I loved the first Guitar Hero game. I played every iteration of Guitar Hero, even the ill-conceived Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, and mastered every instrument of Rock Band, even the oft-challenging keytar, but nothing has come close to that feeling I got playing the OG Guitar Hero. Holding a guitar-shaped game controller in my hands for the first time, I knew I was on the verge of a close encounter with the “unicorn” of video games – a truly unique experience. That’s the feeling you get playing DropMix. Developed by Harmonix and published by Hasbro, Dropmix is a music mixing game that straddles genres. Though not quite a video game and not quite a card game, the strange hybrid of the two is quite awesome.
The Dropmix experience breaks down into three essential components: the board, the cards and the app. In addition to serving as an elevated playing surface and a cradle for whichever iOS or Android device you choose to connect, the Bluetooth-enabled board is what reads the near field communication chips embedded in each card. With the board connected and the free DropMix app opened, you are ready to live out your deadmau5-loving fantasies. It’s as easy as dropping a card on one of the board’s five LED-accented slots. The app does all the mixing, matching the key and tempo to auto-magically create mashups that really shouldn’t work as well as they do.
The core game comes with the board and 60 cards, each featuring part of a track from popular songs across a variety of genres. The vocals from Sia’s Chandelier. The horns from Cake’s Short Skirt Long Jacket. The drums from The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face. The guitar from A Tribe Called Quest’s Scenario. The keyboard from Skrillex’s Bangarang. Fill all five slots and congrats, you have made a song. Each card has a color and a level associated with it. The color of a card determines where it can be played on the board and also identifies at a glance whether it’s vocals (yellow), melody (red), rhythm (blue) or bass (green). There are also “wild cards” that can be any of the four and white FX cards that add smaller sound effects. Each card also has a level on a scale of 1-3 which only matters in a couple of the gameplay modes and also measures how prominently a specific card features in the overall mix.
The first time I broke out DropMix with a group of friends, we played for 4 hours and never made it past Freestyle mode, where your only goal is to make the most badass track possible. We spread all the cards on the table and took turns changing and rearranging the mix. The board will only read the topmost card in a stack, so you can transition seamlessly from Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic to Dolly Parton’s Jolene without skipping a beat. Hitting the giant DropMix button will change the key and tempo at random, but you can adjust it manually by tapping the arrow toward the bottom of the screen to slide out the menu. You can also control the volume of each individual card by sliding the flashing bar up and down on the card art. Once you have crafted the perfect jam, you can save it to play back later or share it with a friend (though your friend will also need the DropMix app to listen to your musical masterpiece). It’s easy to get lost in Freestyle mode, but the competitive Party and Clash modes are where DropMix really shines.
The competitive modes are what elevate DropMix from a toy, albeit a very cool toy, to a gaming experience unlike any other. In Party mode, you work cooperatively with up to 5 players to react as quickly as possible to on-screen prompts or “requests.” It starts simply enough, with requests for a certain colored card or instrument, but quickly escalates. Seeing as you can’t place a lower level card on top of a higher level one, you have to collectively strategize what card to play and when as the clock ticks down. The faster your decision, the greater your reward. But fail to play a card, or play the wrong card, and reap the consequences. It’s like a super low stakes version of Saw. In Clash mode, you compete head-to-head in the PvP permutations of 1v1, 2v1 or 2v2 to be the first player to 21 points. Unlike the timed Party mode, Clash has you taking turns dropping instrument cards in available slots to earn points, using FX cards to gain an advantage, or hitting the DropMix button to spin the equalizer to remove some (or all) of your opponent’s cards from the board.
The competitive modes aren’t just Freestyle with the addition of rules and points. There’s a surprising amount of complexity and strategy involved, especially if you expand your custom deck building possibilities by buying more cards. And here’s where, for better or for worse, we get into the collectible card aspect of the game. The core game includes four prebuilt 15-card decks: Sweets (pop), Blade (rock), Controller (electronic), and Highness (hip hop). Harmonix also offers Playlist packs, which have have a complete genre-specific 15-card deck +1 blind card, and Discover packs, which are 5-card packs consisting of cards from other prebuilt decks that have been split between 12 packs/2 series in each wave. Confused? Let me break it down; you don’t need anything more than the core game to play DropMix, but full mixes of songs have been deliberately spread across the core game, Playlist packs and Discover packs.
The core game retailed for $100 at its initial release, a steep asking price for any genre of gamer, but has recently dropped as low as $50. I think I still would have recommended it at $100, with the caveat that it was for hardcore Harmonix fans, but for less than a current-gen video game it’s a must buy for anyone who enjoys music. It’s a bit more problematic to recommend DropMix to completionists. If you want all of the cards, you’ll have to purchase all of the $15 Playlist and $5 Discover packs. That starts to add up fast. There are currently six Playlist packs and 24 Discover packs in the wild, totaling an additional 216 cards available for roughly just as many dollars. Maybe that’s why they call it as a “gaming system,” because by the time you collect all available cards, you’ve spent as much as you would on a console. So, is it worth spending this much on a gaming system that only plays one game? I might not be the best person to ask. Hasbro sent me the core game, along with four playlist packs, and yet I’ve still dropped an additional $150 on cards, to say nothing of the card case, card sleeves and new bluetooth speaker.
Even if you’re cool with the ramen-only diet you’re going to have to adopt in order to get all the cards, you still have to find them. What makes DropMix great – the fact that it double dips into game genres – is also what makes it a real sumbitch to market. Despite being one of the most exciting things to come out of Toy Fair last year, DropMix released in September 2017 with surprisingly little fanfare. I have hazy memories of seeing it on an end cap display in the toy aisle of my local Target around Christmas, but by the time I realized it wasn’t a board game it had already been relegated to the bowels of the electronics department, where they only had two copies of the core game and three Discover packs. It took five trips to find the Flawless and Bomb Playlist packs, exclusive to Target and Toys R Us respectively, but I had to turn to the internet to complete my collection of series 1 and 2 Discover packs.
The problem with this is, unless you purchase “complete” bundles from Hasbro, most online retailers will send you random packs. This blind sales model sucks, because even though the packs are “blind” in the sense that the contents are not displayed like they are in the Playlist packs, there is no overlap. Each discover pack, which can be identified by the card visible through the front window, has fixed contents. This would be a non-issue if physical stores had the Discover packs in stock, but supply has been an issue since launch. This has brought the scalpers out of the woodwork, so buyer beware.
I do wonder if would be cheaper just to do real drugs…
DropMix is one of the most engaging, entertaining games I’ve played in a long time. Sure, there are problems, with the supply chain and sales model in particular. And if you are intent on collecting cards beyond the 60 included in the core game, it can get expensive. But despite this, DropMix has already developed a small but loyal fan base. And I count myself among them. May god have mercy on my bank account.
This review is based on a retail copy of DropMix provided by Hasbro.
Drop a card to drop the beat
DropMix's sales model has a few major flaws: the shortages of in-store stock, the inability to purchase specific Discover packs online, and the dollar per card price point. But these are strikes against the way it's being sold, not what is being sold. What is being sold is an innovative, inventive music mashup experience that would make a great addition to any music lover's game library. Just don't go into it with a collector's mentality unless you have deep pockets.