Lenovo and Disney have partnered to create Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, a Mixed Reality gaming set based on the Star Wars universe. We tested it at IFA in Germany, and again at CEATEC in Japan. With the retail unitprice drop to ~$150 and with a Last Jedi content update, it’s time to share our experience and opinion on this novel approach to gaming from Lenovo. Should you get one? Find out.
The challenge: become a (good) Jedi
The Star Wars: Jedi Challenges game has been created and tuned to provide an immersive experience as a Jedi knight. As such games have been tailored to use two known Jedi skills: Lightsaber sword mastery and Strategic abilities (Jedi knights often command troops in battles). Additionally, there is a Chess game that looks surprisingly similar to the original Star Wars movie. It has been a real kick to enjoy this, especially since the Rendering on this headset has a “holographic” feel. Here’s what the chess game looks like:
The games are simple and should please a casual gaming crowd, rather than cater to the more “serious gamers,” who might prefer the more more expensive PC VR experience.
This is my favorite game because I like the physical action of wielding the lightsaber and the action seems different, even though the attacks can be repetitive at times. The boss battles are the best of course, but you have to “earn” them through battling with Droids first.
The gaming principle is simple: you have to block incoming lightsaber attacks and attack when there is an opening. Here is in-game footage on the Subb YouTube channel, and you can see that the attacks are not always trivial to block and there can be a significant number of attack sequences possible. This is fun!
To set the expectations, it is fair to say that the tracking of the lightsaber’s orientation is not 100% perfect here. There may be anywhere between 0 and 20 degrees (or more) of deviation, depending on how you hold the physical controller. The app does make some assumption, and it is difficult to track just based on the internal motion sensor.
However, it is possible to re-center the lightsaber by double-pressing the action button on the controller. I do this every once in a while, and things get back to a normally that allows me to play. Although this is not a big deal from a gameplay’s perspective, it is essential to have proper expectations before buying. If you can try it at a retail location, that is even better.
In any case, I hope that more bosses and more moves will be added because this is by far the most entertaining thing – for me.
Commander’s view: Strategic Combat
The strategic combat is an entirely different gaming experience which puts you in command of troops. You see the battle from afar and to add/move units and help them accomplish a specific mission. It is more or less a fancy Star-Wars themed “tower defense” experience, which I also enjoyed.
Conceptually, you could be playing this game on a computer or tablet, but being able to see the battlefield in Mixed Reality makes a thing that much more exciting. There’s something really different when it comes to placing game elements using hand and arm motion, vs. computer mouse or touch action.
During the battle, you can look at things from different perspectives and get closer or farther by physically moving around. Here is in-game footage of the Strategic Combat action, from Joaquin Camacho:
Since the launch of Star Wars: Jedi Challenges at IFA 2018, the game has been updated a couple of times. As The Last Jedi movie was released in December 2017, Lenovo and Disney announced new content:
The planet Crait has been added to the game, bringing with it the AT-M6 armored walker and new opponents: the elite Praetorian Guards, Riot Control Stormtroopers, and the First Order Stormtrooper Executioner. All of this, along with the cute Porgs, hit the app store in January 2018.
With this track record, it seems reasonable to expect more updates in the future, but only time can tell.
Mixed Reality: overview
Unlike Virtual Reality with which you cannot see the real world, Mixed Reality or Augmented Reality (AR) has a translucent visor on which 3D graphics are projected. This means that the 3D objects appear as if they were holograms in your room.
I find that AR is usually a bit more comfortable to deal with than VR. You don’t need as much room, and it is unlikely that you will bump into something by accident since you can see everything around you. Of course, there’s always the possibility that a lightsaber swing might knock something off, so be safe.
Everything is provided in the box, and you only need to own a compatible phone (list below) in order to get started. Lenovo provides the Tracking beacon, the Lenovo Mirage AR headset (no phone) and phone adapters and of course… the Lightsaber controller. If you want to look at what’s inside the box, check this 9.5 minutes official video:
Setting up the hardware is not very difficult, but it is a bit cumbersome, especially if you use your main phone for this. Ideally, you could use a spare phone (see compatible list below), but let’s be realistic, few people have a 3d-gaming capable phone just “laying around”. Setup is basically split into two categories.
- Installing Jedi Challenges from the app store
- Pairing with the Lightsaber
- Calibrate the lightsaber
- Disable adaptive brightness
- Set Brightness to maximum
- Turn on Location services
- Turn on BT
- Adjust the speaker/headphones volume
- Put the phone into the headset sleeve
- Connect the phone to the headset
- Place beacon and turn it on
Depending on your usage, things like Location or BT might be always-on, but you get a gist of what it takes to play. In reality, it is just a minute or two but it’s not a straight turn-on and play. You can watch the movie below to see the setup workflow, or follow this PDF link for a more detailed version.
So far, the mixed reality games don’t require you to move around too much as part of the game play. This means that you do not need as much room as other VR gaming apparatuses such as the HTC Vive, which we reviewed previously. Of course, you can move, crouch etc if you want and the 3D content will be displayed accordingly, but these games tend to happen just in front of you.
Although the game works in normal daylight conditions, I recommend playing in a dimly lit room if you want to enjoy all the graphics detail. In a bright room, there will be some reflections that may distract a bit from the game.
Since the visor is transparent, you can see your (real) surroundings at all times, and it is extremely comfortable and easy when compared to a strictly VR headset.
Wearing the Lenovo Mirage AR headset
The headset is designed to be comfortable, and despite weighing almost the same (477g+phone) as PC VR headsets, I find it to be comfortable. I typically played for 30-40mn sessions. The adjustment system is based on simple elastics and velcro, but it works well and allows the price to stay relatively low. Here’s how to adjust the headset:
Compatible Phones (15)
At publication time, Star Wars Jedi Challenges was compatible with the following phones:
iPhone® X, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 7, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S7, Google Pixel XL, Google Pixel, Moto Z² Force Edition, LG G6.
It is possible that it would work on other phones that have the same dimensions and speed requirements, but we’ll assume that Lenovo has not certified more models for now, so you would be taking a chance if you picked something that is not in the list. To check if the list has been updated, go to the official page, and scroll down to the tech specs.
Conclusion: will make Star Wars fans happy
Lenovo/Disney’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is a winning Mixed Reality game+hardware combo. Given that it retails for ~$150 at the time of publishing, you could view it as a great Augmented Reality combo for your compatible smartphone (see list above)."A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE THAT IS NOT AVAILABLE IN ANY OTHER COMPARABLE FORM"
It’s true that you could get an Xbox One S for ~$60 more, and that this AR hardware works with only one game (which has a few sub-games in it), but it is evident that Star Wars fans are the real target audience, and so far the feedback from this group has been very good.
If you or your family are huge Star Wars fans, this is a unique experience that is not available in any other comparable form, within this price range. As such, I find it reasonable that there is a small premium for a novel experience.
There are a few things that could be improved. First, Lenovo and Disney should make sure that some level of control can be exerted on the phone, even if it is in the headset. For example, the Lightsaber controller could be used as a mouse just in case you need to close a dialog box. Also, recalibrating the Beacon should be easier as well.