Hands-on: Scalextric RCS Race Control System
Many people of a certain vintage will have fond memories of playing with Scalextric, pulling a trigger and seeing your slot car fly around, or all-too-often off, the track. But disappointingly, the game hasn't exactly kept up with the latest high-tech toys. However, that could change with Scalextric RCS, an update which adds smartphone and tablet game management, along with displaying live race information.
Making my inner 12-year-old very happy, I was lucky enough to get a bit of hands-on time with the new-look Scalextric RCS at the London Toy Fair 2014. And after putting in a few quick laps (along with plenty of not-so-quick ones), I'm happy to say the update makes for a considerably more interactive and complete gaming experience. It's also now more likely to satisfy kids (little and big alike) of 2014, who expect a bit more tech in their toys.
After slotting one of the new RCS powerbases into an existing track, Scalextric users get access to a new level of race management and features, which makes it feel more like playing a console racing game, than a basic slot car offering. A Bluetooth 4.0-connected smartphone or tablet can be used to change game and race settings, with live race information and stats then displayed on-screen.
Users add their names and images before selecting their cars and getting ready to race. They can even choose from different throttle curves to alter how their car will drive, and with higher-end RCS powerbases (three levels will be available) set a maximum power. I'm told this could be used either for handicapping one driver, or to help younger racers (who have a tendency to always go for full power) to stay on the track.
Race modes which can then be selected include quick race, practice, Grand Prix, endurance, tournament, drag race, arcade and pursuit. I opted for a simple 20-lap race, with in-race gameplay settings meaning I had to keep an eye on decreasing fuel levels, tire degradation, and weather conditions, judging when to come into the pits – stopping on the bit of track attached to the RCS powerbase.
This information was all clearly displayed on the wirelessly-connected iPad screen (iOS and Android versions of the free app will be available) and I could also check out live information about top speeds, lap times and the leader-board. This should mean no more arguments with fellow racers about how many laps you've each done. Multi-device display means additional slave devices can also be used, so that each driver has their own screen with live stats about their car.
Other nice touches included the ability to set the power to drop on the track if one car comes off, again reducing the chances of arguments between racers who are scrambling over the track to retrieve their cars. Scalextric RCS also sees the introduction of new wireless hand throttles, though unfortunately only non-working dummy models were on the stand at Toy Fair.
All in all, Scalextric RCS feels like a massive step forward for the slot car racing game. And while some of its modes and features were already available with Scalextric Digital, RCS brings them to any Scalextric set, and does so in a much more compelling and user-friendly manner thanks to the smart device integration.
RCS will be sold as an upgrade accessory to existing Scalextric sets with the three previously-mentioned options, each including a base and section of straight track. RCS One is the basic entry point and consists of the Bluetooth-enabled powerbase and two wired controllers. It gives racers access to core racing modes and in-race gameplay such as fuel levels and pit stops, along with live stats.
RCS Air works in much the same way, but can use the new wireless hand throttles, two of which are included. It adds robot pursuit and pursuit modes, along with in-race options for tire wear, car damage, and weather conditions. It also gives access to the handicap system, throttle mapping, and car mapping. The top-of-the-line RCS Pro can also use the wireless hand throttles (and includes two), but being for use with Scalextric Digital, it supports up to 6-car racing with lane changing.
Scalextric RCS is due to go on sale in August. RCS One will cost £40 (that's roughly US$66), RCS Air will sell for £60 ($99), while Scalextric RCS Pro will set you back £100 ($165). The RCS powerbases will also be available in upcoming full Scalextric sets.