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Galaxy Zega: Our first take

We waged war on the living room floor with the Galaxy Zega battle tanks

You may remember Battlezone from the eighties arcade, or perhaps you know it from its recent virtual reality incarnation on PSVR? It’s a fast-paced 3D blaster that puts you in the driving seat of a tank. Galaxy Zega is like a physical version of the game, with wee palm-sized tanks that you control using your Android or iPhone.

It’s not easy to create physical toys that can compete with the lure of the gaming console or tablet, but the Galaxy Zega succeeds. It takes classic video game mechanics and puts them in a battle arena on your living room floor. Two smartphone-controlled tanks go head-to-head on a configurable battlefield that’s complete with power-up squares. It’s terrific fun for the whole family.

A great design that’ll make you want to do battle

This interactive toy comes from Chinese manufacturer SmartX, and it has been thoughtfully designed. We received the Starter Kit for $150, which includes two tanks called Zegas and a battlefield, along with a pair of X-bases, which are $30 each.

The Zegas we got were Leo and Gondar. Each comes with a sheet of stickers, so you can customize them to your liking. They also have neat charging pods, where you can plug them in for recharging.

The basic battlefield consists of 12 square tiles that can be easily snapped together magnetically to form the layout you want. There are some suggestions in the box, but it’s very easy to create your own layouts should you want to. There were also more stickers to customize the tiles and a set of dividers to form walls for your battle arena.

It’s easy to build your arena. The modular design is great and the magnets ensure that even young children will have no difficulty slotting the tiles together. There are openings at every corner of each tile for the walls. Connectors slot into the top to make your battlefield secure. There’s also a swiveling center piece that makes a rotating wall. It does take up quite a bit of floor space, because tiles are about 9.5 inches across, but it’s mercifully quick and easy to clear away when you’re done.

More: The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

To add some spice, the X-bases can replace the removable center square of any tile. More on them in a moment.

Setting up your smartphone

Before your Zegas can do battle, you’ll need to download the Galaxy Zega app, available for Android or iOS. Install the app, start it up, and then pair with your chosen Zega. You’ll need a phone or tablet for each tank and it’s as simple as tapping the Connect button and holding the device next to your tank – it pairs via Bluetooth.

For the X-bases, just turn them on and hold your Zega-paired smartphone close, and they’ll connect, too. We didn’t have any issues connecting our Zegas or X-bases on Android using a Galaxy Note 5 and a Galaxy S7 Edge.

The app runs through a short tutorial, but the controls are simple. There are arrows for forward and back and arrows to rotate right or left. There’s also a big fire button. That’s all you need to know.

Multiplayer madness

Galaxy Zega is all about multiplayer fun and you’ll find two modes in the app. You can choose Survival mode or Flag mode. One player will act as host and set up the game, just like in a videogame, and then the other player can join.

In Survival mode, you hunt each other down and the first to run out of lives is the loser. Each Zega has five lights on the top that indicate remaining lives. Point the front of your Zega at your opponent and fire, and you’ll see the circle on the front light up. If you hit your target, it will spin and a life will blink out. Your weapon takes a few seconds to recharge before you can use it again. Rinse and repeat until one of you is dead. You can choose the number of kills required for victory during the setup.

Galaxy Zega
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

If you have X-bases, then they can act as power-up squares in Survival mode. We set up two and one of them offered an extra life every minute or so, while the other offered a weapon. They light up to show when the power-up is available and you just have to drive over the top to get it. You can set the cool-down time and the effect of the X-base during setup.

In Flag mode, the X-bases serve as flags and you have to steal your opponent’s flag before they can get yours. Once again, you can set the number of rounds you want to go during the setup. You can also still shoot each other during Flag mode.

We had a lot fun playing with these tanks, and we’re sure you will too.

We enjoyed both modes, but the Survival mode was the most popular with the kids. Struggling to snatch the power up and avoid getting shot is tense and fun. There was a lot of laughing. In its best moments, Galaxy Zega feels a bit like Mario Kart, but that does also mean there are occasional meltdowns for sore losers.

