Gadget toys can be like buses, nothing new for years then along come three at once. This year has seen the resurgence of slot-car racing, while a new twist on these car-track combos has added AI steering to do away with the slots all together.
Anki is in its second year with Overdrive, with Real FX Racing being the new kid on the block. Then of course there is Scalextric as the classic toy - although even that is back with new app-enabled twists. Having tested each of them in the home with real families here’s the low down on which to get.
Scalextric track will be familiar to most people. However, some years ago this was improved to make slotting together and disassembling easier. It still takes a bit of finger-power to unclip a circuit when you are done but all ages can have fun setting things up.
The power runs through the track on the metal slots so some care is needed not to bend or damage each piece. It’s possible to create raised sections but they must be well supported. You also need to be sure to have a complete connection.
Real FX track is the simplest. Thick, durable and cardboard-like in feel you connect it together with tabs. It is floppy so needs to lay flat on the floor. It guides cars round semi-automatically with its shaded surface. Care must be taken when taking apart so as not to tear the material.
Anki Overdrive track is made of vinyl, so flexible and super-strong. It clips together with strong magnets - a bit like the power adaptor for a MacBook. This means you can flex the track up and down around the room creating impressive and multi-layered circuits. It’s the quickest to set-up and easiest to put away.
Because the Anki track is robust and not powered you can happily play it in the garden. Also, because the Anki cars light up, playing at night adds another dimension to the enjoyment.
Scalextric has a new Arc One app that works in tandem with a special piece of track to count laps and track virtual fuel and tire wear. This adds another dimension to the play and offers endurance challenges for 100s of laps.
The key is matching the pressure on the trigger controller to the speed of your car. A new Arc Air system - expected next year - offers a wireless version of the controls to make it easier to dash over and put a car back on track without dangling wires.
The app can also bring in a dummy pace car for you to practice against, set different peak speeds for cars to offer a handicap system. It can even adjust how quickly pulling the trigger speeds up your vehicle which is ideal for kids learning how to race.
Anki Overdrive’s app extends the physical game with software features. Players control the cars by tilting the app to change lanes, use a slider to adjust the speed and press buttons to fire weapons and trigger special abilities.
The app offers full AI opponents that are loaded into a car and each race differently. These commanders are fully voiced and make the racing feel more like a videogame than a simple toy. It adds different modes like Battle, Race and King of the Hill.
Real FX Racing is controlled by a trigger and steering wheel combination. Players must not only get the right speed as in Sclaextric but also steer round the course. The controller will inform you when you need to do a pit stop as well as other hazards in the race.
Scalextric offers a challenge to take your car to the edge of its performance without flipping off the track. This required restraint can make it hard for younger players to enjoy who find themselves endlessly flying off the road. Although for patient and skilled racers this is all part of the enjoyment.
Because it is mains powered Scalextric can offer super long endurance races. Combine this with the Arc system and its tire wear, fuel usage and real time changeable weather and this is an impressive challenge.
Real FX offers a different challenge. This is more like a classic RC toy that can drive anywhere. Because the track is flat you can join and leave the circuit at will. This is good for expert racers looking to trim seconds off a lap time but can frustrate youngsters who may struggle to stay on course.
The cars read the track and have an assist mode to keep you on course automatically — this doesn’t work perfectly but it helps. The controller has a microphone in it and keeps players informed on how they are doing. Different modes and hazards can be included along with a variety of challenges.
Anki Overdrive offers the most varied race. Because the cars keep themselves on track all the time and know where each other are you can fire virtual weapons to hit opponents and slot them down.
There is a campaign mode where you race against different enemy commanders and score points when you take them down. These characters are fully voiced and add a lot of character to the play. The points you win can then be spent on upgrading your car with better speed, armour or acceleration.
The most expensive set-up here is Anki Overdrive, not only for the starter kit and additional track and cars, but also the requirement for each player to have their own smartphone or tablet. This cost is easily matched by great ongoing value with free updates and full backwards compatibility for last year’s cars.
Scalextric is also quite costly. But because it has been around for some time you may well already have compatible track. To this you can add the Arc system for a reasonable price. Additional tracks and cars are still costly though.
Real FX Racing is the most cost effective of the three although the number of batteries required to run it does up the price considerably over time. You need six for the controllers and six for the cars.
Which of these you choose will depend on your budget, age of children and experience you are after.
Anki Overdrive offers by far the most involving, flexible and futuristic racing experience. This truly evolves model car racing by combining it with video-game mechanics and highly characterful cars. It is quite expensive but that price delivers a huge amount of value.
Real FX Racing is much cheaper. And although its track and car technology is low-end there is plenty of fun to be had here if you are willing to persevere with the remote control driving. It's not one for super-young racers though.
Scalextric is still that classic slot car experience. The Arc system offers good value and adds more fun to the setup. Hooking into its full history of track, car customisation and cultural kudos makes this a strong choice for more mature racers.