Price: $149.99 (starter set), $49.99 (extra cars), $9.99 - $29.99 (track expansion sets), FREE (the app)
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It feels like forever ago that I first took Anki Drive for a spin (actually it was a little over a year ago). At the time I considered it an interesting experiment of sorts, but wasn’t entirely sure it was tuned enough (or affordable enough) to find a big audience. Anki Overdrive is a pretty big step up from that.
The biggest thing that sets either Anki racing set apart from most other iOS racing games is that they’re a physical thing that you use an app to control, as opposed to a straight-up racing game. You need track, cars, and table/floor space to set everything up, and a second person in the room with you (with their own iOS device and a copy of the app) to play along if you’d prefer not racing against the computer.
Controlling the cars via the Anki Overdrive app is fairly simple, with a slider on one side determining overall speed, buttons to activate primary and secondary weapons/powers, and tilting to change lanes. Actually, the tilting to change lanes thing is kind of a big deal because keeping cars in specific lanes in the original Anki Drive was something of a pain. Now they just stick to their lane and go, with you determining speed and occasionally shifting left or right. It’s a much better system that lets you worry more about aiming your weapons or avoiding attacks.
As with Anki Drive, here you’ll be racing some rather fancy little remote control cars around a track - either against other players or against the AI. Anki Overdrive, however, takes things quite a bit further with cars that feel more responsive, user-friendly automatic on/off functions (rather than a tiny switch you could easily forget about), and a modular track pieces for a significant amount of variability.
Speaking of the modular track, I think it was a wise decision to switch from a roll-up mat to interchangeable pieces. It creates a lot more track layout options, allows for further expansion with extra track pieces (sold separately, but still much better than having to buy an entirely new track mat), and gives users the opportunity to get a bit more creative with things by way of elevated track segments, angled turns, and even jumps. Each section snaps together easily with interlocking plastic “teeth” and a couple of magnets, and the started set even comes with a couple of stands if you want to have the track loop back on top of itself or create a hill or two.
The cars are similar to their earlier counterparts but one big difference is the lack of an on/off switch, as I mentioned before. It’s a small detail but it’s one I really appreciate because it means I don’t have to do anything but pop a car off the charger, put it on the track, and go. The lights also look a bit nicer and have a bit more color variety from what I’ve seen. They’re not perfect, of course. I’ve had more than a couple of incidents where they would get turned around on their own or drive right off the track, although once I slid a small portion of the track off the rug so it was level with everything else I had far fewer problems. Still a couple of off-road shenanigans (so I’d suggest not playing on a table, just to be safe), but it wasn’t as common. Cat hair may or may not have been a factor as well, so heads-up to all you pet owners.
I normally don’t like discussing cost when it comes to a review but I really do think Anki Drive’s $200 starter set and $70 extra cars were a major sticking point for potential buyers. The $50 you save on the Anki Overdrive starter set and $20 you save on extra cars still means you’ll be paying a fair bit but you’re getting something that’s a lot more refined for less money, and it’s just enough to make it a more viable birthday or holiday gift.
Owners of Anki Drive haven’t been forgotten, however. Any of the new cars from Overdrive can be driven on the old tracks in “Open Play” mode, and old cars can be driven on the new tracks (so long as you use the new Overdrive app). Unfortunately you can’t control the new cars with the old app, but the new one is a free download so it’s not that big a deal. In fact, it’s impressive that there’s as much cross-compatibility as there is.
I was impressed with the idea of Anki Drive, but with Anki Overdrive I’m just plain old impressed. It feels like a pretty major improvement to the original racing system in pretty much every way. Heck, it even comes in a smaller box. Time will tell if it can overtake its predecessor but I think it has a solid chance.