Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is an amazing augmented reality (AR) experience that will delight Star Wars fans young and old. More to the point, it’s technically impressive, offering a wider field of view than the much more expensive and cumbersome HoloLens.
Granted, Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is a standalone product, for now, though it’s not hard imagining Lenovo expanding its use to new games. But let’s not get bogged down in the future, which as any Star Wars fan knows is always in motion. Because the reality of today is quite excellent.
Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is an immersive AR experience that combines an AR headset, a faithfully-created lightsaber, and a cute little beacon that defines the play area. You’ll need a smartphone, of course—it works with both Android and iPhone—and a bit of room to move around in; say about eight feet by eight feet.
Set up is a bit cumbersome. In addition to having to remove your phone’s case, you need to navigate through a multi-step wizard, insert batteries in two devices (the beacon and the lightsaber) and make sure your phone and the included AR helmet are fully-charged. (This thing will kill your phone’s battery quickly.) Just getting the phone slotted into the headset correctly requires a bit of gymnastics.
But once you do get it set up, Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is magic.
Those who have been dreaming of unleashing their inner Jedi—as I have, literally for 40 years—will gasp with delight as the holographic images fill the viewscreen inside the helmet. To be clear, this is AR, not VR: That means you can see the room around you, so there’s no worry about tripping into the Christmas tree under which this wonderful gift might have been waiting. And it means that holographic images are superimposed on top of reality, so to speak, just as they are with HoloLens.
Well, not just as they are with HoloLens. These holograms are, in fact, superior, with an obviously wider field of view, especially in the vertical. This means particular sense for the main fighting game, where you take on an increasingly difficult lineup of enemies that range from ineffectual battle droids all the way up to various masters of the Dark Side. In this game, your vertically oriented opponents are nicely overlayed over the room in which you’re fighting.
Interaction with the bundled lightsaber—which is a wonderful reproduction of Luke Skywalker’s lightsabre—is likewise impressive, though the hologram blade was often a bit “off” from the real lightsaber. No matter: I began swinging this thing around with abandon, slashing at droids and other enemies and repelling their laser blasts. Seriously, it’s amazing.
There are a few other experiences in the app, including a laser chess game from the original Star Wars—“let the Wookie win”—and a sort of real-time battle strategy game in which two sides do battle on your living room floor and you control the action from afar. But I will admit to spending most of my time with the lightsaber so far. It’s just too fun to put down.
Some will balk at the product’s $200 price tag, which is certainly fair. But you’re getting an impressive collection of technology in return and, way more important, a set of games that will give your kids—OK, you—hours of fun as well.
This is exactly the type of thing I dreamed about as a 10 year old whose life was changed forever by the original Star Wars. And while I certainly waited long enough to experience it, the wait was worth it: Star Wars: Jedi Challenges is incredible.