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Review: Anki Overdrive gets chaotic with fun, flawed Supertrucks

Anki Overdrive’s new Supertrucks are beastly toys.

If you were within 20 yards of me at any point between October and December of last year, you definitely heard me yammering about Anki Overdrive. My favorite toy of 2015 was more than just a hi-tech version of those awesome Tyco slot car sets I pined for as a kid — it was proof positive that smart tech can make old things feel new again.

It was also extremely expensive. Starting at an already steep $150, it wound up costing much more once you started expanding it into the modular track system it was built to be. I’m not sure how successful it was at breaking through the holiday toy noise, but I hope it did. In terms of sheer coolness, it was a force to be reckoned with.

This year, the folks at Anki decided against making changes to the tracks in favor of adding a different kind of force to the race: big, burly trucks capable of blasting regular Anki cars literally off the rails. They’re called Supertrucks, and this year Anki is releasing two of them. I checked out the X52 (the other is called “Freewheel”) and tested its mettle against my well-worn fleet of older Anki cars.

Though the trucks are new, the racing system remains the same. Anki vehicles are controlled with iOS or Android devices. The cars scan the tracks, which consist of ten or more sections that pleasantly snap together magnetically.

The X52 Supertruck.

Using tiny infrared cameras, the cars read data on each track section to determine their location, the location of other cars, and even cool extras like instructions to speed up a bit before taking a jump. The cars are also equipped with virtual weapons that can slow down opponents or briefly knock them out of action. Put it all together and it’s an all-ages slice of toy magic.

With the addition of a Supertruck, though, it’s a lot rougher. Supertrucks aren’t as fast as regular Anki cars but pack bigger, nastier weapons. The X52, for instance, has a Pulse Ram that can knock an enemy off the track altogether. Keep your foot on the gas long enough and you’ll trigger Rage mode, which gives the truck a boost of speed and persistent area of effect damage. The new abilities are good fun and help make the truck feel appropriately stronger than the regular cars.

There’s also a new racing mode called Takeover. You start in a regular Anki car while an AI driver handles the truck; do enough damage and you gain control of it until another player disables you. It’s well-designed and plays to the truck’s strength by making it the star of the show.

So kudos to Anki for finding a way to differentiate the Supertrucks from the standard cars, but there are a few issues with the bigger vehicles. While knocking enemies off the track sounds cool, it’s functionally a pain since you have to repeatedly physically reset them back on the track if you want to keep playing (the cars are smart, but not that smart). You’ll also need to use that little tire-cleaning pad that comes with the Starter Kit frequently, as the big rigs tend to slide around even more than regular Anki cars.

Another oddity: Supertrucks refuse to take jumps, so put the jump track sections back in the closet. I suppose this makes sense – the added length of the trucks could make jumps tricky – but it would have been cool to let players try to set up workable jumps rather than rule them out entirely.

I also continue to question Anki’s pricing model. Supertrucks run $60 apiece, a $10 premium over regular Anki cars. It feels overpriced for what is essentially a standard Anki car with a hunk of plastic connected to it, but then again, this whole thing still feels too costly. As much as I enjoy Anki Overdrive and the Supertrucks, starting from scratch requires an investment akin to a new game console, and I’m not sure that’s worth it.

But if you already have the Starter Kit and have some extra bread for more luxury toys, a Supertruck isn’t a bad choice. The big rigs are smartly designed and play well with the existing cars and tracks. Anki still delivers, though I’m anxious to see where they drive from here.

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