If you’ve not tried Anki’s autonomous robot version of Scalectrix you’ve missed a treat.
Not only are the cars controlled by your smartphone, but they automatically make sure they stay on the track leaving you to concentrate on your racing line and shooting down opponents.
The one downside to the previous version, Anki Drive, was having to race around a fixed circuit printed on Anki’s roll-out mats. Anki Overdrive solves this, and then some, by switching to clip-together straights and curves.
Stuff got hands on with Overdrive at Anki's San Francisco headquarters this week. Here's what we thought of it.
The introduction of clip-together tracks not only means you can make your own courses but also opens Anki up to all sorts of new video-game style features. Many of these come in the form of special expansions kits that present a particular challenge to the diminutive robot cars.
The Launch Kit introduces jumps, the Collision Kit adds cross roads and the 180° Kit adds a U-turn piece. As well as making the circuits themselves more varied, this also introduces the possibility of different game types.
Non-continuous tracks, for example, are a shoe in for Capture the Flag-style games where you have to get your cars to the end zone first. Anki also has a full campaign mode in the offing that will expand on the Commander AI drivers to deliver a fully fledged video-game story.
Other expansions focus on speed and combat opportunities. The Speed Kit gives a chance to flex your car’s upgrades and out run opponents. The Elevation Kit brings in more vertical elements with hills, bridges and underpasses. Finally, the Banked Turn Kit offers that true Indie 500 challenge for faster speeds and higher G-forces.
Easy does it
While Scalectrix can be a bit fiddly to set up and needs a perfect connection for cars to run, Anki Overdrive track uses magnets to snap together instantly - which makes it as simple to power up as plugging in a MacBook, while retaining enough flexibility for circuits to run up and around furniture.
Also, because the cars are self powered, there’s no need to worry about track electrical connections. This is good news as the original mats were a little large for most UK-sized living rooms: Anki Overdrive can now wind its way around your house without you needing to move furniture out of the way.
Although you are still limited to four racers in the Starter Kit, being able to vary the route and introduce jumps varies gameplay greatly.
A Price to pay
All of this new tech doesn’t come cheap though. Overdrive will launch worldwide in September with a US price of US$150; we expect this will translate to around the £150 mark in the UK if last year’s Anki game was anything to go by.
Cars currently retail at around £50, and the expansion tracks will range from US$10-US$30 with no UK price confirmed yet. With this in mind it’s good news that a firmware update is all that's needed for you you to use your existing Anki cars on the new track.
The firmware update will also bring in all of your upgrades and customisations too, which is another substantial part of the game. As you progress you are awarded points that can then be spent improving the performance of your car.
From a faster engine to better shields or even new weapons such as a Rail Gun or Timed Mines, making the right upgrade choice is crucial. Although no details have been specified as yet, it seems likely that we will see new upgrades and weapons for the four new cars that are launching with Anki Overdrive: Thermo, Bones, Ground Shock and Nuke.
While there’s still more to learn about Anki Overdrive, early impressions are strong. The customisable tracks work really well, and the introduction of new game modes and a full campaign matches physical developments with an enhanced virtual video-game experience.
We'll have a full review nearer to the September launch date.