continued to surprise me with how it blended the music seamlessly and made me feel like the amateur DJ I’ve always dreamt of being (not that I have, in all honesty). Even better is the fact that you can save your mixes through the companion app to listen to later on or share on social media, a smart touch that enhances the already socially-oriented nature of the game.
The level of freedom that the game offers to players in allowing them to get creative with their song mixes is genuinely exciting. Honestly, I’d say that the Freestyle Mode might be the main draw to experiencing the game more so than the competitive party modes.
Of course, this feature is enhanced by the fact that the companion app gives a bit more control to players aside from just mixing and matching tracks, as you can even alter the tempo or change the key of your mix — if you desire — and the game will make those adjustments accordingly. When it all works, it really works, and it’s impressive that DropMix boils down the complexity of (essentially) real-time DJing into a party game experience.
Compared to the number of plastic instruments and devices that Guitar Hero and Rock Band gradually introduced throughout their lifespans (and the amount of closet space that they took up after the fact), DropMix is much more modest in its presentation and style. As the entire game is played through the sleek plastic game board and the companion mobile app, it makes for a very suitable party game that can be enjoyed in small, half-hour to hour-long doses, or longer-lasting tabletop sessions that could go for hours, especially for music lovers willing to perfect and experiment with their favorite song mixes.
Overall, DropMix‘s integration of its companion app and the NFC-playing cards is surprisingly simple and effective, though the game is not without a few flaws. The biggest of these flaws is the fact that the board itself does not have speakers or an additional way to output sound or raise the in-game volume, and that will solely fall on your phone (or another smart device) to do the heavy lifting as far as pushing out the game’s music mash-ups to a suitable degree. Obviously, this might be less than ideal depending on your device’s speakers, whether you’re using a phone or a tablet to run the app.
While this benefits the game in providing a longer battery life (as the game board requires four AA batteries to power it), the downside is that it does dampen the effect of mixing and matching your favorite tracks when they are coming through on (often) sub-par phone speakers.
That being the case, I’d highly recommend using either a Bluetooth or wired, external speaker to connect to your device running the companion app to fully appreciate the music. While it’s not necessarily a hidden (or required) cost to enjoy the game, it does add another suggested purchase on top of an already-pricey tabletop game at $100, and from my time with the game, really adds a lot to the joy of crafting your own music mashups when you can hear it with a proper speaker setup.
Alongside the standard game and its included game cards, additional sets of card packs (5-card “Discover Packs” for $4.99, and 16-card “Playlist Packs” for $14.99) can expand on the base experience with a variety of new cards that are oriented around a specific genre, such as hip-hop, electronic, rock, and more.
While the base game comes with a good number of tracks that are included from the start at 60 cards, it’s only inevitable that anyone looking to play the game for extended amounts of time will (eventually) want to integrate some new tracks and selections into their mixes. With the number of booster packs and expansions out now, the costs of adding onto the base experience of DropMix will undoubtedly rack up quickly on top of the game’s standard admission price, which might be the only barrier to entry for an otherwise stellar experience.
In the same ways that Guitar Hero and Rock Band turned your friends into rock stars, or Dance Central made family members into dance sensations, DropMix gives its players the chance to feel like the ultimate DJ almost effortlessly. While DropMix marks a significant departure from Harmonix’s line of “video game cross music experiences” like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, it’s easy to see that the tabletop game is very much their spiritual successor at heart. Though it has its share of flaws, DropMix gives the sensation that music is magical and that anyone has the power to harness it.
Disclosure: Harmonix provided DualShockers with a copy of DropMix and several expansion card packs from the game for the purposes of this feature.