While duking it out in an AR version of Asteroids has its charms, where MekaMon really shines is when you pit two of the robots in a head-to-head battle in the real world. One player sets up a battle on her device that the other player joins, with the system keeping track of both robot's damage levels and other stats. You can set up a battle arena with obstacles that the robots have to climb over or barriers they can hide behind. In my testing, the robots really excelled at making it over various piles of books and squatting to fit behind a wooden box.
Instead of relying on brute force, MekaMon robots use virtual projectiles represented by plastic guns you snap onto its torso. These become attacks you can access in the app, with their mechanics heavily inspired by those of collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering or Pokémon. Over time you can assemble a collection of different packages of attacks and defenses, choosing which "deck" you want to equip at the start of each battle.
You can fire virtual missiles or send out EMPs. However, you can't just spam the button for a never-ending stream of fire; the robot can "overheat" and shut down for a short period of time, leaving it vulnerable.
The attacks are detected via infrared sensors, like the Laser Tag matches of your youth. And just like your childhood friends, the MekaMon dials up the drama, recoiling when hit and collapsing in defeat when its energy is depleted. These reactions make each battle feel a little more visceral, which is important when there's no actual physical contact involved.
Even though they're designed to avoid actually hitting each other, each MekaMon can take quite a beating. The body is made of durable plastic and should survive some abuse at the hands of children or jealous pets. I even accidentally steered one off a table, but it landed on its feet and continued on its way with no problems. If parts came off they could have easily be popped back on or replaced completely: Each MekaMon is intended to be modded for that extra-personal touch.
The MekaMon might have been designed for battle, but its insect-esque legs and programming tics also have the effect of making it feel more organic and familiar. Other robots like the Cozmo use an expressive face or cute voice to generate empathy, but all the spider-like MekaMon needs is a crab-like shuffle and some hilariously overdramatic death poses.