DropMix is fantastic. With the holiday season coming to a close, it's a darn shame more folks aren't talking about Harmonix and Hasbro's new musical card game.
As the creator of the original Guitar Hero franchise, as well as its expanded-instrument successor Rock Band, Harmonix is no stranger to the world of risky rhythm endeavours. Even with the music game craze of the mid-to-late 2000s behind them, the developer has continued to experiment with new ways to beat up the beat.
While some of these experiments, like the Dance Central series for Kinect, were hits in their own regard, the musically-inclined company has yet to create anything that can compete with the success of their plastic instrument heyday. Even the revival of the Rock Band series with a fourth entry for current generation consoles was met with half-hearted shrugs. It had all been done before.
When DropMix was announced in March of 2017 the tech and gaming communities weren't exactly set ablaze with excitement. The concept of a physical card game that used near field communication (NFC) chips to remix hit songs did sound like a enjoyable undertaking if done correctly, but only time would tell if DropMix was actually worth its weight in plastic.
According to the official Hasbro press release the large DropMix game board, touted as a stand-alone "Gaming System," would connect with phones and tablets via bluetooth, providing players with both the visual and audio components that would drive the rhythm gameplay. Each card placed on the game board would represent a single part of the current mix and would focus on the vocals, beats and various melodies from well-known tracks.
It was certainly a novel idea, but there was plenty that could go wrong with such an intricate setup.
In early September Harmonix gave players hands-on time with DropMix (along with a special edition Transformers card) at the popular gaming festival PAX West. Soon after, a base set featuring the game board and a 60 card starting deck was sent out to tech and gaming sites for first impressions and reviews. Kotaku's own Mike Fahey thoroughly enjoyed the game's smooth transitions, trippy custom artwork, and surprisingly well-executed mashups.
Most of the gameplay and setup issues that rhythm fans had anticipated were virtually absent. It seemed Harmonix might have another hit on their hands.
Between the professional previews and the launch day of September 20, the hype for DropMix dipped into a bizarre lull. It seemed like maybe Harmonix or Hasbro was worried that the game wouldn't catch on, and hadn't put much effort into promoting it outside of social media accounts and the occasional live stream. The atmosphere surrounding DropMix was dripping with cautious optimism, and it showed.
Various cards from the base deck [Harmonix/Hasbro]
When launch day finally arrived DropMix stumbled out of the starting gate. Early adopters struggled to find the game and its various expansions in stock online and at local retail stores. Many had to wait until early October to find the base set, and some are still on the lookout for the game's various Playlist expansions and Discovery booster packs.
In the days and week after launch DropMix gained a small but dedicated following. The official DropMix subreddit was soon populated with folks sharing stories of late shipments, conflicting prices, and confusion about the contents of the game's many expansions. While it seemed like the content of Playlist and Discovery packs might overlap it was soon apparent that each set was of a predetermined nature. Something both Harmonix and Hasbro hadn't been clear on.
Confusion and frustration can hurt any product launch and DropMix had managed to couple both into one pricy package.
Even after a clunky launch, DropMix is still struggling to "wow" the average consumer, an issue that stems from the game's awkward hybrid classification. DropMix exists in a weird middle ground between card game and video game. With the base set's original entry fee of $US100 ($128), the initial setup is more expensive than just about any mainstream game on the market -- card, video, or otherwise.
The unfortunate fact that DropMix is being marketed as a "Gaming System" only adds to the average consumer's uncertainty when considering the game for purchase. It's not difficult to imagine the typical parent or loved one thinking, "Don't they already own a gaming system? Can this system play any other games? Maybe I should just get a game for the one they already have..." Throw in the cost of additional (and hard to locate) card sets and most buyers are likely left wondering if this newfangled rhythm game is ultimately worth their time, effort, and money.
In other words, DropMix is a hard sell. It's a commitment. And while it's a stellar concept, one that works shockingly well, it's no Call of Duty or Uno.
A totally real game of DropMix [Harmonix/Hasbro]
In recent times, starting around Black Friday, the price of the DropMix base set has fallen by a staggering forty to fifty per cent. Not exactly the best sign the game is doing well, but one that will surely move it to the top of many shoppers' post-holiday wish lists.
Having received DropMix for my birthday in mid-December, I've put in a few hours with the game almost everyday. Occasionally I play alone, experimenting with different mixes, pitches, and tempos, though most of the time I find myself playing against/with my wife and friends in the game's Clash or Party modes.
As someone who attempts to seek out and play every new rhythm game on the market, I'm legitimately surprised at how much more I enjoy DropMix then most of the virtual offering this year, even when I'm trying to make the worst mashups imaginable. I was so taken with the game that I even decided to brave the holiday madness and find some of the expansion sets in the days leading up to Christmas.
Like consumers, many retailers don't seem to know what exactly DropMix is (or where to market it within their store). It could easily be placed into the toy aisle or the electronics section, and even then it's difficult to say if it should be nestled in with the video games, or sitting alongside Settlers of Catan on a board game endcap.
While on my expansion excursion I visited around a dozen stores locally, each with their own placement of the game. Just about every retail employee I talked to had no idea what DropMix was and were perplexed as to where it might be within their store. After visiting various locations I walked away with one of the five Playlist packs and four of the 12 Discovery packs currently available.
Still out of reach for many [Harmonix/Hasbro]
After talking to an assorted mix of employees I soon realised that DropMix expansions and base sets hadn't exactly been flying off the shelves, the stores just hadn't gotten much stock in over the past few months (if any at all).
One GameStop associate I spoke with told me they had never received any DropMix base sets or expansions for their store, a fact that is somewhat odd considering GameStop is currently promoting the game by giving away the same special edition Transformers card originally seen at PAX. When I asked if my local store happened to have any of these exclusive cards to give away the cashier laughed and shook his head, admitting they hadn't received any of those either.
"Do you have DropMix or any of the expansion sets?" I asked another GameStop employee over the phone.
"I wish," she replied, "We've gotten that question a lot lately."
It's not too late for DropMix. With a rocky three months behind them, Harmonix and Hasbro need to buckle down and focus their efforts on promotion, pricing, and getting more units in stock. There are already expansions planned for early 2018 that need to launch without issue if the dedicated DropMix fanbase is going to stick with the game.
In the meantime, fans of rhythm games or musical mashups in general should give the game a whirl. Now at $US50 ($64) to $US60 ($77), purchasing DropMix is comparable to simply picking up a new AAA title for your gaming collection. Like Guitar Hero before it, DropMix is a game one has to play to truly appreciate and understand.
If you already own and enjoy the game you should highly consider giving other folks a taste. Take it to game night, bring it to a family gathering, let grandma twist some sick mixes.
It remains to be seen if DropMix will still be rocking when 2019 comes a'knocking. Original ideas don't always catch on, and they can fall by the wayside for a variety of reasons. But I truly hope DropMix can survive and flourish in the year to come.