Most video games happen somewhere between the screen and the player’s imagination. The fantastic images in front of us not only trigger emotions and adrenaline but invite us to participate in the world we see. This physical-virtual divide has been eroded away by the likes of Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and amiibo toys that bring video game characters into the real world and use the real-world toy to unlock more of the game. Anki Drive takes this a step further, though, bringing the action as well as the characters off the screen and onto the living room floor.

Anki Drive offers a novel way to play a driving game. The action happens with real cars on a physical mat, but it’s controlled with your smartphone along with upgrades, characters, and an emergent storyline.

It’s a little like Scalextric, where players race cars around a predefined course on the carpet. Unlike Scalextric, though, the cars steer not by slots but by reading the specially printed road in front of them. This means that they look after the corners and leave the player to set the speed, switch lanes and trigger all manner of weapons.

The game is played via a smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android) and you change lanes by simply tilting the device. The touch screen is used to select weapons, check how much energy you have left, and set the speed. On the screen, between races, you can choose to upgrade your car in all sorts of ways; customizing it with special attacks much like you would a Skylander, only here the effect is in the real world rather than on the screen.

Upgrade your armor and next round you will be harder to stop, or perhaps put more funds into improving your steering so you can switch lanes faster. Then there’s the weapons to be considered. You start with a basic set, and some are exclusive to certain vehicles, but there are a lot of others to choose from too. These range from different kinds of guns, to timed mines, to a horn that makes other cars move out of the way.

While you’re racing, there’s a risk-reward between the energy it costs to use a weapon and the fact that having less energy makes you more vulnerable to being hit. If you deplete all your energy, either by overusing a weapon or by being hit by another player’s weapons, you stop on the track for a few seconds while the car “recharges.” You can play with up to four players at once, and any number of cars can be controlled by a range of computer characters each with their own style and abilities. There’s even a growing back story for the world and characters in the game.

The Anki Drive Starter Kit

The Anki Drive Starter Kit

All this technology comes at a price, though. The starter pack that comes with one rollout track mat, two cars, and chargers is around $149.99. The cars aren’t cheap either; on Amazon they’re currently going for around $70.99. Costs aside, though, Anki Drive is an unusual way to play games together in the family. Firstly, it doesn’t have the barrier of being played on the main screen. Everyone can immediately see what’s going on and get involved.

Being able to race against three other family members also works well and turns the game in a much more tactical direction as each racer battles for the lead. The ability to bring in computer AI opponents means that when other family members aren’t available you can still battle the computer. More than these functional benefits, though, it’s the change of focus Anki Drive brings to gaming that makes the biggest difference to families. Once you see how the game evolves the Toys to Life genre, it will come as no surprise that Anki has recruited some of the talent behind the Skylanders games. It will be interesting to see how titles like Disney Infinity or indeed Skylanders respond in subsequent games.

This article was written by

Andy Robertson is a freelance family technology expert for the BBC. He runs the Family Gamer TV YouTube channel and contributes to a range of national media on the topic of video-games and family.