Star Wars Jedi Challenges is a product that works on two levels. On one hand it’s a decent, if somewhat clunky, piece of tech that’s clearly the first generation of what could eventually become something truly special. On the other hand, it’s an absolutely marvelous Star Wars themed toy that, even for the most casual fans of the series, can be an incredibly visceral powerful experience. For more than a decade, toymakers as well as game developers have tried to systemise elements of the Star Wars canon using game logic. I did a pretty thorough dive into Star Wars games through the times last year, and eventually concluded that the games industry had hit peak Star Wars, with little to no room left for innovation.
I’m happy to report that the minds at Lenovo have (mostly) proven me wrong on that count.
Straight out of the box, you get a Lenovo Mirage AR Headset, a lightsaber-shaped motion controller, and a tracking beacon. What’s interesting about the headset is that it doesn’t use a built-in screen, instead requiring you to slide your phone into a tray that’s then projected in front of you using angled mirrors. Cameras built into the headset work in tandem with the tracking beacon to maintain your position while the lightsaber is your de-facto controller.
The headset, though made of plastic, has soft padding on the inside that makes sure your comfort isn’t the least bit compromised during extended play sessions, while adjustable straps let you loosen or tighten it in accordance to the size of your head. The headset also has three buttons for navigation and pausing the game, which is a godsend considering the fact that your phone, while inside the headset, is going to be completely inaccessible. What I wish the headset also had is a headphone jack for better audio quality (seriously, why does Lenovo hate headphone jacks?) You can theoretically use bluetooth headphones but they’re a pain to use with the headset, and the default audio output is your phone speakers so it’s really not that great.
The lightsaber controller is easily the highlight of the package. Modelled after the saber used by Rey in The Force Awakens, the controller is a rather impressive prop to behold. While a bit lighter than I’d have liked, it feels good in your hands, and the lightness comes in handy during some of the more hectic swordfights you’re thrown into during the late-game. Aside from the power switch, the controller has a ‘blade’ button that’s your all-purpose context-sensitive button for the game, whereas the ‘force’ button is used to center the lightsaber with your view should you lose track of it in the heat of the moment.
The biggest ‘challenge’ of Jedi Challenges is to set the game up.
First of all, you need to keep track of battery levels across three separate devices – your phone, the controller, and the headset – while the beacon uses physical AA batteries. In any given situations, the odds that one of those devices is running low on power are fairly high. The other problem is that Lenovo recommends (pretty much demands, actually) a clear area of 1.5x3m around the beacon to ensure proper functionality. It is possible to play the game in smaller areas, but you’ll end up having to spam the center button more often than you’d like.
Once all the devices are charged, you’re required to download the free Jedi Challenges app from the Apple or Google app store, pair the controller with your phone via bluetooth, complete a one-time calibration setup, and slide your phone into the tray inside the headset. While in the tray, your phone connects to the headset via a tiny USB cable. Lenovo has provided three different cables for iPhones as well as a micro USB and USB type-C cable, which is nice. While the game is compatible with most phones, and the tray as buffers to make sure your phone can fit snugly into it regardless of size, I did run into some annoyingly frequently connectivity issues while using an iPhone 7. No such issues occured while using the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge as well as Moto Z2 Force, so you might want to look into whether or not your phone is compatible with the device before investing.
At one point, I considered leaving a dedicate phone inside the headset but since neither the phone nor the headset can be charged when they’re connected, it isn’t really a feasible option.
Once everything is set up and you’re actually inside the game, it’s actually a ton of fun. Characters appear in your immediate surrounding in augmented reality. The rendering applied here makes them look exactly like the holograms from the Star Wars films of old. You’re introduced to a character called The Archivist who acts as your guide throughout the game. The first hour or so takes you through an in-depth tutorial on Naboo as your fight your way through an army of droids, culminating in a lightsaber duel against Darth Maul. Once the tutorial is out of the way, you can pick missions on different planets from a Destiny-esque galaxy map, eventually making your way to “the core” for the final showdown.
Aside from the lightsaber stuff, Jedi Challenges includes a real-time strategy game and a recreation of the holochess game seen in Episode IV: A New Hope, though sadly, neither of them are as engaging as the main campaign.
Star Wars Jedi Challenges, at the end of the day, is little more than a toy. But it’s one hell of a great toy; one that my 12-year-old self would have sold his soul to have. As I said earlier, it still feels very much like the first generation of something that could, one day, be truly special. The inclusion of some sort of multiplayer, for instance, would have made this a killer inclusion to every geek’s Star Wars-themed parties, but as a core single-player experience it’s… pretty good. At AED 1,199, I can only comfortably recommend this to early adopters and the hardcorest of hardcore Star Wars fans (or parents of those fans), looking for a great Christmas present. With Episode VIII: The Last Jedi right around the corner, the timing is just right.
Star Wars Jedi Challenges was reviewed using a review unit provided by Lenovo.