Toy making giant Mattel has been flirting with high tech for a number of years now, from 3D printers to hologram Barbies. The through line between many of their efforts is an attempt to marry the physical with the digital, in order to capture the interest of a generation weaned on smartphones and tablets. Back in December of last year, when the company invested in hardware startup (and 2013 Battlefield contestant) Osmo, it seemed clear it was looking to outside parties to help bring some of that innovation to its line.
The funding is paying off in a series of offerings that integrate Osmo’s internet of toys with a number of Mattel properties, starting with Hot Wheels, its beloved line of scale metal cars. MindRacers operates a lot like Amiibo, in that it uses a real world toy to unlock a digital counterpart on the screen of an iPad, entering it into a racing game.
Instead of a full Hot Wheels track, the set features two ramps leading to a tunnel under the iPad. When one of the six cars that ship with the set is launched, it gets a digital counterpart, firing up a race on a split screen. Actual control is pretty limited, though. Rather than maneuvering the cars, players get a series of boosting tokens. It’s a bit like power ups in Mario Kart (sorry, Nintendo on the mind today), propelling the car forward at strategic times.
It’s a fun attempt to breathe new life into a classic brand. And as Osmo CEO Pramod Sharma was quick to point out in an interview, the companies have made a concerted effort to make the toy gender neutral, with branding material that doesn’t favor boys over girls, unlike car toys of yore. Apparently this is the first Hot Wheels set with the words “For boys and girls" on the box, so that's something.
The gameplay seems a bit limited for the $79 price tag, though it’s $59 for those who already have an Osmo set. And the company will continue to work with Mattel to add more functionality to the base, so kids can get more bang for their interactive gaming buck.