If you’ve not tried Anki’s autonomous robot version of Scalectric yet, 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 original Anki Drive's one downside 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.
After getting some hands-on time with Overdrive at Anki's San Francisco headquarters, then trying out the final version back in Blighty, here's what we think.
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
Scalectrix can be a bit fiddly to set up and needs a perfect connection for cars to run, but 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're still limited to a few racers in the Starter Kit, being able to vary the route and introduce jumps varies gameplay greatly.
PICK YOUR POISON
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.
All of this new tech doesn’t come cheap though. Overdrive will set you back around £150 in the UK for a starter kit, which includes two cars and a few basic bits of track.
Cars currently retail at around £50, and the expansion tracks will range from £10 to £40. 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.
We'll eventually see new upgrades and weapons for the four cars that launched with Anki Overdrive: Thermo, Bones, Ground Shock and Nuke.
Simple road racing not enough for you? Got some road rage to vent? Anki's newly-released Supertrucks add-on should do just the trick.
The X-52 is a big brute of a racing rig, with enough power to shunt any other Anki car right off the track. It works with the regular Overdrive track and app (apart from the jump kit, anyway - this isn't Speed), so you're good to go right away.
It might not put as much pedal to the metal as a regular Anki car, but it's packing better weaponry. Keep close to full speed for long enough and you'll get a pumped up "Rage mode", too, which does damage to any cars unlucky enough to be nearby. Like before, scoring enough damage will deactivate rival motors for a few precious seconds.
The new racing mode, Takeover, is a blast as well. You start with your regular Anki car and the app drives the truck, but do enough damage and you’ll take control. At least until another player takes you down.
It's fun, sure, but you'll spend just as much time sticking cars back on the track as you will racing them. Annoying. Supertrucks also carry a price premium over the regular cars, too. They're a fun upgrade if you're already invested, but not enough of a change-up for anyone to start from scratch.
Anki Overdrive makes a strong early impression. 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.
The addition of Supertrucks proves there's life left once you're done racing cars, too - it's a hectic change of pace that'll keep you playing that little bit longer.
It's still a steep price to pay, especially if you want to go all-out on extra bits of track, but there's plenty here to convert anyone from simple old Scalextric.