Family Game Night Redefined.
For years, kids played with electric slot cars that simply went one direction when the trigger was pulled. Tracks had to be pieced together very specifically and did only one thing: go forward. These things were finicky though, and often times unreliable at best. Anki brought Overdrive to a new generation of kids not too long ago, and now they're taking it to the next level with Fast and Furious branding and some serious new upgrades. Are these AI-driven cars really that much better than the old slot car game? Let's take a look.
What's in the box
Anki’s Fast and Furious edition of Overdrive includes some different things than the regular edition of Overdrive does, but it's not just the cars that are special. Folks familiar with the Fast and Furious series of movies will be delighted to find Dom’s Ice Charger and Hobbs’ International MXT exclusively included in the package. 3 straight track pieces and 6 90-degree turns are included in the box, as well as two 6cm risers for lifting the track up over obstacles (or making a figure 8 track with a bridge). 12 guard rails are also present, which help to keep cars on the track when rounding corners too quickly. A brand new Power Zone straight track is included, making it a total of 4 straight track pieces in the box. Power Zones are a new concept in Overdrive, and function as a trap to catch other racers with.
A four-car charger is in the box and plugs into any standard USB Type-A port found on computers or power bricks all over. A tire cleaner is also in the box, helping keep the wheels on the cars in tip-top shape. The entire package retails for $169.99, which is not exactly inexpensive, but you’ll find this is actually quite a good value. All existing Overdrive tracks and cars are 100% compatible with the Fast and Furious edition cars and tracks. The apps that are required to play the game are completely free, and the Fast and Furious edition of Overdrive has a specific F&F app on the Google Play Store, Amazon Appstore or Apple Appstore with a new campaign mode and associated Fast and Furious characters. Anki recommends Overdrive for children ages 8 and up, which seems best for full enjoyment of the game. My 3 year old son loved watching me play and helping me out, controlling the game from time to time, but it’s far too complicated for a child his age to truly get the full enjoyment out of the game.
Anki’s car technology is unique in the industry, or at the very least was the first to market with this sort of technology. At around $40-50 per car, this is much more than a glorified Hot Wheels toy; you’re getting an actual AI-driven car that can do everything on its own. Inside each car is a 50MHz processor and associated components, along with a bluetooth radio for communication with your phone and up to 7 total cars on the track. The F&F edition launches with two new cars in the box; Dom’s Ice Charger and Hobbs’ International MXT. Both of these vehicles can be used just as you would with the standard version of Overdrive, and any character can drive any car. Just as with other Overdrive cars, the F&F cars are made entirely out of plastic, and feature rubber wheels. These rubber wheels give the cars the important grip factor that would make it difficult to race without. There’s also an infrared camera underneath each car that reads the IR marks inside of each tracks at 500Mhz, and the cars use a Simultaneous Location and Mapping (SLAM) algorithm to map the full tracks, similarly to how robot vacuums map a home.
Three sets of colored LED lights are located on the car, each with a different purpose. On the top sits the status/health light, which stays a steady color of green, amber or red depending on the status or health of the car. Along the front are a pair of lights that illuminate when a weapon is used, while the ones in the back will light up when braking. All lights will flash when hit with a weapon, giving you a clear visual indication something is happening. These two new cars don’t just look different from the others currently available though, they also feature new weapons and support moves too. The new spike strips are dropped behind and act as traps for your enemies to run over, and the grappling hook pulls your car closer to the opponent in front of you.
There are three different types of weapons that you can acquire in the game: area of effect, long range, and short range. There are many, many different types of weapons that fall into these categories, and all can be purchased in the app using money earned from playing the game. There are also support items that can be used, which fall into one of the following categories: shields, scrambler, tractor beams, boosts and reverse drives. Each of these types of items can be used similarly to what you would expect in a game of Mario Kart and will hamper your opponent's’ ability to race effectively. Anki sells additional cars for around $40-50 or so each, and super trucks are around $50-$60 each. Anki sells somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 different cars, and even cars from the original Anki Drive playset can be used here. While we don’t have any super trucks for the review, these are much larger vehicles that are used for the Takeover gameplay mode and are important to have if you’re looking to complete the daily challenges that Anki provides.
Unlike the metal or plastic tracks of slot cars, Anki builds its tracks out of a flexible vinyl material. Each track has a printed surface that can be easily cleaned when needed, and these flexible pieces are quite a bit more durable during everyday use when compared with plastic parts. The ends of each track piece feature four plastic teeth and two magnetic clips which snap together without any effort, keeping the tracks together throughout any race. They are also easily pulled apart without damaging the tracks, ensuring these tracks will be around for a long time. Each track piece contains infrared encoding patterns inside, which the cars are able to see via the infrared camera underneath each car, helping them to map out the entirety of the track without error. Tracks can be placed in any shape you'd like, so long as the track runs fully in a loop.
