Music in cards for ‘Rock Band’ creator; ‘Knack II’ an upgrade

Harmonix has made an indelible mark on pop culture, but 10 years after its heyday, the creator of “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” is still looking for its next big hit. The developer’s other titles haven’t moved the needle in the same way, but a new project has potential.

“DropMix” is an odd amalgamation of genres: It’s a card game and music maker. Consider it the equivalent of Sriracha in a peanut butter sandwich or salt in chocolate milk. “DropMix” is an unlikely combination that almost works.

To get started, players need 60 cards, the accompanying game board and an iOS or Android device. The actual game is played as an app on a tablet or smartphone. The cards and board are peripherals, with the latter being connected via Bluetooth.

The “DropMix” board reads the RFID chip embedded in each card to recognize it and play the appropriate song. Cards are divided into four colors, with green cards representing the bass and harmonies, blue cards in charge of the beats and rhythms, red cards designed to play melody and loops and yellow cards with power over lead melodies or vocals. Players place the cards on five designated spots on the board.

The magic of “DropMix” comes from the programming. With each card having a specific part from hit songs such as “Call Me Maybe” or “Closer,” players can blend the music together in three modes: freestyle, party and clash. The party mode is the weakest. It’s made for the casual audience. Cards are divided among up to five players, and in the co-operative experience, the game will ask for the cards and the group has to fulfill that request in the shortest time possible. They’re scored after five ho-hum rounds.

Freestyle is more intriguing because it lets players be a DJ and mix songs. They can alter the tempo or emphasize melodies over beats. No matter what genre is added, the coding behind “DropMix” seamlessly melds the music together. The creativity is limited only by the cards players have in hand and what’s great is that the game lets players save the mixes.

The best mode is Clash, which pits two sides in a points battle. Up to four can play in this competitive mode. Players spend their time placing colored music cards on the matching slot on the board. Each time they add a card, the music changes and adapts. Players earn a point for each card placed, and they play until one team reaches 21.

The fun comes with multicolored wildcards and black and white FX cards. They change the momentum of a game and give one team an edge. Along with that, the Equalizer button adds an element of chance as it randomly eliminates a rival team’s cards.

Clash mode has enough strategy and depth to keep players intrigued. The serendipity of finding a catchy mix and the fun of competition will keep them playing. “DropMix” is an entertaining diversion more along the lines of “Cards Against Humanity” rather than “Rock Band.” The big difference between the card games is that music could be the right hook to draw players in.

Return of an original

When “Knack” launched with the PlayStation 4, it didn’t necessarily stand out visually. It looked decent, but the game was more of an example showing what the console could do.

With “Knack II,” the title character returns with a more refined gameplay that reflects a mix of what director Mark Cerny described to VentureBeat as a combination of “God of War,” “Katamari Damacy” and “Crash Bandicoot.”

Players can see the DNA of these titles in the project. “God of War” comes from combat system, which favors those with quick-twitch reactions and precision. The skill tree gives players a nice feeling of progression as Knack, Lucas and the gang battle an ancient army created by high goblins of centuries past.

“Katamari Damacy” comparisons come with how the “Knack II” plays with scale. Now, players can instantly switch between the big Knack and small Knack. The big version grows as players collect more relics. Knack turns small as he sheds his extra parts and turns into a child-sized version of himself, capable of running through narrow passageways or air ducts.

“Crash Bandicoot” comparisons come from the level design, which has a heavy dose of platforming and puzzle solving. It’s more inventive this time around, but it still follows some of the tropes of past games.

All of this creates a family-friendly project that’s more than the sum of its parts but still needs work on character development and storytelling.


“DropMix”

Three stars
Platform: iOS, Android

“Knack”

Two and a half stars
Platform: PlayStation 4
Rating: Everyone 10 and up


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