We discussed the technology and some initial impressions of the Anki Overdrive starter kit a few days ago, and in the time since I wanted to give the platform a bit more of a once-over and let real-life kids play with it to see how it held up under rigorous circumstances.
The rigorous circumstances being an Ohio front yard, of course.
Leave the house
Once the cars and phones are all charged up you don't need an outlet for any of the equipment, so as long as you're within reach of your homes wireless network you can play wherever. The Internet seemed to be an issue for us however, and we didn't quite have the smooth experience we had inside, but that's likely due to my mediocre wireless router rather than an issue with the product.
My son had fun setting up a much bigger track than we had inside, using some of the expansion packs that were sent to us by Anki. Once again the act of setting up the track was part of the fun, with the magnetic connections allowing you to experiment and have fun with different setups very easily.
My wife remarked on how much better this worked than the traditional slot car sets she played with growing up; and the bendable track pieces worked well in the driveway, although we were sure to wipe down the track pieces with a damp cloth when we were done.
The cars saw the track fine when we could get a clear signal, and then they line themselves up at the starting line. The app you use to control the cars is pretty simple: There is an up and down slider for your throttle, and then you have buttons for your weapons and add-ons. I sometimes missed the tactile controls of a standard controller for the cars, and found myself having to look away from the race while playing before my muscle memory kicked in, but it wasn't a bit deal.
There's a nice physical aspect to the platform due to the controls being wireless and the ability to play within reach of a wireless network. You can walk around the track as you're racing and jockeying for position, or you can crouch down for a better view of the action. The lights of the car, which look neat inside when you launch attacks or lose power, are next to invisible in the light of day, however.
But is it fun?
Testing it with the kids was interesting, because to me the "game" was racing other cars and figuring out how to use my weapons to the best of their abilities and like, winning. They had the most fun just setting it up and discussing how to use the track pieces.
The ability to take a quick break, reconfigure the track completely, and then get racing again in a few minutes is a big part of the fun, and the physical aspect of the play almost felt creative. It's funny how intense and techno-heavy the official trailer is:
Compared to the rather laid back way my family enjoyed the toy. You can sit back and take turns playing the single player game, or everyone race against each other, or try the other weapon-based game modes. There's much more to do than a standard slot car set, and the ability to explore the game modes and change lanes while trying to line up your shots gives Overdrive a good amount of flavor when you play.
It's a flexible toy, both literally and figuratively, that's fun in a few different ways, but it's hard to get past that price tag. The Starter Kit is $150 and, while we were sent and raced with two extra cars, a four-car setup requires an additional $100 investment. The add-on packs that give you the collision piece or the jump also run between $10 and $30.
That being said, the $150 package allows for eight different tracks and up to two players, which is where most people will likely start and then add more pieces when they want to liven things up. This isn't a toy as much as its a platform, and Anki sells what amounts of physical DLC that allow you to do more with it.
My kids and I had a great time playing outside, but this sort of thing would be the main event at Christmas, not something just one of the kids could ask for. If you're willing to make the investment, however, there's much fun to be had.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated track pieces could cost up to $45. The official pricing stops at $30.