I have fond memories of playing Desert Strike from Electronic Arts on my Sega Genesis (also released on a billion other platforms) growing up. The game was fascinating to me because unlike similar sidescrolling or top-down scrolling shooters, such as the classic arcade game 1942 for example, Desert Strike actually had large levels for you to fly around and explore. The background wasn’t just scrolling on a loop with enemies randomly popping up. This felt like a revelation in game design at the time.
While I caution myself not to make such lofty comparisons for a drone-based AR game like Air Hogs Connect: AR Mission Drone, that’s the feeling it brought back for me. Except this time instead of flying across vast lands on my Sega Genesis, a digital world of limitless potential was being displayed on top of my actual living room through the use of augmented reality.
This product features such a specific and surprising combinations of technology that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything even remotely comparable. On the one hand, you’re just flying a drone around. It’s tiny, it doesn’t have great range, and it requires a mobile device such as your phone or tablet to control. But in order for it to work, you’ve got to lay out this map that your phone’s camera tracks. Furthermore, it utilizes this map to portray a detailed game world that your drone flies around both inside the digital world and in the physical world. It’s a bizarre, albeit impressive, convergence of ideas.
The Air Hogs Mission Drone feels like something ripped out of a sci-fi children’s Saturday morning cartoon due to the fact that it actually works. Some of the tracking can be finicky and I drifted outside of the play space a few times, but I found I could fly farther and higher than I expected in most cases with little issue.
The missions are relatively basic, involving flying around putting out fires in a city, saving people, vanquishing evil aliens, and other similar do-gooder tasks. There’s nothing revolutionary here from a gameplay perspective, but the clever hook and combination of features is what makes it so interesting. You’ll need a lot of room around the mat because the missions will get you up and moving to gain a better vantage point of the areas and objectives.
Luckily, there is plenty of content to play through and the potential for even more to be added over time, so this is far from something you can master in one or two sessions then never pick up again. While the app runs fine on handheld smartphones, it’s really best played using an iPad or comparable Android tablet. The quality and effort put into the visuals — particularly the menu interfaces — really shines with a larger screen.
The tutorial does a great job of walking you through the basics of how to control the drone and what the various mission types may be. While it does get a bit repetitive over time, there is certainly a good foundation here for what could become an impressive platform for toys to come to new life with the power of AR. Luckily, no batteries are needed since your drone charges up using the included USB wire, but the ~10 minute or so battery life did feel a bit short at times.
Final Verdict: Recommended
The Air Hogs Connect: AR Mission Drone is an impressive combination of technologies that feels like it may be slightly ahead of its time. The drone controls aren’t precise, but get the job done, and the reliance on a tracking mat as well as dedicated mobile device limits the usability of an otherwise fun and intriguing way to play with a drone. While I’d love a longer battery life, the built-in games and active flying missions will get you moving around the room in a way few games can, making this a fun experience, especially for fans of drones and AR technology.
You can purchase the Air Hogs Connect: AR Mission Drone from Amazon for $149.99, or in select retailers. It requires the installation of a free app that can be found on either the iOS App Store or Google Play Store for Android. Make sure you try out the app and test your device compatibility before dropping that much money on the full set.