Remember that slot car set you got for Christmas as a kid? The fun soon evaporated when you realised they were arduous to set up and, once you had, the action was fairly limited.
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Overdrive is a slot car system brought into the video game age through a smartphone and artificial intelligence (AI). The extra gaming features, only available because of this new tech, mean you’ll be playing this longer than a single afternoon.
The track sections easily snap together with magnets. The starter kit ($330) contains two cars, six 90° corners, four straights and struts for a bridge.
The track is easy to reconfigure: you can start on a basic loop then add more corners as you gain confidence. We had an expansion set with extra corners, so were able to create some wacky races. Expansion kits start at $40 and go up to $65, additional cars cost about $100 (you can race up to four cars at a time). You can also buy trucks to race, but they are more expensive (about $114).
If you need inspiration, a Google search shows some amazing track designs.
After pairing your phone to a car, it slowly drives through the track, learning the route. It’ll line itself up on the start grid ready to go, then it’s your turn to “drive”.
The car is controlled via the Anki app on your phone. You control the car’s speed and it handles the corners. By turning your phone like a steering wheel you can change lanes.
This is where the video game aspects come in. If you need a speed boost to pass your opponent, you can increase your car’s pace, but only for a short time. Boost for too long and your car stalls and slows down.
The app also includes a single-player game where you can race against an AI-controlled car. This means you don’t have to convince someone else to play against you (handy if you’re the only one keen for a race).
Just like a video game you progress in stages and earn credits to upgrade your car’s performance and unlock virtual weapons. That’s right, you can “shoot” your opponent, knocking them off course. It really is a real-life video game.
We had a great time in the office racing against each other. Changing lanes didn’t always work smoothly, which meant sometimes we were swerving across lanes to cut each other off; other times it was a demolition derby.
We initially had some issues with the app running on iOS 11, where the cars didn’t learn the track properly. This has been fixed an update but is worth noting that this sort of problem can occur with any product that uses an app.
With all the high-tech whiz-bangery, the Anki Overdrive is a toy that parents will have as much fun with as the kids over the Christmas break. The game sections of the app, as well as how easy you can change track configurations, means the replayability of Overdrive is high.
First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.
This Anki Overdrive was loaned to the writer by Anki.
By Hadyn Green
Cars, phones, infomercial products and anything else that takes our fancy — First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Check out our latest.