Flexible racing fun – Anki Overdrive is Scalextric for the 21st century, but the track upgrades will cost you
Warranty: One year RTB, Details: https://anki.com, Part code: OVERDRIVE
Deal update: Anki Overdrive is £30 off
If you’re looking for early Christmas gifts, you could do a lot worse than Anki Overdrive. Its price has remained pretty consistently close to RRP in the three years since release, but Amazon has recently knocked it down to £119.99. If you’re on the fence, now is the time to buy, but you can make up your mind with our full review which continues below. Buy now from Amazon
When the original Anki Drive arrived last year, the promise of smartphone-controlled, Scalextric-style racing intrigued. However, the ‘track’ was printed onto a roll-out mat which meant it lacked the flexibility of a traditional Scalextric set. That has changed with Anki Overdrive, an updated version which gives you control over the exact layout of your circuits.
Rather than limit your racing to a mat, the new version includes a number of straight and curved track pieces that can be slotted together in any configuration. The £149 starter kit includes six 90-degree curved pieces and four straights, plus two riser pieces for up to eight potential layouts. The Anki cars then analyse the track over a warm-up lap using downward-facing sensors, with the layout drawn on your phone as the lap is completed. Once they return to the starting line you’re ready to race.
^ The Starter kit has eight possible track configurations…
The modular circuit also paves the way for optional track packs, which can add a bit more excitement to the proceedings. We had access to the Speed kit (£20), which includes several more straights, the Collision kit (£30), which adds a crossroads for crash-based mayhem, the Launch kit (£30), which adds jump and landing sections, and a Corner kit (£20), which includes several extra corner sections.
You can also upgrade your circuits with the Rails kit (£10) which should help keep the action on the track, the Bank Turn kit (£10) which adds Nascar-style sloped corners, and the Elevation kit (£10) to raise sections of track and build hills, bridges and overpasses. All combined, it’s easy to create incredibly varied track layouts that should ensure racing feels fresh every time you play.
^ …but optional track packs let you extend and create more advanced circuits
Anki Overdrive works on both iOS and Android, meaning everyone can play regardless of their smartphone of 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 iOS App stores. As before, you control which line your car takes, and its speed, while it handles steering around the corners. It’s essentially Scalextric, except you can change lanes freely by tilting your handset left and right. Purists amongst the team said they preferred the more precise physical controls you get with a Scalextric set, but others were happy to use an onscreen slider to adjust their speed.
If you don’t have anyone to race against, Overdrive can let 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. You only get two cars in the starter pack, though, so you’ll need to buy extras to complete the set of six. Cleverly, the random loot drops earned after each race can give you parts for cars you have yet to purchase, giving you an incentive to open your wallet.
The cars themselves haven’t changed dramatically from the original Anki. The styling may have received a brightly coloured update, but they are still predominantly made from plastic. They typically last around twenty minutes on a full charge, and take around ten minutes to recharge completely, so you could be sat waiting in the pits for if you’re planning a particularly long endurance race.
The technology inside each car is roughly on par with the original version too. All four cars can race comfortably on track at once, at an impressive speed, and they rarely get lost or fall out of bounds. The Launch kit’s ramp threw did occasionally make a car lose track of its position and end up going backwards or exiting the track, but with a flat circuit this was rarely ever an issue. When one did leave the track, it would mostly spin in place, making it easy to pick up and get it back into the action.
^ Each car has a unique look, along with unique weapons and abilities
As with the original version, Anki 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 shenanigans. Beyond lap-based events and time trials that test your racing abilities, Battle mode makes it your objective to take out opposing racers, rather than get ahead of them.
The more you use your car, the better it becomes, so it pays to stick with one particular model – or use them all equally. AI-controlled drivers also benefit from upgrades, and if you aren’t careful they will quickly school you on the rules of the road. While racing tends to be fairly straightforward, the point-based battles can be very tricky for new players to get to grips with. When your opponent starts weaving between lanes to avoid your shots, indicated by LEDs built into each car, you have to make use of your secondary abilities to reel them back in and land a killing blow. Successful hits briefly disable your opponent’s cars, letting you get out in front.
^ The app isn’t quite as refined as a physical remote, but it comes close
With a surprisingly in-depth tournament mode, and new cars to upgrade and unlock parts for, Anki Overdrive would be a respectable upgrade over the original version even if it had stuck to the original track layout. As it is, the flexibility afforded by modular track packs truly matches the claim that this is a 21st century Scalextric. At £149 for the starter kit it’s also more affordable than the original Anki, although that price quickly increases once you start buying optional extras – the ludicrous Mega pack, for instance, includes everything but will set you back a whopping £499.
Even with the starter kit, however, there’s plenty of scope for different track layouts and the two cars will let you jump straight into the tournament mode or 1v1 racing. The only difficult thing will be convincing yourself you’re just buying it for the kids.