It's not hard to be mesmerized by Dropchord's art style. It's equal parts psychedelic and vibrant, and with the combination of an arrangement of electronic music, there's a lot of room for potential here -- especially when Double Fine is involved.
But with Dropchord, a focus on style is exactly what you're getting, with a distinct lack of gameplay variety to back it up.
Dropchord (Android, iPad [reviewed on an iPad Mini], iPhone [tested on an iPhone 5], Ouya, Mac, PC)
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Double Fine
Released: August 1, 2013
MSRP: $2.99 (Universal on iOS)
Upon booting up Dropchord for the first time, you're immediately greeted with the game's first mechanic -- guiding a beam of light with two fingers to collect little dots for points. You'll move the line around a giant circle by moving your fingers in turn, and anything in that line is zapped.
At first, you'll simply angle the beam to pick up dots before they dissipate, which is simple enough. Then before you know it, you'll need to avoid X marks, tap dots in a certain order, swipe to spin the circle, and so on. As the game ramps up, each new concept is introduced (usually after a new song), and eventually, they'll combine into one giant frantic experience until you exhaust your life meter with screw-ups, and lose the round.
In addition to the controls actually working, the pause system is actually quite remarkable, as it automatically puts the game on hiatus if two fingers aren't on the screen. The in-game graphical style is also stunning on a larger screen, and the sheer variety of colors keeps things interesting from a visual perspective.
But very early on, the game's over-emphasis on style really gets in the way. Once all of the concepts are announced in a brief period of time, you'll realize that you're just doing the same few things over and over, to the same few songs. You'll also slowly notice that Dropchord isn't really a rhythm game, because although the pick-ups generally move to the music, you don't really need to do anything to any sort of actual rhythm.
Dropchord isn't like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, where you can choose from a large selection of catchy songs and strive to earn a max rating or score. In fact, there's no real motivation to keep playing. It's more akin to an interactive zen garden, but the garden is really, really small -- especially considering the fact that the experience is the same thing every time. Full Mix mode attempts to, well, mix things up with an endless approach, but it too feels very samey.
Another aspect of the game that I really didn't like was the menu system. I get that the team was going for a cool, stylistic and minimal menu, but it kind of falls flat. For one thing, it was really difficult to figure out there even was a menu, and navigating it with the in-game control scheme felt incredibly strange, and slow.
As a hardcore electronic music fan, the game's soundtrack was reminiscent of Justice, and certain eras of Daft Punk's body of work, but it failed to really grab me as a whole. In fact, the tunes themselves (spanning 10 tracks) feel less like iconic songs that I need to run out and purchase, and more like background music to a commercial, or a film.
Dropchord is a really neat idea, and I would have loved to have seen it expanded upon on a bigger stage. If you're in the mood for an interesting game based around electronic music though, you can do a whole lot worse than spending a few bucks on Double Fine's latest foray into the mobile market. Just don't expect a whole lot of depth, or a lasting impression.