Since there's no powered circuitry inside the tracks themselves, there's no need to physically close the “circuit”; in fact Anki sells jump tracks to make things even more exciting. A total of 16 lanes are possible on each track, showing how truly versatile these tracks are. Speed, orientation and direction are all gathered by the cars using the IR encoding patterns within the top ink coat. This means that if a car gets turned around, skids out or gets bumped off the track, it can automatically figure out what direction it’s supposed to be going, all thanks to what’s hiding under the attractive, glossy coating on the top of the tracks. If a car goes too far off the track though, you'll need to place it back on, as it has no way to know where it fell.
Out of the box you’ll be able to build 8 different track designs, and buying expansion packs will only add to the possibilities of track designs. Anki features a track builder on its website that’ll help you create the track of your dreams, and also help you decide how many different expansion or starter packs you’ll need to achieve this goal. Track sets aren’t cheap by any means, and you’ll quickly rack up the price if you’re looking to build some of the truly megalithic tracks that can be put together. There’s no limit to how many pieces can be put together, and since the tracks are made out of vinyl, there’s really no limit to where they can be placed either. Hard floors, carpet, tables, sofas or chairs; everything is fair game so long as you can keep the track together, and the magnets are strong enough to support the weight of seven cars without issue. Anki sells five different styles of tracks: regular straight, regular curve, straight Power Zone, intersection, and jump pieces.
This new Power Zone piece ships with the Fast and Furious edition, and works as a way to “hack” any opponents residing on the same track piece. Simply run over the F&F logo on the Power Zone while another car is on the same track piece and you’ll find the opponent’s lights flashing wildly and their vehicle skidding all over the track. It’s tough to get the timing right, but when you do it’s incredibly satisfying. Two risers are included in the box, which makes it easy to set up a figure eight style track, or a slight variance of that. Additional risers can be purchased to make bridges, or fashion a double-decker track like a highway. There are also guard rail pieces to keep cars from flying off the track, and can be invaluable when speeding around corners to catch up to opponents. Lastly, Anki makes a banked turn kit to add some more interesting turns to your track designs, and intersections to combine all sorts of designs into one huge track, complete with plenty of crashes.
How it Plays
Anki’s Overdrive is much more than just a slot racing game, and it’s all possible thanks to the app. This app is actually the main game itself, as it powers all the characters, AI, weapons and modes that really make Overdrive more interesting than a simple slot racing game. After a track is physically pieced together, cars will drive around and scan the entire track, heading to the piece with the starting line after fully scanning. Initially you’ll only have the race mode, but more can be unlocked by playing through the campaign mode. You’ll race against a handful of main characters from the Fast and Furious movies in a standard race of 15 to 20 laps, depending on the character and size of the track, followed by battle modes that involve weapons and more advanced tactics.
What’s brilliant about this app is what it can utilize any track size or shape for any race, and adapt the AI to play correctly in every single situation. As you make your way through the campaign you’ll unlock additional modes, all of which have different requirements to play. All of campaign mode can be played with just two cars, but King of the Hill requires at least 3 cars, and Takeover requires at least one Supertruck. Any mode can be played cooperatively or split into teams, so you and a few friends can power through the campaign together and rack up tons of points at the same time.
Just as you would expect in Mario Kart, Overdrive functions differently depending on the mode played. Regular race mode will only allow you to race to win; no power ups and no weapons allowed, just raw skill or aggressive bumping will win. Battle mode is a challenge to see who can earn the most points in a specified amount of time, while Battle Race is a race to the finish with power ups and weapons enabled. King of the Hill is easily one of the most fun modes available, as it requires you to hold the crown longest in a set period of time to win, which invites all sorts of trickery and dirty playing that’s sure to raise the volume in any room. Takeover is a cooperative mode where you need to take control of a Supertruck that’s riding its way down a highway, similar to when the Fast and Furious crew stole the fuel trucks in Fast and Furious 4. Time trial mode pits you against yourself to see how fast you complete a single track configuration.
Any of these modes can be played single or multiplayer, and the only requirements are that each player has their own smartphone with the app installed. There’s no need to be on the same WiFi network or any other configuration; one person hosts a game and the rest simply join it. The magic with Overdrive, however, is its completely seamless nature between the virtual and physical worlds. While you won’t see the cars actually shooting missiles or bullets (thankfully), the software treats it as if they were very much hitting each other with physical weapons or traps, and the results are simply amazing. Opponent’s cars drive around the tracks as if a human were controlling them, rounding turns with care and speeding up on straightaways, pummeling enemies with weapons and doing everything they can to win. This means that you can still enjoy a challenging race without having to call all of your friends over to play.
