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Anki Overdrive Racing Set Hits the Road Sept. 20

Toy cars are cool; toy cars you can control with your smartphone are even cooler. That's been the idea behind Anki Drive, a digital-physical hybrid car game that lets you race and upgrade plastic vehicles within a mobile app. Anki's car concept is now shifting gears and relaunching as Anki Overdrive to bring modular tracks and new game modes to the unique toy platform when it launches Sept. 20.

While last year's Anki Drive playset consisted of a single oval track, Overdrive will give players the pieces to build the wildest courses they can dream up. The $150 Overdrive starter pack includes a total of 12 track pieces, including curved corners and risers for changing up a track's elevation. I got a taste of Overdrive's modular potential earlier this year at Toy Fair, where I saw a delightfully intricate setup with winding roads and elevated ramps that let each car soar.

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The Overdrive starter pack includes two cars -- Skull and Groundshock -- and you can buy additional vehicles for $50 apiece. Each car has special abilities; for example; Big Bang's armored exterior can send shockwaves that knock enemies off the course, while Thermo can set the track on fire and "burn up" other vehicles.

Of course, you won't be seeing any actual fire or explosions when you or your kids play with Overdrive. The game's car combat effects are software-based, meaning vehicles know when they've been "hit" by certain moves and will slow down accordingly.

As with the original Drive platform, you'll be able to control the cars via a free iOS or Android app, which allows you to steer the vehicles and deploy their unique superpowers. Battle and Race modes make a return from last year's set, and the new Time Trial and King of the Hill modes give you more ways to battle friends or AI-controlled vehicles.

I've gotten my hands on Anki's platform at previous events, and always found it to be a fun fusion of video game racing and old-school Hot Wheels-style chaos. Stay tuned for more impressions of Anki Overdrive as its September launch date draws nearer.

Mike Andronico is an Associate Editor at Tom's Guide. When he's not writing about games, PCs and iOS, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter. Follow Mike at @MikeAndronico. Follow us  @TomsGuide, on  Facebook and on Google+.