Star Wars: Jedi Challenges review: The must-have gift for the Star Wars-obsessed
Any Star Wars fan who says they haven’t dreamed of being a Jedi or Sith is lying to you. Flat out lying. Being able to wield a lightsaber has such a strong allure it’s become a sport in its own right. Aside from buying one of those big expensive real-effects lightsabers, though, there’s never really been a way to realise that dream – until now.
Thanks to a partnership between Disney and Lenovo, Lenovo has released Star Wars: Jedi Challenges. This is no simple game, however, it’s a complete be-your-own-Jedi kit that comes with Lenovo’s ingenious Mirage augmented-reality headset and replica lightsaber. It may seem ridiculous at first, but for any avid Star Wars fan, it’s a dream come true.
With anything like this, there’s always the danger that it winds up being little more than a child’s plaything. But, rest assured, there’s an awful lot more to Lenovo’s £250 Star Wars: Jedi Challenges than meets the eye and it’s likely this will be one of the hottest gifts this Christmas.[gallery:1]
Star Wars: Jedi Challenges review: Hardware specs
Lenovo’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges bundle is so much more than just a toy; it’s a technical marvel. It takes some incredibly simple technologies and combines them to make a device that works incredibly well, even though it really shouldn’t.
Lenovo’s Mirage AR headset makes up the bulk of the Star Wars: Jedi Challenges bundle, (and before I go any further, it’s worth noting this isn’t the same as its Windows mixed-reality headset, the Lenovo Explorer). As headsets go, it’s rather chunky and plasticky but it’s meant to be. It’s made to be worn comfortably and to survive bumps and scrapes. Its front is a huge piece of curved plastic, allowing you to look through and see your environment clearly around you, and there’s plenty of ventilation so it feels less claustrophobic and uncomfortable than the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. It’s on par with the PlayStation VR, but isn’t as heavy on the head.
What makes the Mirage headset so interesting isn’t its design, it’s the technology that makes it work. As Star Wars: Jedi Challenges runs solely on a mobile app, Mirage only requires the addition of a compatible smartphone to work. The headset’s twin fish-eye inside-out tracking cameras work out spacial positioning by tracking the lightsaber’s blue tip and a node light you drop on the floor in front of you. Your phone does all the processing and handles motion via its gyroscope and it’s amazing how well it works.
The way it creates an AR “mixed reality image”, combining the real-world environment around you with images created by your phone is even more clever. Again, there’s no wizardry involved, it’s just simple physics but it’s surprising just how well it all comes together.
The headset uses your phone’s display and a two-way mirror to reflect an image onto two transparent lenses placed in front of your eyes. This gives the illusion of a projected image floating in mid-air, and it looks fantastic, particularly in this context. With Jedi Challenges, Lenovo has played to the Mirage’s strengths, making the projections look like holograms from Star Wars, meaning it doesn’t really matter that image is slightly washed out, nor that image quality and brightness will change depending on the phone you’re using to play with and the environment you’re playing in.
The lightsaber, which is included in the package, is also meticulously put together. Its fingerprint-prone chrome finish is gorgeous and, while it’s a little light, it feels sturdy enough to survive the odd battle or two. When Lenovo and Disney announced Star Wars: Jedi Challenges they said the lightsaber would be of collector-grade quality and I have to say it does look and feel like that’s the case.[gallery:2]
Star Wars: Jedi Challenges review: Gameplay
The real joy of Star Wars: Jedi Challenges comes from actually playing with the thing. Sliding headset over your head and seeing all the challenges unfurl from a mechanical box on the floor in front of you is amazing. You quickly forget it’s just your phone running the whole experience as you see your lightsaber’s blue blade erupt from its hilt right before your eyes.
Taking on Sith in Jedi battles really does feel tense, watching their holograms dance around you in your living room. The basic controls are relatively straightforward, with on-screen prompts helping you line up where you need to block incoming blows and highlighting opportunities to strike. This isn’t frantic slashing; it’s the art of a Jedi battle, and it’s exhilarating even if you’re really just waving a plastic lightsaber around in an empty room.
Star Wars: Jedi Challenges won’t let you dive right into facing off against a Sith Lord, that would be foolhardy. Before you can go up against the likes of Darth Maul or Vader himself, you need to take on two combat trials against increasingly difficult foes. These trials usually take the form of waves of enemies approaching your position. You can employ your lightsaber to deflect bullet fire (this is very, very satisfying) and make use of The Force to throw enemies around your virtual battlefield.
If you’d like a slower pace of play there’s an interesting Strategic Combat mode to delve into. Here you lead an army of rebel forces in a bid to crush the Empire in RTS-style play. Think of it as a mix of tower defence and a watered-down Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.
Finally, there’s an even more relaxed mode to get to grips with: Holochess. It’s wonderful fun, if not accidentally impossibly hard if you’re not very good at tabletop strategy games, and an interesting take on an AR game, although I’m not convinced by its the control method. To pick and move pieces, you use the lightsaber a bit like a wand.
If these three different game variants sound a bit short on depth, don’t worry too much because there’s loads to do. Star Wars: Jedi Challenges takes place across five planets and one final level at the galaxy’s core. Each planet ups the difficulty of the games contained within and each planet also contains three levels in each of the three modes to complete. Doing the maths reveals that you’re left with 54 levels to work your way through if you want to totally complete everything.[gallery:4]
Thankfully, Star Wars Jedi Challenges doesn’t punish you if you don’t fancy playing any Holochess or Strategic Combat. If all you want to do is work your way through lightsaber battles, you can do just that.
Star Wars: Jedi Challenges review: Verdict
Now comes the tough question, is it worth it? It’s undeniable that Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is a lot of fun, but asking £250 for the privilege is a bit much. If Disney and Lenovo had managed to bring the price down to £100, or even £150, it would be a definitive yes without hesitation. As it is, £250 is quite the leap of faith for a product that – so far – is geared towards just one game.
If Lenovo can work with other partners, or Disney once more, to create new experiences using the Mirage AR headset, it will be a different matter. I hope that will be the case, especially if they can think of other uses for the lightsaber, too. For £250, Lenovo has built the best AR headset I’ve ever used. Its field of vision is fantastic, it’s incredibly lightweight and it works perfectly as an entertainment tool. Heck, I could even see it working well as an educational tool given the right applications.
Despite my concerns with its price, it’s obvious that many Star Wars fans will pay up, simply for the opportunity to be a Jedi. But if you’re simply curious about AR, I’d advise waiting until Lenovo or Disney make it clear they’re going to support the Mirage AR headset with more titles.