Everything is controlled via your smartphone on the Overdrive app, and the bulk of the experience is the same between the regular Overdrive app and the Fast and Furious edition. The only differences you’ll find are roster of selectable characters, as well as a different campaign mode. Controls are simple and intuitive; once a race begins, the screen will display a set of controls that makes plenty of sense. On the left a gas pedal that acts like an analog pedal would; the closer you push to the top, the faster your car will go, complete with green to orange color change to visually help you see from peripheral vision.
Below it sits a red brake button, and two weapon slots are located on the right side. The current game mode, as well as a picture of your current car (in case you forget, as I did on more than one occasion) are place in the middle above a pause button. This pause button is invaluable and is something that really comes in handy, giving you the ability to put the game away for a few minutes without having to lose a race. Cars will automatically drive around turns and over jumps without your input, but you can switch between the 16 different lanes on each track piece by tilting your phone left or right.
As you play through the campaign and other race modes, you’ll collect money and experience points. Experience points are used to level up your car, and the more you level up the more upgrade slots you unlock. Each upgrade slot features a different component; some upgrade weapon effectiveness, some give armor or healing, while others offer additional weapon slots or similar attribute enhancements. These are based on each individual car too, and all of this information is saved to your account on the app. What’s beautiful about this is that you can switch phones on a whim and never worry about losing your progress. Also worth noting is that progress in the regular Overdrive app is different from progress in the Fast and Furious version, so car levels, weapons and other progress in the game are completely separate. The level of depth in the game is astounding to say the least, and because it’s such fun to play and unlock new items and weapons, you’ll keep coming back for more and more.
Battery life and maintenance
Like many toys, the Overdrive set needs a bit of TLC every once in awhile, but for the most part it’s a pretty maintenance free. Since the tracks are vinyl with a printed outer layer, they don’t often get very dirty. You may find the stray hair lodged in between the orange connectors and the track, or maybe the occasional dirty spot on the tracks themselves, but these spots come out with a quick rub of a cloth. Make sure you don’t scratch the surface with your fingernail or other abrasive tool though, as you can very easily scrape off the printed outer layer, revealing the white base layer underneath.
Since these tracks are only a few millimeters thick, storage is ultra easy, and they can easily be put away in a plastic storage container, or just the box they came in. Likewise the cars themselves need almost no attention paid at all in regards to maintenance. Every once in awhile you may notice the cars skidding more than usual, and it’s for this reason that Anki has included the wheel cleaner tool. This simple sticky pad will remove hair and particles from the rubber wheels, helping them operate at maximum efficiency.
Battery life is truly excellent for such a small, powerful and intelligent connected car. A full charge will give 20-25 minutes of straight race time, and it only takes 6 minutes to charge the car back to full again. Battery indicators are found in the app, and you’ll be notified when a car is too low to operate with a clear red battery indicator on the vehicle selection screen. The status LED on top will also light up red when the battery is low. The included four car charger is simple in its design, and does the job very well. For the review I left it connected to one of the spare USB ports on the back of my gaming PC, which provided plenty of juice to charge all 3 of the review cars I had within the 6 minute time period. The cars lightly click into the base, and the status LEDs up top will blink green while charging. Once full charge is reached the LEDs will hold solid green, and a quick lift off the charger gets them ready to race. A gray power button is found underneath each car for quick power on/off.
Phone battery life may not be the first thing you think of when playing, but you soon will realize your juice is running out quickly. While Anki uses Bluetooth Low Energy as its way of communicating with your phone, the app is able to use up to 7 Bluetooth channels at once, and utilizing all the bandwidth needed to keep everything talking can really take a toll on your phone’s battery. Using Android’s internal battery statistics, 30 minutes of playing equates to about 300mAh battery usage. This means that you could probably get a few hours of playtime out of a single charge on your phone, given the average battery is around 3,000mAh nowadays, but it’s still worth noting that your phone is going to heat up and drain battery more quickly than it normally would. Since this is a game that can only be played while in the physical presence of the cars and tracks that it powers, this means you’re likely at home and only a few steps away from a charger at any one point in time, so any real battery draining may not be a factor depending on how and when you play.
Overdrive was mind-blowing when it came out, to say the least. Watching physical cars drive themselves around a track at full speed is awesome enough, but to see them battling each other, as well as other human players, all while knowing exactly where they are on the track, which way they are driving and how to defeat you, is a whole new level. Anki is adding some great new functionality with the Fast and Furious version of Overdrive by including two new cars and a new Power Zone track piece; two things you can’t get elsewhere. This all with the rest of the tracks in the pack and you’re looking at an awesome value that will deliver hours upon hours of fun. There’s no denying how expensive these tracks and cars can get though, especially if you compare to much simpler slot cars or regular “dumb” car tracks out there. If you or your kids love racing games or cars though, this is absolutely worth the price of admission, and will almost certainly get you hooked from the get go. It's truly family game night reinvented.