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Lenovo Star Wars Jedi Challenges Review: Immersive lightsaber duels for a wallet-draining price

3.5

The Good

  • Immersive battles
  • Star Wars geek-out
  • Smartly designed viewer

The Bad

  • Expensive
  • Limited gameplay
  • Limited mobile support

We’ve strapped on Lenovo’s Mirage AR headset and got a tight grip on our lightsabers for this full review of the Star Wars Jedi Challenges, which serves up augmented reality duels, strategy gaming and even a spot of Holochess.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, chances are your pants were slightly damp at the news of Lenovo’s latest augmented reality experience, launched at IFA 2017. Star Wars Jedi Challenges allows you to wield your very own lightsaber for intense AR duels, using Lenovo’s clever Mirage headset and your trusty smartphone to recreate the action. You get a proper replica saber hilt included in the box too, for a full-on tactile experience.

It’s not just about smacking Star Wars characters with a pretend sci-fi sword, however. This set offers up three games in all, with the other two titles being a simple strategy game and fan favourite from the movies, Holochess.

The Jedi Challenges toy is hitting the UK just in time for Christmas 2017, although the £250 asking price ensures that only serious Star Wars fans need apply. So is Lenovo’s headset worth that outlay and are the games fun to play? Here’s all you need to know.

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Lenovo Star Wars Jedi Challenges review: Design and setup

The Star Wars Jedi Challenges box comes with three main components, which work together to craft the VR experience.

First up, you get a tracking beacon. This sits on your floor and locks onto your location to track your motions, which is necessary for recreating the virtual world.

Next up is the Lenovo Mirage AR headset. This looks like a chunky set of goggles, similar to Samsung’s Gear VR headset or the Google Daydream View. However, the setup is more clever in this case.

For one, although your smartphone is used to project the visuals, you don’t simply spend your time staring at the mobile’s screen. Rather, the visor is transparent, so you can still see your surroundings, while the Mirage AR’s mirrors beam virtual elements onto the visor. In other words, when you strap the headset on, you’ll find yourself looking at a blend of real world and virtual reality.

The third and final component is the lightsaber hilt. This is effectively your game controller, used to interact in all three of the available games. It’s crafted from plastic and the attention to detail is quite impressive, with plenty of decoration to make it look genuine. It’s not as hefty as we personally would have liked, but that’s probably just as well for any younger Star Wars fans who might get their hands on one.

Your first step is to download the Star Wars Jedi Challenges app to your mobile and slip it into the visor. That Mirage AR headset has a slide-out tray which holds your smartphone during gameplay. This tray is big enough to accept even larger phones such as the iPhone 8 Plus, and you get the full selection of cables to connect up: Lightning, Type-C USB and micro USB.

However, not that many Android phones are officially supported by Jedi Challenges right now; you’re limited to some recent Samsung Galaxy handsets, Google’s original Pixel phones and a couple of others. Check out the compatibility list for an up-to-date version.

Once your phone is locked in place, you’re ready for action. The Mirage AR headset is comfortable to wear for extended periods, thanks to its generous padding and adjustable straps. We happily played for an hour or so at a time, with no headaches or other issues.

We recommend playing in a dark room with plenty of empty space, so you can clearly see what’s going on and keep from stumbling over anything unexpectedly. Thankfully you can at least see any possible obstacles through the visor, not to mention any chancers sneaking up on you during a sweaty duel.

Check out our full Star Wars Jedi Challenges unboxing and setup video below for a closer look.

Lenovo Star Wars Jedi Challenges review: Gameplay

There are six worlds to conquer in Jedi Challenges, ripped straight from the movies and beginning with Naboo. However, you don’t get to check out these worlds in all of their VR glory; it’s simply the way each ‘level’ is named.

On each world you’ll find nine stages in total to beat, broken into three groups. You’ll have three lightsaber battles, three Holochess matches and three strategy games to conquer, although you don’t need to finish off all three game types to progress. Rather, finishing the three lightsaber duels on the first world unlocks these sections on the next world. Good news if there’s a game type you don’t get on with.

The main reason for picking up the Star Wars Jedi Challenges is of course the lightsaber sections. These beam a virtual saber blade from the physical hilt and pit you against waves of foes, not to mention the brilliant one-on-one duels with damned dirty Sith.

When fighting against waves of droids, Stormtroopers and other foes, you’ll find yourself deflecting non-stop projectiles and occasionally taking a swipe at any enemies dumb enough to get close. You’ll need fast reactions to get through unscathed, although the AI is certainly a bit janky at times. Those ‘troopers are either dumb or suicidal, as they’ll happily wander right up to you, like you’re an interesting museum exhibition rather than a killer Jedi. Slashing through robots is particularly entertaining however, as you can sever metal limbs with sadistic glee.

The end-of-level duels are by far our favourite bits. You’ll face off against the likes of Darth Maul and Darth Vader, and these battles can be incredibly tense. Even with guidance on where to place your saber to block any incoming attacks, you’ll need to be fast to block some of the more furious slashes and counter in good time. Thankfully you soon pick up Force powers to help out, as you’ll need every advantage you get.

The force feedback could do with being a little stronger when you’re battling, to really make you feel each strike from your opponent. We also struggle a little with the narrow visor, which really limits your field of view. That’s especially annoying when battling lots of opponents at once and taking on drones, which zip all over the place. Our only other complaint is that the saber blade occasionally goes wonky, leaning off to one side; you’ll need to realign with a tap of a button, which can distract and cause you to take damage.

Despite those complaints, the saber sections really are entertaining. Much more so than the strategy game and Holochess, which feel more like filler.

They’re still perfectly entertaining in their own right, and well implemented into the overall package. However, they’d work just as well as simple apps, so wielding all this extra gear seems a little excessive.

Strategy fans certainly won’t find the depth of a Command & Conquer here, while Holochess seems pretty stale when compared with Fire Emblem and similar games. They’re fine as quick distractions and best left at that.

Lenovo Star Wars Jedi Challenges review: Battery life

The Mirage AR headset has a 2200mAh battery built in, which delivers roughly four to five hours of playtime per charge. Of course, any smartphone you stick inside is likely to die in around the same time, as beaming that image is quite an intensive task (and the phone’s sensors such as the gyroscope are in constant use as well).

In addition, the lightsaber has its own built-in cell which must be charged up separately. Again, you’ll get a few hours of use on a charge, while both the headset and saber can be refuelled using a bundled micro USB cable. And finally, the tracking beacon takes two AA batteries, which are included in the Jedi Challenges box.

All in all, lots of stuff to remember to recharge. You’ll definitely want to get everything plugged in after a lengthy play session, as you can’t do without any of the individual elements.

Lenovo Star Wars Jedi Challenges review: Verdict

The Lenovo Star Wars Jedi Challenges VR set would make an engrossing Christmas present for any fans out there, especially as they’ll no doubt be hyped to the eyeballs over Episode VIII. It’s not cheap of course, costing £250 here in the UK, which is especially galling when you consider that you can’t play other games right now using that Mirage AR headset.

Still, while the games on offer are pretty simple, they’re also pretty good fun to blast through purely because of the hardware involved. The likes of Holochess and the strategy game would each work fine as a simple mobile game, but the lightsaber duel is where this setup really shines, throwing you into the dusty boots of a Jedi master.

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