Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges Review
An Expensive First Step into Augmented Reality
The tides are turning. Over the last few years, the technology industry sung with praises and predictions on virtual reality. The past year, however, tides have begun to shift. While VR remains prohibitively expensive and still wanting in the kind of experiences gamers crave, Augmented Reality is becoming the head-mounted hope for mainstream saturation.
Today, we’re taking a look at one of the first major consumer AR products with Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges. The set marries exciting technology with exciting IP, but is it enough to justify the $199 MSRP?
MSRP: $199.99 ($169.99 on Amazon as of this writing)
- Dimensions: 315.5mm x 47.2mm
- Weight: 275g
- Buttons: Power, Activation Matrix, Control Button
- Battery: Micro-USB Rechargable
Lenovo Mirage AR Headset
- Dimensions: 209.2mm x 83.4mm x 154.8mm
- Weight: 477g
- Buttons: Select, Cancel, Menu
- Camera: Dual motion tracking cameras
- Battery: Micro-USB Rechargable
- Dimensions: 94.1mm x 76.7mm
- Weight: 117g
- Buttons: Power/color switch
- AA batteries (x2) required
- Connection: Bluetooth connection to phone
- Languages: English, German, Japanese, French, Spanish
The set comes in a large box that doubles as a storage container when the headset and isn’t in use. Everything is nicely packaged, but especially the lightsaber which rests in a nice foam cut-out just under the top half of the box. The unboxing experience is befittingly premium for a product such as this.
The attention to detail on the lightsaber is impressive. It’s a loving recreation of Luke’s lightsaber from A New Hope. The top illuminates white or blue to indicate when it’s paired with your phone. In-game, pressing the side buttons causes the blade to rise up with the iconic sound effect; if you’re a Star Wars fan, it’s beyond neat.
The lightsaber syncs to your phone via Bluetooth and is calibrated using a figure eight motion to the floor. Charge levels are shown in the app and the unit can be recharged with an included micro-USB cable.
Also in the box, we find our tracking sensor. This rests on the floor to orient the headset. It’s powered by two AA batteries and depending on which mini-game you’re playing can illuminate in pink or blue.
Finally, we have the Lenovo Mirage itself. It’s made almost entirely of plastic which allows it to be lightweight and to survive life as a family entertainment device. It’s comfortable to wear, which is most important for a device like this, but it does feel a bit cheaper than its MSRP implies.
From this angle we can see the dual front tracking cameras, as well as the mirrored surface of the internal display area.
Along the right side are our Select, Menu, and Cancel buttons, each easily distinguishable with a vertical line, horizontal line, and two dots to identify them by feel.
On the left side of the headset, a side panel opens to reveal the smartphone tray. You’ll need to take your case off but I found that my Galaxy S8+ fit just fine. The tray can tighten down to secure smaller phones, but actually sliding the tray back in was a very tight fit due to the rubber retaining clip that holds the tray closed.
The headset also comes with three L-style adapters for micro-USB, USB-C, and Lightning. It was disappointing to note that though the game encourages you to use headphones for full 3D sound, these adapters, oriented as instructed, block the headphone jack.
Setting the game up isn’t difficult but does require multiple steps. The first time you log in after downloading the app, you’ll be walked through the process of placing your tracking beacon, turning on, pairing, and calibrating the lightsaber, securing the phone in the tray, granting the headset permissions (on Android), then finally inserting it and putting the headset on. Then you have to adjust the straps and get it secured in the right place. Finally, after all that, you’re ready to play. If anything interrupts this process, you’ll probably have to start over.
To be fair, after this initial setup, everything goes quicker in subsequent plays because you know what to do. It’s still not as simple as you’d hope it would be, especially after the heavy criticism the Vive and Oculus receive for their lengthy setups.
Playing the Game
Using the tracking beacon as a projector, the game unfolds as a series of holograms projected into your environment. It’s believable and a great way to showcase the potential of AR. The headset also uses the beacon as a homing point for tracking the position of your lightsaber, which can occasionally cause it to go out of sync if you’re at a poor angle for the HMDs cameras.
The story of the game is that you’re actually taking part in a Jedi training program with an AI known as The Archivist. The training simulations are broken into three main activities: Assault Mode (lightsaber battles), Holochess, and Battlefield Simulations. Every mode in the base game features 15 levels, broken into five sections. There are also three difficulty levels, which adds a nice layer of replayability to the game as well.
In December, Lenovo, Disney, and LucasFilm released a sizeable DLC pack themed after The Last Jedi. It features a new lightsaber battle against two members of the Praetorian Guard (the base game only has one-on-one battles), as well as an array of new enemies, including a First Order Stormtrooper Executioner and a Riot Control Stormtrooper, a new strategic combat planet, and in-game Porg rewards. Who doesn’t love Porgs?
