These days, “gaming” would conjure up high-refresh rate monitor rigs, angular CPUs replete with cooling pipes within, and dizzying, pulsating colours running through clicky keyboards and perfectly sculpted mice. Reach Robotics challenges all those with the MekaMon: a robotic platform that overlays AR gameplay elements on your very own Android or iOS device.
VR Zone was sent a unit of the MekaMon Berserker in Black for review. You could check out our unboxing and first impressions in the video below.
Unboxing and First Impressions of the MekaMon
The MekaMon came in a cube-shaped box. Removing the cardboard sleeve and the lid, a rubber mat appears. It is used to calibrate the MekaMon app on your phone in order to ensure gameplay imagery are accurately projected over the robot. Underneath we find the MekaMon itself, a battery pack, four leg shields for each leg, two dummy gun turrets, the charger and the quick start guide.
The MekaMon and its components are (understandably) made out of plastic; quality felt solid with no rattling or loose parts when shaken. The Mekamon features four ‘legs’ that articulate at two joints each. A rubberized tip provides some traction for use on marble or tiled flooring. A blue sensor array sits atop the MekaMon Berserker, allowing for AR calibration and projection of graphics via Android or iDevice. A shiny black square can be observed on each one of its ‘faces’ – the front, rear, and either side. These probably house additional sensors of sorts.
The smartphone I used was the XiaoMi Mi Mix 2, which is an Android device running Android 7.1.1. Nougat. The MekaMon app downloaded easily and I quickly connected to the MekaMon via Bluetooth. However, after being prompted to update the MekaMon’s firmware, it proceeded to take the better part of half an hour to do so, even with the phone unused and placed next to the robot. That took some wind out from my sails, but every AR robot needs an update sometime.
The battery was thankfully pre-charged and held up to the update and some casual use. It charged via a proprietary port on the battery as opposed to a regular USB connection.
However, after the update had completed, the interface was intuitive and easy to operate. I quickly manoeuvred through the quick-start guide, entranced as the Mekamon went through set routines, wriggling and dancing on the spot like a real spider/crab would. I was hooked instantly.
Operation and Gameplay
Worth note is the Mekamon’s larger-than-life personality. Apart from the occasional unsolicited wiggles, the Mekamon has a whole variety of life-like motion, made possible with its doubly-articulated legs.
The Mekamon can be operated in motion mode, which allows you to operate the robot from your smartphone via Bluetooth like any remote-controlled device. With your smartphone as an interface, Reach Robotics could squeeze in a plethora of controls and modifiers. Apart from controlling direction and speed, I was also able to control how high the legs extended, the gait and cant angles. With a flurry of mechanical whirrs as the Mekamon hurried around the carpeted office, this function alone got me occupied as I harassed colleagues and visitors alike.
However, the main draw of the Mekamon was its AR features. These features, however, were concentrated mostly on your phone. Singleplayer and multiplayer modes heavily rely on your phone’s camera to show you in-game mechanics like attacks, obstacles and other animations. You can even upgrade your Mekamon, which piles on AR magic atop your physical bot.
I could only try out the singleplayer mode since only one unit was sent. I attempted to skive away on the chair but found myself unable to keep up with the on-screen action without getting off the seat. The AR antagonists crept in from the edges of my screen, guns blazing. As I manoeuvred my bot around to face the guns the right way, its spindly legs got constantly entangled with the Mekamon mat.
Alignment issues were also curbed my enjoyment sometimes, requiring me to pause, pick up the robot and place it on the centre of the mat for the app to calibrate my camera with the markers atop it.
I suspect multiplayer gameplay would be much more enjoyable, but a USD600 investment really isn’t for everyone.
Pricing and Availability
Coming in at USD300 (SGD400), the Mekamon isn’t remotely cheap. I found the gameplay to be enjoyable, though there was a steep learning curve to it. I suspect kids might find it easier to digest, since they’ve got plenty of woe-free, responsibility-free mental capacity.
The Mekamon robot and app are very well implemented, delivering a cohesive and immersive gameplay experience. In a family or group setting, it might be prudent to include an in-app casting service so everyone gets a piece of the action. Otherwise, it would just look like two robots mashing legs together for no reason.
The Mekamon is available for purchase online.