Now available at Best Buy: Anki Drive

Anki Drive is a physical racing system backed by the best software (particularly with a mind towards game design) that we have available today. Play with Friends, or against a sophisticated AI system that learns as it goes. Race, win, upgrade as you would in any car based videogame, Anki Drive and Apple are trying to bring things back around full circle, taking an idea that was on tracks and went digital, back to the track.

Features

Starter Kit

-Two Anki DRIVE AI Intelligent Cars and charging cases

-Race mat (3.5 ft. by 8.5 ft./1.07 m by 2.6 m)

-Tire cleaner

-Fast charger

It’s been a loooong time since I raced anything that wasn’t displayed through a monitor of some kind. Back in the day I had an older cousin who was a track car nut, and when he turned sixteen and moved to the states, I inherited his gear.  I don’t think it survived much past that summer, I was a little kid after all and I played with that thing hard, but man it was awesome. Then came Nintendo, and the Genesis, and onwards and upwards until today. Now we have some truly impressive racing games of every sort and kind you could ask for, and that’s been my racing career ever since.  Enter Anki Drive, something old, and something new, but is it a winning combination?

Each of the cars I received have a name and a bit of personality, each with their own color, slightly different body style, basic stats, and weapons loadout. What’s that? Did I say weapons loadout? You’re darn right I did! Anki Drive is being touted as the ‘first video game in the real world’, and what’s a car battle without weapons? Tractor beams, pulse carbines, shields, just the sort of things you’d expect. Though they’re small and fairly low profile, the cars have built in lights in front and rear. There’s also a very complete audio suite, broadcasted from whichever apple product you happen to be playing with (iPhone 4S or later, iPod touch 5th generation or later, iPad 3 or later, or iPad mini or later) that fills it in nicely. The lighting system, ‘shoots’ with in time with your weapons, with the rear flashing to indicate taking damage, spin outs… death. All in all, it’s a well thought out and convincing package, its also genuinely ‘glee’ enducing. I’ve found myself giggling to myself while playing by myself vs these dastardly smart cars on more than a few occasions.

Controls are simple enough as well, as is the setup. After rolling the track out on the floor (big, at 3.5 x 8 feet, so make sure you’ve enough room) and downloading the Anki Drive App, I simply fired the app up and hit  the ‘getting started’ button. Shortly thereafter I was whisked away by the dulcet tones of none other than Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself, Sir Patrick Stewart, who guided me through a straight forward set up that might have taken five minutes. After plugging in the cars for charging, the charger holding up to three cars at once and the charge taking no time whatsoever, I synced my phone to each car through proximity and was ready to go. Controls consist of tilt steering (the cars stick ‘mostly’ to the track, so no, you can’t tear off to terrorize your animals) a slider for speed, and one push for your weapon and another for the auxiliary tool. In my case, so far I’ve used a pulse cannon, a shield, and a tractor beam. Taking damage, using your weapons and supplementary tool drain energy, which recharges as soon as you stop getting blasted or lay off the juice. Lose all your energy and you die, the lucky fellow to put the final shot to you gets a point. He/she who gets the most points wins, be it friends with the above mentioned hardware, or the all too talented AI. As you play, ranking higher will earn you more points, which you can then spend in the garage upgrading whichever car you’re playing with. There are four categories (Combat, Chassis, Engine, Energy) each with its own skill tree, allowing you to tailor your play as you would like. It’s actually pretty neat, and just as addictive as any of its digital racing counterparts. Once I’d ranked enough to earn some points and start beefing up my ride, I got pretty into it. I can see how this would be easy to get lost in, tweaking and putting love into ones car of choice.

As much fun as I’ve had It’s hard to gauge this thing to its fullest since, for some reason, everyone I know apparently has android devices, which seems ridiculous. Also potentially a problem, as a youngish fellow with youngish friends, I can’t be the only person out there whose pals aren’t rocking Apple products, but there you go. I suppose therein lies the beauty of the AI, because, there isn’t that much artificial about this intelligence, frankly, based on my experience with it so far, it’s a heck of a lot smarter than me. Even on  Easy, I had a difficult time taking out my opponents, that is, these tiny toy cars (stylish and intelligent though they may be), and Medium was darned near impossible. The kicker being, the AI enabled opponents learn (scary) so, technically speaking, the more we race, the better an idea they have of what I’m likely to do next. Well, the jokes on them then, since I’m pretty sure even I don’t know what I’m about to do next.

I gotta say, when I watched Terminator back in the day, I didn’t see Skynet developing from such humble beginnings. Based on the ruthlessness with which these lil demons mercilessly track me down and blow me to smithereens, I can’t see any other outcome. Seriously though, Apple, if I find one Rho or any of the rest of the gang slowly creeping into my bedroom one night, we’re going to have a little chat.

The Verdict

If you’re into cars, into games, tech, toys, basically if you have a little kid inside you and a pulse it’s a safe bet that you’ll be into Anki Drive. This isn’t cheap, it’s not a children’s car set.  A full kit, starter plus additional cars for the whole compliment will run you over $400, but this is a supremely cool system that is fun from unboxing, through setup, and onwards. A surefire bragging rights, ‘look what I got’ gadget that will earn some envy from your pals. If anything about this has sounded cool so far, you will almost certainly enjoy it.

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A firm believer in "you have to get old, but you don't have to grow up," I've been an unabashed lover of nerdy things for a good long while and don't plan to stop anytime soon. With experience on both sides of the video game, both as a consumer and a producer, and a love of the written word, I've managed to combine all three right here with the Plug-in blog

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