We first saw Anki Overdrive, the company's follow-up to the hugely successful robot toy racing game Anki Drive, we were already amazed at just how much more advanced it was in comparison to its predecessor.
A modern day take on Scalextric, you control a car that is free to race around a vinyl race track. The difference to the traditional toy from Hornby, however, is that the cars have a life of their own. They can not only control themselves, but also fight back with virtual weapons. Overdrive is like a real-world Mario Kart, if you will.
The trouble with the original Anki, however, was that unless you had a massive lounge to roll out the huge track you were pretty much scuppered. Anki Overdrive rectifies this issue with modular track pieces - where, instead of a giant mat to lay out, different pieces clip together magnetically to create any shape of track you like.
We can safely say that Overdrive is a huge leap forward for the Californian start-up. It is almost a complete overhaul of the original Anki Drive in every way, and all of the additions will appeal to kids and more mature gamers alike. But has Anki fixed all the problems of the first game's outing in Anki Overdrive?
Anki Overdrive review: Merging real and virtual
You get two cars in the box (Ground Shock and Skull) allowing you to play against a friend. Assuming you've both got a smartphone or tablet (you'll need one per car/player - with up to four on the track at any one time), otherwise you can play against an artificial intelligence (AI) computer opponent instead. The cars are capable of learning the track once you're set up and ready to go.
Anki Overdrive is not just a physical game though; it blurs the boundaries between real-world and virtual by smartphone or tablet integration. Download the iPhone, iPad, or Android app, connect the cars via Bluetooth, and then you can not only start racing, but start shooting virtual weapons that affect the physical cars' response on the track.
Anki Overdrive review: Build your own tracks
Anki Overdrive is all about track pieces that snap together with magnets. The starter kit comes with eight pieces - four straight and four curved sections; plus a couple of plastic supports so you can create a bridge - and that's enough to let you create eight different track designs to race around.
The track pieces are malleable and adaptable - we included everyday objects to help give us height in sections, such as kids building blocks, some Lego, a couple of school books, even a Welly boot.
There are limitless track layouts you can create if you buy add-ons to the starter set. There's a range of different options like more straights, more curves, a jump, a cross-over, and a dead end - with prices ranging from £10 to £30. The jump is definitely worth the extra cash.
Anki Overdrive review: Cars and skills
The small Anki cars are lightweight, come with a camera hidden beneath to be able to read the track and therefore know exactly where they are. They can get confused at times, though, and will spin off the track much to everyone's frustration.
The lightweight design means they can whizz around the track with some speed, even flying off the jump section with some height. The cars aren't anywhere near as fast as Scalextric, though, but still fast enough that you can come off the track if you don't drive carefully.
In addition to Ground Shock and Skull there are various additional cars to buy, but they do cost £50 a piece. Big Bang is a beefy growler of a vehicle and the chunkiest of the bunch, while Guardian is a police car which gives us all kinds of ideas of how extra game modes could be added at a future date - pursuit anybody?
Each car has its own unique weapon type that can even be changed by earning new items and add-ons during play. Our favourite is a shock blast that creates a dangerous sphere around the car using it, so even if you are above or below the vehicle (like under a bridge) it will still damage your opponent's car, and the speed boost feature that's great for long straights. Different tracks therefore suit different cars and their different skills.
Each car lasts around 20 minutes of racing before needing to recharge, but that only takes another 5-10 minutes to charge again.
Anki Overdrive review: Race types
There are a number of different game modes for Anki Overdrive, bridging the divide between traditional console gaming and slot car racing. As you would expect there is the standard first over the finish line racing, but where it gets interesting is the other game modes Anki offers.
Super long tracks are great for Battle mode, which is the tried and tested mode for the game. Your car has to shoot opponents as much as possible, with the winner the first to get to a set number of hits.
There are other modes too, such as King of the Hill, where successfully shooting another car makes you the king - signified by all the lights on your car flashing. The first player to keep the king of the hill status for 60 seconds cumulatively wins. It's very much a first-person shooter style mode and lends itself superbly to the intelligent robot racing game. This works best on a smaller track as you are likely to encounter your rivals more often.
The final mode is time trial, which is fairly self-explanatory: get the best possible time around the track.
Anki Overdrive review: Pricing
The Anki Overdrive starter kit retails for £150. Factoring in the additional track pieces (£10-30) and any additional cars, which cost £50 each, and the cost can spiral pretty quickly. Especially if you want to race with four simultaneously, which also means you'll need four phone/tablet controllers too.
That might seem steep, but there's a hell of a lot of play in Anki Overdrive. Our first Scalextric set in the 1970s was equivalently priced. At least, with the easy to piece together track sections and adaptability of the materials used you'll be likely to get out Anki's new system more often.
It would be nice to add more players with a simple controller, but that's not currently possible. What we do like, though, is that it works with both iOS and Android, with dedicated apps for each, but the game is cross-platform so you can have one player on an iPhone and one on an Android device.
The kids we let loose in the office loved Anki Overdrive's different game modes, while the snappable, swappable track pieces gave them plenty of room to adapt and change the set when they got bored.
The only real complaint, and one that we had before with the original Anki, is that at times it can feel like you aren't really doing anything. Push the accelerator to full blast and the car whizzes around the track will little effort. The cars are so intelligent that it can take the fun out of it a little. You certainly don't need to worry about steering half the time.
If that doesn't bother you, and to be fair this problem only really affects the race and time trial modes, then Anki Drive is great fun. We love the way it merges the real and the virtual to great affect.
Our kids told us that Anki is more fun than Lego Marvel Super Heroes on the PS4. And considering we struggle to get them off that, that's high praise indeed.
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