The lightsaber battles are the clear star of the show. As you progress through the first two levels of each section, the AI will teach you new skills, like the ability to force push enemies or to raise a protective shield around yourself. Your lightsaber will also change color as you climb the ranks in Assault Mode, starting at a rookie green, just like Luke’s early days.
The final level pits you against a named character for a much more intense fight. You’ll duel with the likes of Kylo Ren, Darth Vader, and Darth Maul. These enemies are much more aggressive than your standard empire lackey and force you to use a combination of saber-strikes and force powers to take them out. The game also offers “Force Prediction” cues that give you a tip of where the enemy will strike next or where they’re vulnerable after a series of blocks.
When it works, Jedi Challenges is a lot of fun. Like the most intense VR experiences, you’ll need to take care to make sure you don’t swipe a lamp off the shelf or punch the TV by accident, and it’s in those moments when the real potential of VR shows. Jedi Challenges provides an experience available nowhere else and it’s exciting in a much more accessible way than standard VR.
But… it doesn’t always work. More than once, my lightsaber fell out of sync mid-match and needed to be recalibrated. When tracking fails in an experience like this, it’s game-breaking and simply turning your head too far can cause everything to fall apart at a moment’s notice. It’s clear that there are kinks to be worked out in the world of high intensity lightsaber battles.
Holochess is the simplest of the three games. It is, of course, modeled after the game Chewie and R2-D2 play on the Falcon, which makes it a bit disappointing that it’s the least interesting. Matches are set across five different planets, though you’ll spend the majority of your time focusing on a small game board. The headset monitors your gaze to select creatures and you move them across the board until the inevitable confrontation with an enemy. It’s neat to see these tiny aliens slam each other into the ground in the Star Wars version of Battle Chess, but it gets old fast. Even unlocking new aliens fails to keep the experience exciting after a handful of matches.
The gaze tracking can also be a bit finicky. More than once, the Mirage struggled to lock onto the creature I was looking at until it eventually re-centered itself. In the meantime, you’re stuck waiting until it starts over and finds your target.
Strategic Combat is the final game type and is a fun marriage of tower defense and real time strategy. It’s also extremely neat the first time you load in as the level opens up around your room. The natural urge is to stand still but the realization that you can move around the battlefield to see things from any angle is a near revelatory experience for AR.
Within these strategic battles, you command your own clone army against the forces of the Empire. Between dispatching battalions, you’ll be placing turrets and even sending out Jedi Masters to tip things back in your favor when you’re in trouble. It’s not all wiping out the enemy forces either. At times, you’ll be given objectives to defend certain points or squads. It’s no Age of Empires, but to have a functional RTS unfold on your living room floor is a joyful experience.
Worth the Cost of Entry?
The ultimate question is whether or not Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is worth the $199 MSRP or even the $149.99 asking price on Amazon as of this writing. Is Jedi Challenges fun? You bet. Jedi Challenges offers an accessible first step into Augmented Reality and shows off the potential of this new platform. At the same time, it lays bare some of the kinks that still need to be worked out, like the arduous setup process or the jarring instances where you drop sync and your immersion is shattered. It’s exciting but imperfect tech.
The bigger problem is that there simply isn’t the enough here. For $199, even 30 hours of gameplay seems light. What’s more, as of right now this headset is only compatible with Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges. I’m hopeful that the Mirage headset will be compatible with experiences in the future but Lenovo is unwilling to comment on any plans they may have. Whether or not this is a one-off item is anyone’s guess and that’s a big ask even for Amazon’s $149.
I enjoyed my time with Jedi Challenges, and if you’ve been dreaming of clashing sabers with Vader, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here as well. For the most part, it’s a well done set of mini-games. There’s just not the longevity or variety of experiences I would hope for at this price, not when a new Xbox One S can be had for less than $80 more. If you love Star Wars and want to experience your own personal Jedi training, pick it up and have a blast. For everyone else, I’d wait until for a deep sale or additional content becomes available.
|Review Terms and Disclosure
All Information as of the Date of Publication
|How product was obtained:||The product is on loan from Lenovo for the purpose of this review.|
|What happens to product after review:||The product remains the property of Lenovo but is on extended loan for future testing and product comparisons.|
|Company involvement:||Lenovo had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.|
|PC Perspective Compensation:||Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Lenovo for this review.|
|Advertising Disclosure:||Lenovo has not purchased advertising at PC Perspective during the past twelve months.|
|Affiliate links:||This article contains affiliate links to online retailers. PC Perspective may receive compensation for purchases through those links.|
|Consulting Disclosure:||Lenovo is a not current client of Shrout Research for products or services related to this review.|