Review: Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition

They're slot cars for a new age. Cordless, with almost infinite track options, and controlled by your phone or tablet. That's what Anki delivered with Anki Overdrive for Christmas 2015. Now Anki has gone Fast and Furious with the latest edition of its robot car game.

The Fast and Furious edition adds two new cars. Dom Toretto's Ice Charger, and Hobbs' International MXT, both from Fate of the Furious, the latest in the Fast and Furious series. It also adds new characters for the game, with Dom, Hobbe, Letty, and Tej, in addition to the four characters from Overdrive. The new cars come with new weapons, new gadgets, and lots of quotes for the crew to say during races.

Anki Overdrive is a new twist on the classic slot car. Instead of a track with metal conductors and wired controllers to drive them around, the cars now have cameras and Bluetooth. They can see and read the track, in a pace lap they do with each new track design. A camera in the car sees the course and lets the cars follow the track. They can even tell if they're going the wrong direction (and turn around).

The cars use rechargeable batteries to give about 15 minutes of runtime and use a Bluetooth connection so you can control them from your iOS or Android tablet or phone. The app lets you accelerate, brake, steer, and shoot digital weapons.

That's right, the cars can shoot at each other. Guns, missiles, tractor beams, all the good stuff. You can run a normal race, but why would you do that when you can use the weapons and have a battle race?

It's easy to set up the track. The segments have magnets that make sure everything clips together. Plug in the charger, let the cars charge (which takes about 8 minutes), install the app, and you're ready to go.

Driving is straightforward too. Press the gas pedal on the screen and go. The car steers itself. You can tilt your phone to change lanes and block other cars. To use the weapons and shields, press the icon on your phone and blast the car in front or behind. This new version also comes with a special track piece that lets you disable a car that's too close to you.

So how is it? You're driving digital cars around a track and shooting virtual missiles while being serenaded by Fast and Furious quotes. It's lots of fun. My wife, who doesn't really like toys, cars, or the Fast series, played even more than I did.

The cars stay on track well, although they seem to have a more difficult time of it if you're using every track segment. After a few races, they would start to spin out, but using the included tire cleaner solved that quickly.

The downside to rechargeable racers is battery life. I found that the cars would last about 15 minutes per charge, or about three 60 lap races. It only takes six to eight minutes to recharge, but it's still a frequent break in gameplay. You could buy another set of cars to swap out, but the cars are a bit pricey to have spares.

The app works well, and the controls are easy to figure out. Some more instruction on the weapons would be nice, but a few laps should be enough to get them sorted out. You can race up to four cars at a time, with you and three friends, or as many as three of them being driven by virtual drivers.

Toys are getting more high-tech and less toy by the minute. Bluetooth and camera-equipped slot cars would have been incomprehensible to 13-year old me when I got my first Tyco set. The big deal then was the short-lived ability to steer the cars. Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious is tons of fun with great configurability and replayability. As long as you have the patience to wait for a recharge.

Anki Overdrive: Fast & Furious Edition goes on sale September 24, exclusively at Best Buy.

The fast and the miniature