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Scalextric Spark Plug
#11

A new version of the app was released today with the option of the original Spark Plug look or the DC Comics version to coincide with the release of the Batman vs Joker Spark Plug set...

       

Functionality should be the same - I will have to find time for a play to see if there are any improvements or tweaks to how the app works.
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#12

(19th-Feb-20, 09:37 AM)woodcote Wrote:  Scalextric's Spark Plug is a neat new gizmo that turns an Apple or Android smart device into a wireless controller. It looks like this...



It plugs into the controller socket on the current version of the basic Scalextric analogue powerbase - the ones using the chunky plastic rectangular plugs...



Spark Plug runs with the standard Scalextric analogue power supply (P9400) plugged into the base and a combination of Spark Plugs and standard analogue controllers can be used together.

When you plug in a Spark Plug and the power supply, nothing happens until you place a car on the track - the dongle recognises the car (the wheels spin if you hold the rear off the track) and the green LED on the dongle flashes...



It's then time to download (if you haven't already) and launch the Scalextric Spark Plug app - available free from the Apple App Store and Google Play. The smart device connects to the Spark Plug dongle via Bluetooth, so the minimum requirements are: Bluetooth v4.0 BLE, Andoid OS 5 (Lollipop) or Apple iOS 8.0. Launch the app and the green LED on the dongle will eventually go solid - and you are greeted on your device by a Spark Plug animation and then the main screen, where you can choose a character or set-up your own driver profile...



There are plenty of ways you can customise the app, all of them accessed via the main menu...



And there is one alternative 'skin'...



But the most important thing is how the Spark Plug works. This is the main screen in standard 'Single' player mode...



On the left is a throttle slider and on the right a brake button. The slider drops back down to zero if you lift your finger off it, the braking effect depends how long you press the button for. The picture on the left is with the car slowed slightly  with the brake - on the right it is slowed with the throttle. For those of us who have many decades of using a standard controller, it takes time and effort to get used to.

In fact, I've found it takes a completely different way of driving - instead of lifting off the throttle going into a corner, I dab the brakes (or step on them hard for a hairpin). It's not unlike using a race simulator or video racing game - and very similar to digital slot car racing using programmes like RCS64 with dynamic braking turned-off (which is how we race at WHO/digital). Essentially, it is left-foot braking a slot car using a smart device. Or it would be, if you change the screen round to the 'left-handed' setting, which - as a right-hander - I found slightly more intuitive...



It was time to do some testing against the clock...



This was made quite simple by the fact that Spark Plug works with the basic ARC One powerbase. The controller sockets are the right ones and the various Bluetooth connections did not interfere with each other. I set up the simple rug-racing track with the Scalextric Mini Cooper S cars (with magnets) that I use for public events (see here). I chose this set-up because it's how Spark Plug will be used by most people.

With a standard 'traditional' Scalextric controller I managed a pretty quick best lap time of 1.64 seconds. With the Spark Plug app on my 4-inch iPhone screen, I got down to 1.87 seconds, which wasn't bad. I then swapped devices and used Spark Plug with my 9.7-inch iPad - taking exactly a tenth of a second off my best on the phone - 1.77 seconds. Maybe it was because the controls were bigger?



At the bottom of the screen is a button with Max Speed on it. This opens up a menu to set the power from 10 to 100% - ideal for beginners learning how to race. And it also gives more 'sensitivity' across the throttle range - especially useful on a slower, technical circuit. The Max Speed menu can be accessed from the main menu or from the race screen, which is ideal. Another 'learning aid' that is due with the next update of the app is an in-game option that penalises crashes and rewards drivers who stay on the track. It's a great way of training new slot car racers while have lots of fun...



Speaking of fun, the two-player Versus mode provides some riotous enjoyment. Added to the race screen are Boost and Resistrict buttons. Each lasts ten seconds and then recharges more slowly (Restrict taking the longest). Boost increases your own speed significantly - quite alarmingly, in fact. Restrict reduces your opponent's speed to a crawl. Pushing Boost to counter-act Restrict does work, but you really must count down the ten seconds - otherwise the power surge after the Restrict ends will definitely put your car in the scenery!

If you car is off the track for a while (lost in the scenery) or you replace it on the wrong lane, Spark Plug will tell you...



Although there is no way I am about to hang up my traditional controllers (too many years of muscle memory invested in those), I did enjoy the challenge of getting to grips with Spark Plug and learning a new way of driving. I started on a simple-ish track - which was sensible - but having learned the basics, I would like to try Spark Plug on a bigger, more technical layout.

For younger and newer racers, I can see that Spark Plug will have enormous appeal. It certainly adds some pizazz to rug-racing and - with the Versus mode - a huge amount of fun. I also like the easy-to-use learning features.

Spark Plug Pros:
  • Fun
  • Family-oriented
  • Stylish
  • Simple to set-up
  • Realistic throttle-brake driving style
  • Right and left-handed format
  • Beginners' features
  • Compatible with all standard Scalextric analogue sets
  • Future functional and aesthetic updates - including DC Comics characters and 'skins'
  • Very good value
Spark Plug Cons:
  • Boost feature excessive
  • Engine sounds not loud enough
  • Brake sounds not loud enough
  • Rumble feature not available on most devices
  • Not everyone's cup of tea...
The RRP for one Spark Plug is £14.99. However, expect to see some discounts. If you don't have the powerbase and power supply, Jadlams have them cheap and there is this full package - 2 x Spark Plugs, power base + power supply - on pre-order for a ludicrously good price.

Great in depth review. 

Graham.
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