You don’t have to stick to the battle arena, but it’s a good way to ensure a fast-paced battle. Your smartphone-controlled tanks can be driven anywhere, though they work best on hard surfaces. Beware, because the tracks can get clogged if you venture onto carpet.

For the most part, the tanks work well. The only other problem we had was the occasional collision flipping a tank onto its back. You’ll have to go hands on to flip it back over.

Galaxy Zega
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The basic 12-tile battlefield is quite limited and there aren’t that many different layouts you can build, but we had a lot of fun with it. You may want to invest in the expansion. You can get an extra 15 tiles with walls for $100, which would give you a huge playing area.

Upgrading your tank

The Galaxy Zega app offers a lot of enticements to return. You can earn coins just for logging in, like a freemium game. You also get points for wins and there are badges to unlock and leaderboards to compete on.

It’s not easy to create physical toys that can compete with the lure of the gaming console or tablet, but the Galaxy Zega succeeds.

The fact that the tanks have different names isn’t incidental. They also have different strengths and weaknesses that you can develop. You can upgrade your tanks with new powers and skills. There are around 30 different upgrades that will boost your attack or defense credentials, enabling you to activate invincibility for a short time, or launch an attack that leaves your opponent spinning helplessly. They add more replay value and a major incentive to develop skills and win.

It’s also possible to shortcut your progress by buying currency via in-app purchases, but where’s the fun in that? Thankfully, it’s easy to ignore and not something you need to bother with.

Battery life

You get a decent amount of play time from a fully-charged Zega – somewhere around two and half or three hours. They take around an hour and half to charge up.

We haven’t needed to recharge the X-bases yet, but they have Micro USB ports, just like the charging pods for the Zegas. You get a dual Y cable and a USB wall charger in the Starter kit.

Warranty information

You can return the Galaxy Zega unused within 30 days for a full refund. There is also an exchange program for defective or damaged items, but you must ship your Galaxy Zega to China, which could prove pricey.

Conclusion

We try a lot of high-tech toys, but we had tons of fun with the Galaxy Zega battle tanks. It’s the best smartphone-controlled battle game we’ve played yet.

Is there a better alternative?

There’s nothing quite like the Galaxy Zega on the market, but it does have quite a lot in common with Anki’s smartphone-controlled race car game. Anki Overdrive is firmly focused on racing, though it does have a battle mode.

Galaxy Zega is slower, as you might expect from a game featuring battle tanks, and you’re not confined to the track, like you are with Anki. However, there’s no AI option with Galaxy Zega, so you’ll always need a friend to play with.

If you had to choose between the two, and you have no preference between track based racing or arena battling, then Anki probably edges out the win, not least because it’s starting to come down in price a bit. But there’s no better battle tank game out there than Galaxy Zega, and the ability to go off-road adds a whole new dimension. Galaxy Zega is a more versatile toy.

How long will it last?

The design of Galaxy Zega is solid. It feels like a durable product. It’s easy to pack back into the box and there are no fiddly bits that look likely to break. You can upgrade it with a larger battlefield or create your own battlefields and hazards. You can even add another pair of tanks for two-vs-two multiplayer battles.

Our testers, aged four and seven, loved it, and have chosen Galaxy Zega over the TV and PS4 a couple of times since we got it. The initial signs are good, but it’s hard to know whether it will hold their interest in the long term.

We would like to see SmartX continue to add new modes and features. Galaxy Zega has reportedly been selling well in Asian Apple Stores, so we’d expect it to be supported for the foreseeable future. The only slight worry we have is the fact that you may have to ship to China if you have a problem.

Should you buy it?

If you’re looking for an interactive toy that will get your kids off the couch and encourage them to stare intently at something other than a screen for a while, then buy Galaxy Zega. We had a lot fun playing with these tanks and we’re sure you will too.

Highs

  • Easy to setup
  • Versatile toy
  • Great gameplay
  • Family fun

Lows

  • Requires phones to play
  • Returns policy is tricky