Placing a card down onto a board and then hearing a new beat drop just in time to match a melody is enough to bring a smile to even the most hardened face. DropMix from Harmonix and Hasbro is a music-card-boardgame-toy hybrid that might seem a little strange at first, but once you spend some time learning how it all works you’ll begin to see its magic. DropMix isn’t a pure DJ game, nor does it attempt to be, think of it more as an interactive jukebox or remix tool. DropMix is very much a product of its time, and in this age of mash-ups and YouTube clips that mix two things that were never meant to go together it represents a fun and engaging entry into the world of remixing.
Music-mixing is how DropMix is labelled, but mixing in the form of stitching together various loops – represented by cards – on an interactive board and a connected smart device app. The fact that it can convey the feeling of mixing and production, whilst giving anyone the chance to change and add to music without the need to worry about tempo or key, is worthy of praise. And, another feather in the already feather-stacked cap of Harmonix – creators of Amplitude, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band.
The concept is simple, and one that any serious fan of pop, rock, or electronic music should see the appeal. Each card represents a stem or sample - a vocal loop, breakbeat, melody, bassline, or what have you. Each snippet is taken from a popular song, from an artist and sample stable that includes the likes of Weezer, Imagine Dragons, Hall & Oates, The Jackson 5, and Odesza. This diversity adds to the overall party and novelty appeal of DropMix, with the game portion coming in the form of a multiplayer card game. Each player is given a deck, and following on-screen prompts on the connected DropMix app, they need to follow cues to pick the right card to play within a small few-second window of time. Colours, card power levels.
Stages are played, boards cleared, and scores handed out. Alternatively, DropMix doubles as a party starter or even a 21st century jukebox. Freestyle mode lets you set the tempo and key and then anyone can simply take control and drop and remove cards as they see fit. It’s this mode where DropMix can quite comfortably sit in the corner or next to a pair of Bluetooth speakers at any gathering or party serving up tunes for hours. The mash-up nature of the variety of cards on offer mean that simple experimentation becomes a game in and of itself.
Mashing up Run D.M.C.’s It’s Tricky with Disturbed’s Down with the Sickness isn’t as bad as it sounds. In fact, thanks to Harmonix ensuring that no two cards ever clash to point where things begin to sound off-key or out of sync, there’s fun to be had putting together things that normally you wouldn’t expect to find on the same playlist. The only downside is that a lot of the samples are overly processed to fit within the scope of a DropMix production, where after time some of the mash-ups begin to sound a little samey. And the ones that work best will be ones that you keep going back to. Even with 60 cards in the base DropMix pack, it still feels like it could do with more.
Thankfully, this is where the card system comes into play. Powered by NFC tech, they work seamlessly with the board and an attached smart device with the DropMix app installed. Which opens the door to card expansion packs, of which there are already a few to purchase. As with the app and the overall product though there is fine print noting that the DropMix app will only be available through December 31, 2019. Which is most likely tied to the licensing of the music featured in the game. Here’s hoping that Harmonix and Hasbro continue to support DropMix in 2018, because it’s a fascinating and fun bit of tech.
We’d love to see packs that play up the mash-up and remix angle, whilst embracing re-edit culture covering stuff like nu-disco, breaks, synthwave, and house. Or better yet, a specific videogame pack that includes melodies and beats and other samples from classic videogames. The fact that DropMix inspires this train of thought is commendable. As an experience it encourages experimentation and fosters creativity, which for any interactive music thing is what you want.