'DropMix' review: Don't stop the beat

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After ushering in and overseeing the full era of the plastic instrument era, it doesn't look like Harmonix is ready to stop the music. In addition to "Rock Band 4" continuing forward, the Boston-based developer has found a new way to bring music appreciation to music-loving amateurs. "DropMix," a collaboration between Harmonix and Hasbro, is less about playing along with music and more about creating something unique with a smartphone or tablet. The result is a party-starter and one that feels far less cumbersome than a handful of plastic peripherals.

This time around, there's only one peripheral. "DropMix" runs on a free iOS and Android app that connects the player's smart device of choice to a plastic card reader via Bluetooth. The card reader itself looks like it was pulled out of the "Yu-Gi-Oh!" anime and operates similarly, in the sense that it reads whatever card is placed on top of it. The idea is to use the cards to create a music mix, like an amateur DJ. The cards each represent a different instrument of various songs from artists like Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Disturbed, and The Weeknd. White cards and wild cards that can be placed anywhere tweak the song mix in different ways.

What makes the board a novel piece of work is that once cards are placed over one another, it transitions to the new beat without any kind of loading or transition. Any kind of transition period or momentary stoppage could have killed this idea out of the gate. Nobody on any kind of dance floor has the patience for even a second of silence and "DropMix" fully realizes this, easily transitioning from one beat to the next.

It's easy to get completely lost in Freestyle Mode, which simply encourages playing around with the game's variety of cards. The manner in which the game automatically adjusts to the new mix ingredients is remarkable, especially in fixing its tempo and key. The cards' levels, ranging from one to three, indicate how prominent they will be in the mix, but when full sets of five cards are in play, most of them create some catchy mixes.

The card levels also play into the gaming aspect of "DropMix." Party Mode offers up a chance at solo play or as an ice breaker with up to five players, with the idea being to fulfill game requests. For example, the game will ask the player to place a level 2 yellow card, replace a blue card, or hit the DropMix button on the board. Missing any of these requests results in a loss of points. When playing alone, it feels like musical solitaire with a couple of rule tweaks, mostly involving the DropMix button.

But while it's entirely possible to enjoy the Party Mode solo, it gets more fun with more players. The reason for that is that it's much easier to empty your hand when playing solo or with one other person. If there are multiple people playing co-op, it introduces more cards and it becomes easier to fill the requests. Solo players will tire of the Party Mode quickly and simply go play around with Freestyle.

Clash Mode is a competitive mode that's all about music mix superiority. This mode is as much about disrupting the opponent with the DropMix button as it is with dominating portions of the board. The frantic back-and-forth can get intense, especially as the DropMix button introduces card removals and white cards introduce bonuses. The card play didn't feel like anything out of the ordinary, but the overall experience was made more entertaining by the ever-changing soundtrack.

In fact, the continual change of music and discovery of new mixes is what makes "DropMix" feel like such a treat. Even songs that have felt beyond played out on the radio find new life here and it's made all the better by the ability to save favorite mixes and share them with friends. It has the potential to be a party hit, just as long as the variety keeps flowing. And that's where things can get messy, because the asking price for the entire package and beyond starts to get a little steep. But for music aficionados and wannabe DJs, "DropMix" feels like a worthwhile investment.

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