In the past we've always been a bit dubious about expensive toys that boast that you need an expensive phone to run them - rightly so as well, since more often than not they've been underwhelming. But things have changed in the last couple of years, and the Mekamon Robot V2 feels like it's the first mobile-connected robo-toy that might actually be worth smashing some cash down on.
It's not just that the technology in the spider-like robot has got better - your phone now also allows you to do more than ever before. The rise of AR in particular makes the Mekamon an incredibly interesting prospect - build worlds for your robot to skitter about in, then wander around them yourself to get the best possible view of the action.
And there's plenty of action here - even more so if you've got a couple of the robots and a friend or two round. There are sticking points though, and the main one is definitely the price. Don't get me wrong, this is an incredibly well put together little machine, and it feels like it's going to last a long time - it's just that for some it's going to be a little on the pricey side.
Hi mister robotAfter a little bit of assembly - basically pushing a few bits of extra plastic in the chunky plastic body and legs of your new robotic friend - you're ready to go. There's a decent tutorial that explains a lot of what you're going to need to enjoy the experience - but if you're a gamer you're going to have a decent handle on it all already.
Essentially the game part plays out like a twin-stick shooter. You've got a joystick on your phone that moves your Mekamon forwards and backwards and side to side, and one that lets you change the direction the critter is facing. Taps let you fire the weapons that your phone thinks you've got equipped.
Every step of the way you're going to be seeing some incredible attention to detail - turn on and connect to your Mekamon for the first time and it'll give you an excited little wave. You can program your own gestures with a slick bit of the app as well, letting you give your robot a personality of its own.
The problem with toys like this one is that often, after that initial thrill of having a shiny new piece of electronics has worn off, there's not actually that much to do. But that's certainly not the case with the Mekamon.
There are a bunch of different game modes for you to try - from standard one on one deathmatches (either with AI controlled, AR robots, or against other players with real-life, same-room Mekamon), to a super interesting variation on asteroids, called Meteoroids. They might not be the freshest gaming experiences out there, but adding in the sinister real-life mech that's stomping around in the floor makes them far more exciting.
The Mekamon itself feels like it can take a decent bit of punishment. You're not going to want to throw it around, but the regular wear and tear of use shouldn't be too much of a problem. The weapons and shields that you slot into it feel sturdy, and once you've clicked them in there's no wobble.
That build quality comes at a price though - about £250. To be honest though it's hard to feel short-changed. The Mekamon is by far the classiest consumer fighting robot we've seen, and the phone controls work pretty spectacularly. You're going to want a decent amount of clear floor space to play, but there's almost certainly going to be enough in your living room to get a decent game going.
Shoot themEverything here has an extra layer of detail - when your Mekamon fires its guns it goes through a different animation to when it fires its rockets. You can even set up a gesture to play dead, fooling your opponents into thinking you're out of the game. There are a few things missing though.
Right now there isn't any progression, although that's something that's on the way in an upcoming build. Parts of Mekamon are still works in progress, there's no denying that, but the base experience that you get straight out of the box is going to be more than enough to convince anyone that there's a boatload of potential in this robo's clacking little limbs.
Which brings us to that price point. I understand why the Mekamon is so expensive - it's an incredibly sophisticated piece of kit, and the signs point to it only getting better as more functionality is added - but when it costs the same as a Switch console, I know there are going to be some difficult purchasing decisions made over it. Or, in other words, a Mekamon is for life, not just for Christmas.
It'll be super interesting to see how well the Mekamon Robot V2 does. It feels like it could be the robot that shows just how impressive simple consumer robotics can be - and the addition of the slick phone controls and customisation options are going to set it above any other little mechs that come with their own controllers.
For our money it's a little on the expensive side right now, but if you've got a bunch of money burning a hole in your bank account, you could do a lot worse than spending it on this oddly charming, sometimes frightening, but always fun little chap-bot.