If we've learned one thing from Michael Bay movies, having robots battle it out with laser blasts and rocket attacks can be thrilling, but also quite messy to clean up after one automaton finally bests the other. MekaMon looks to recreate the excitement or robot combat by moving the battlefield to virtual reality.
MekaMon is a four-legged robot that, with the help of a companion app for your Android or iOS device, takes on either virtual enemies or battles other MekaMon robots. While the MekaMon scuttles about the floor of your house, all the action unfolds on your smartphone screen, as the physical toy merges with an augmented world.
This isn't an inexpensive toy. MekaMon goes on sale today (Nov. 17) for $329. You can buy a two-pack of MekaMons — all the better for staging those robot-on-robot combat sessions — for $599. MekaMon will ship in January.
I had a chance to see MekaMon in action, as Silas Adekunle, CEO and cofounder of MekaMon creator Reach Robotics, gave me a tutorial on how the robots move, fight and react to victory or defeat. Weighing in at 2.2 pounds, the MekaMon arrives fully assembled, looking a lot like a futuristic spider (with four fewer legs) or a crab that's trade in its claws for lasers.
MekaMon's app not only allows you to control your robot — more on that in a moment — but it also offers two gaming modes. In single-player mode, you battle virtual aliens that sort of look like snails designed by fan of brutalist architecture. Creating the augmented world that appears on your phone's screen requires a special gaming mat. (Air Hogs uses a similar approach with its Mission Drone toy that combines the real world with the augmented one.)
In the other gaming mode — battle mode — there's no mat required. Instead, you just pit one MekaMon against the other, using the smartphone controls to fire and dodge virtual lasers and rockets. You can equip your MekaMon with snap-on accessories that change its offensive and defensive tactics — those add-ons are also available on the MekaMon website.
It's the way the MekaMons moved that impressed most, with the toys shifting pretty easily between stiff robotic moves and organic movement that made it look like they were crawling along the floor. In our demo, Adekunle pointed out a number of nice touches incorporated into the robots: When the MekaMon takes a hit, for example, it will shudder from the impact in the direction that the virtual blast came from. When your MekaMon goes down to defeat, it collapses, spread-eagled; when it win, it does a victory dance.
There's also a lot of potential for the MekaMon platform to grow, Adekunle says. For example, the legs of each robot are easy to pop off; further down the road Reach Robotics could sell add-ons like wheels to further let you customize your robot. Adekunle and I also talked about the potential of adding remote battles down the line.
For now, though, MekaMon is an engaging — if expensive — way to combine the real and augmented worlds when you play, particularly if you've always dreamed of being a robot fight-master.