Anki Overdrive review – the ultimate slot car / smartphone game mash-up?

anki overdrive reviewYou might have already seen my article about Anki Overdrive or even my video unboxing of the Starter kit – now it’s time to get hands-on and see if the futuristic car racing game is all it’s cracked up to be.

Anki Overdrive is, in its simplest terms, a smartphone-controlled, Scalextric-style racing game. There are a couple of differences to note, however. The first is that the track has no slots which  means that the cars can effortlessly swap lanes. The second is that the cars are all smart in that they have an AI (artificial intelligence) driver on-board.

Anki Overdrive Starter Kit overview

The Overdrive starter kit (£149) includes six 90-degree curved pieces and four straights, plus two struts/bridge supports which enables you to create up to eight track layouts. You also get a charging platform with space for four cars, a tyre cleaner to keep the rear rubber wheels nice and grippy, and two cars – Skull and Ground Shock.

anki overdrive skull and ground shockBeing a modular circuit this opens up all kinds of possibilities to add optional track packs at a later date. This not only allows for larger tracks to be built but, should you and/or the kids get weary of the same old layouts, revive the game with new challenges.

Anki kindly sent me the Speed kit (£20) which includes several more straights, the Collision kit (£30) which adds a crossroads for crash-based japes, the Launch kit (£30) which adds cool jump and landing sections, and a Corner kit (£20) which includes extra corner sections for more twisty-turny action. Add in an extra car and all of that, along with the Starter Kit, is classed as the Crash Bundle.

anki awesome overdrive trackThere are further upgrade elements available – the Rails kit (£10) which helps keep the action on the track, the Bank Turn kit (£10) which adds Nascar-style sloped corners, and the Elevation kit (£10) to raise more sections of track and build hills, bridges and overpasses.

The tracks click fix with a satisfying clunk as the magnets snap the sections together and their flexibility allows for cushions, books or bored pets to be used as hills and bumps.

Anki Overdrive works on both iOS and Android which obviously means that everyone can get involved regardless of their smartphone choice.

The cars connect to your phone via low-energy Bluetooth 4.0, with the app available to download for free from the Google Play and Apple App stores.

ANKI OVERDRIVE SCANWhen everything is set-up the Overdrive cars analyse the track over a warm-up lap or two using downward-facing sensors. Once the layout is drawn on your phone and the cars return to the starting grid, you know it’s time to race.

Anki Overdrive car racing

If you ever owned a slotcar racing game before you will know the frustration caused when nobody else wants to play. This meant either finding something else to do or attempt to control more than one car at the same time. That is so old school now thanks to Anki.

ANKI OVERDRIVE APPOverdrive lets you race against up to three AI-controlled cars, either in free race mode or in a tournament mode that lets you level up your car and unlock upgrades to give you an edge on the track.

Thanks to the AI driver, this should keep you on the track (although there have been a couple of occasions where I could have done with the Rails kit), all you just have to concentrate on is controlling which line your car takes, its speed, and weapons. That might sound like cheating but with three other cars weaving about the track and trying to take you out, there is more than enough to keep you occupied.

anki overdrive controllerYou change lanes by tilting your handset left and right, and your speed by way of the onscreen slider. It might not give you the feeling of directly controlling your car but if you have experienced any decent app-based driving sim then these controls soon become natural – you also have the added bonus of seeing your car in real-life action!

The challenge soon becomes staying in the race with enemies on your tail whilst attempting to disable the cars in front in order to take them out.

anki overdrive starter kitPersonally I like the whole set-up. Adults (I use the term loosely) such as I will get a kick out of the battle games but, having the sophisticated AI keeping the cars on the circuit also means that younger racers won’t have their patience tested by constantly flying off the track.

The combination of cars and characters, each of whom have their own unique driving styles, plus the variety of racing challenges keeps Overdrive from feeling stale. No two races you run are exactly the same thanks to the artificial intelligence commanding the cars you’re up against.

Don’t forget that your friends can join in too.

anki overdrive battleThe cars are predominantly made from plastic but of a good quality and they last around twenty minutes on a full charge with the AI assistant informing you when the car needs to recharge. This takes around ten minutes to recharge completely – time for a comfort break and to recharge your glass 😉

Charging is undertaken by simply parking the car in a free charging bay on the four-space charger as in the picture below.

anki overdrive chargingOnce recharged you’re off again. You can easily race all four cars at once on the track and they can hit quite an impressive speed once things get going.

The Launch kit’s ramp threw did occasionally make a car lose its mind a little but, after a bit of frantic spinning it was soon on its way again. With a fast, flat circuit the cars generally stayed on the track. On the rare occasions one did stray, you’d get some more spinning on the spot which makes it easy to pick up and put it back in the battle.

anki overdrive skull and ground shockAs you may have already gathered, Anki Overdrive isn’t just about racing.

Each app-controlled car has its own unique set of upgrades, weapons and power-ups, which can be activated any time during a race for Mario Kart-style silliness.

Overdrive offers you tournament, battle and king-of-the-hill modes, in which you can launch virtual missiles and tractor beams to throw rival cars off course. After each race, you can win new weapons and abilities that level up your car.

The more you use your car, the better it becomes, so it pays to stick with one particular model – or use them all equally.

I for one really enjoyed having this video game come to life on an actual track right in front of me.

AI-controlled drivers also benefit from upgrades, and if you aren’t careful they will quickly school you on the rules of the road.

Anki Overdrive game play

While basic racing tends to be fairly straightforward, you have the option to go through some tutorials of how to control your car,  the point-based battles can be a bit tricky to get to grips with.

This is where I discovered just how intelligent the artificial intelligence is as I watched my opponents weaving between lanes to avoid my shots. Shots and hits are indicated by LEDs built into each car and successful hits briefly disable your opponent’s cars, letting you get out in front which is a double-edged sword as that leaves you open to them getting behind to take pot shots at you.

anki overdrive skull ground shock nuke thermoAll the while this is happening you are getting trashed-talked by your opponents through your phone. It’s a nice touch but can be distracting, which might be the idea.

The cars are nimble and I found myself having “just one more game” quite a lot.

With a surprisingly in-depth tournament mode, and new cars to upgrade and unlock parts for along with the flexibility afforded by modular track packs truly matches the claim that this is a 21st century Scalextric.

Anki Overdrive review conclusion

At £149 for the starter kit it makes it an affordable Christmas present which will encourage more interaction from the recipient than jumping on a multiplayer game on a PC or console will give.

Granted, you could get carried away by buying additional cars and tracks, and then the price starts adding up – the Mega pack, which includes everything, will set you back a purse-pounding £499.

anki overdrive unboxingI do, however, think that the Starter kit still gives plenty of scope for different track layouts and the two cars will get the player(s) straight into the tournament mode or one-on-one racing.

The only difficult thing will be convincing yourself you’re just buying it for the kids. Personally, I think that every office should have one too!

In the end, it’s much more immersive and exciting than any racing game you can download to your phone and I am looking forward to next week when I will be getting some friends over for a battle or three and unleash all the extra track sections.

Anki Overdrive availability

Anki Overdrive is on sale in the UK as of tomorrow (October 6th) with the Starter Kit RRP £149. See the UK Anki Overdrive site for more details.