Published on February 8th, 2015 | by Greg0
Anki DRIVE: The Future Of Toy Racecars
We hope you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping just yet- because we’ve got plenty more great gear and gadgets left in our end-of-the-year wrap-up. We’ll have gift guide coverage next week, just in time for that last second seasonal sprint through the malls, online or in person. But in the meantime, we’ve got one toy that should be high on your lists, and one of the coolest concepts we’ve seen transform our living rooms.
Take Mario Kart, toy or slot racing cars, artificial intelligence, and smartphone apps, combine them with a dash of RPG-like mechanics allowing you to level up and customize your car, and throw in a lot of technological sophistication.. and you’ll have a basic understanding of Anki DRIVE. It’s a surprisingly ambitious design, ideal for anyone who has grown accustomed to seeing their children play with phones and has been looking for a way to play along with something more real. This newfangled racetrack gives everyone, adults and kids alike, a great way to interact with actual, physical toys that require some assembly and encourage experimentation. And for those spoiled by the weapons and shields and tricks that can only really exist in the realm of bits and bytes, there is plenty of fun to be found by bringing those elements to the real world as much as possible.
For toy cars, the box is impressively big. You’ll roll out a special mat, and every player will need an iOS or Android device- and you’ll all need to have the same type (cross-platform support is absent at the moment). The free app is your key to unlocking the real fun- the cars themselves are fine, and the controls are decent, but what sets apart the Anki is the Battle Mode. Up to four vehicles can play at once, though we only tried with the two included in the Starter Set (other tracks and cars are available separately). And if you have extra cars, you can have the AI control them- which is really nifty and can provide a decent challenge. The only major downsides we found are battery life (you can expect about three races between charges), and the size and limitations of the mat (you’ll need a fair bit of space to race).
You can add obstacles, but for the most part, will be confined to the given surfaces and track designs, which can fairly quickly get a bit boring as there isn’t a lot of variety to them. But the app itself encourage plenty of repeat experiences, as you can upgrade your cars as you gain experience. This, in turn, allows you to boost abilities, which you can use during races- like a tractor beam, which is as cool as it sounds (different cars have different abilities). As you might expect, your control is more limited than with R/C cars, and you cannot really drive off the map. But you can cause other cars to spin out, and there’s just enough strategy to satisfy regular players while newcomers won’t feel too bad. The learning curve is just right, and any kid is sure to show it off to friends. Note that you can’t use the cars on their own (off-track), which means the system isn’t very portable. But the Anki Drive Starter Set is, well, an excellent start, and reasonably priced for under the tree at $100 online and in stores.