There’s been an interesting market developing over the past few years for iPhone-controlled toys, beginning with Parrot’s original AR.Drone in 2010 and moving on through a series of smaller drones, battle tanks, rovers, rolling balls, and more. While each of these have had their own merits, most of the toys we’ve seen in this category have generally been simple remote control devices with open-ended play and no specific “gaming” element behind them. This makes Galaxy ZEGA, a new entry into the market from Chinese startup SmartX, all the more interesting, as the company has gone quite a ways beyond the simple RC model into creating an interactive game that mixes real-world play with a more typical gaming experience, extending on-device gaming into the real world. It’s currently available for pre-order and should be available soon — it was released in China in 2015.
Galaxy ZEGA more appropriately describes an entire gaming lineup and iOS app, rather than any single specific product. SmartX sells a Galaxy ZEGA Starter Kit, containing everything you need to get going, but other individual elements can be purchased separately to add more players or expand the gaming experience. The Starter Kit sells for $150 and includes two tanks — called ZEGAs — and a single battlefield, which consists of 12 magnetically connecting base tiles, sixteen walls, connecting pieces to put it all together, along with stickers for the ZEGAs and the battlefield. There are four unique ZEGAs in total — additional ZEGAs can be purchased in pairs for $100. Additional battlefields are also $100, allowing you to expand your playing area further. SmartX also sells X-base accessories separately for $30, which allow for enhanced gameplay. For our review, we received the Galaxy ZEGA Starter Kit along with two of the X-bases.
A guide in the package illustrates some recommended battlefield configurations, but really, you can lay out the tiles in any manner that appeals to you. Magnets on the edge of each tile allow them to link together with minimal effort, and the wall pieces include pegs that push down into holes in the tiles. Pieces are also included to link adjacent walls together for support, and an additional connector allows two walls to be placed onto the battlefield in a rotating configuration. Stickers can be placed in the center of the battlefield tiles for decoration or to setup your own gameplay rules, and the center of each tile is removable so that you can easily swap stickers around without having to reconfigure the entire battlefield. The center piece is also removed when using a X-base in a tile area.
The ZEGA tanks come with charging cases, and a USB power adapter and Y cable provides the ability to charge both ZEGAs at the same time. While the X-bases don’t come with any charging adapters, they recharge over USB as well, and the ZEGA charging cable can be used to charge the X-bases when the ZEGAs aren’t being charged. A set of stickers is also included for decorating the ZEGAs. Each ZEGA provides an impressive 2.5 hours of gameplay after a 1.5 hour recharge.
It’s worth noting that the battlefield isn’t strictly required for basic gameplay, although it’s definitely a nice element. The ZEGAs can be used on just about any surface, and getting going is really just a matter of installing the Galaxy ZEGA app from the App Store, signing up for an account, and then tapping the “Connect” button to pair with one of your ZEGAs. A tutorial will then launch to familiarize you with the controls, but it’s really pretty straightforward, presenting on-screen forward, back left, and right buttons for moving and turning. Additional buttons provide the ability to fire at another ZEGA or take advantage of special abilities during game play.
While you can use your iPhone to just motor around with one ZEGA, the real fun of the game lies in its multiplayer aspects — likely the reason why ZEGAs are sold in pairs. Get a friend of family member with a second iOS device to pair up with the other ZEGA — even an iPod touch can be used — and you’re ready to play head-to-head. Basic “Survival Mode” gameplay involves chasing each other around and trying to score hits on the other player; a bright LED at the front is used to emit light that is detected by both the app and the opposing ZEGA in order to score a “hit,” at which point the other ZEGA will spin for a second or two and lose some “health.” Indicators in the app and LEDs on the top of the ZEGA indicate how much health is remaining, and generally five hits on a single ZEGA results in a “kill.” Multiplayer games can be set up to determine wins based on either reaching a certain score, or games can run for a fixed time with the player with the highest score winning at the end.
In addition to Survival Mode, a “Capture The Flag” game mode is also available when using the X-bases, which can be used with the battlefield or as standalone elements within your own playing area. The X-bases pair to the Galaxy ZEGA app over Bluetooth in the same manner as the ZEGAs themselves, and both the ZEGAs and the X-bases will illuminate with unique colors for each player or team. Players score points by “capturing the flag” when driving onto the X-base of their opposing team’s color, at which point the colors reverse positions, requiring players to race back to the opposite ends of the playing field for their second flag capture. Like Survival Mode games, Capture the Flag games can be played to a set number of points, or played with a set time limit. The X-bases can also be used for Survival Mode games as bases to power up weapons or recharge health. Additional ZEGAs can also be added for team play in either mode.
Galaxy ZEGAs basic gameplay is fun just as it is, but SmartX actually has another cool trick up its sleeve that adds an extra dimension to the experience. Each ZEGA has a unique name and personality, along with abilities and skill sets specific to that ZEGA. Abilities can be increased by spending in-game currency that is discovered or won in battle, allowing increased attack and defence specs, and even increased speed — presumably the ZEGAs don’t actually run at the top limit of their speeds until the appropriate upgrades have been purchased. In addition, up to 30 more “skills” can be acquired and added as you advance through the game — again unique to each ZEGA — and can then be used in battle to affect your opponents in various ways. For example, a “Magnetic Grasp” attack by Gondar will make an opponent experience reduced speed for three seconds, while Leo can use a “Top Speed” skill that gives them a temporary boost to maximum acceleration. Skills can also be upgraded for more power, and players must pick and choose which available skills to use in their “skill slots” for each mission. It’s a really neat idea that takes physical remote control toys beyond what they’ve traditionally been capable of, putting them into the same type of gaming experience as entirely virtual world games.
Galaxy ZEGA is a really impressive game system. It works flawlessly, is a lot of fun to play, and provides impressive battery life and features, and we really liked the way it blends real and virtual worlds to bring a “full gaming experience” to physical remote control toys. That said, depending on how sophisticated you want to get, it doesn’t come cheap. The $150 Starter Kit will give you the basic “Survival Mode” experience, but we’d strongly recommend picking up a pair of X-bases to get the full experience of being able to play “Capture the Flag” and use the X-bases for powerups in Survival Mode — the X-bases add a lot to the game experience, but of course, also add to the price. Basically, you’re going to be looking at $210 for a fully loaded system, and then it can go even beyond that if you want to add another pair of ZEGAs for four-player gameplay, and possibly another battlefield; while it’s not strictly necessary, we could see this system easily running in the $400-$500 range for a complete four-player solution with multiple battlefields to give you enough room to maneuver. Of course, on the opposite extreme, a single pair of ZEGAs costs $100 and can be used on your own playing field for simple shoot-em-up battles, so it’s ultimately all about how seriously you want to get into it. That said, it’s a neat system and a good way to get kids in a smartphone gaming era off the couch and engaging with real-world toys.
Company and Price
Model: Galaxy ZEGA Starter Kit