Editor's Note: We recently recieved word that the Lightsaber bundled with the headset does in fact offer haptic feedback. We are working with the manufacturer to confirm and will update accordingly.
Fzzzzsh! My lightsaber flickers to life as I prepare to face the deadly Sith Lord, Darth Maul. My eyes narrow as he menacingly insinuates that these will be the last moments of my life. "Bring it," I respond coolly as he flips his way into battle.
And just like that, I am in a battle for my survival. Ten frantic, slightly sweaty minutes later, I break Maul's guard with a Force Push and land the final blow, sending him crashing to the ground. It's then that Lenovo's $199 augmented-reality Star Wars Jedi Challenges headset officially makes my holiday wish list.
Available sometime in November and currently available for preorder at Best Buy, Lenovo's new headset is the result of a team-up with Disney. The new device marries Lenovo's Mirage AR headset with several Star Wars-themed games in the Jedi Challenges app. Based on my demo, this headset is shaping up to be a must-have for fans of the galaxy far, far away.
Along with the AR headset, you get a gleaming, silver-chrome lightsaber hilt with a blue light glowing at the tip and a tracking beacon that glows a warm fuchsia when activated.
Instead of tethering you to a desktop or laptop, Mirage AR is powered by your smartphone. The headset supports a number of phones from Apple, Motorola and Samsung, and the list will grow as Lenovo authorizes certification.
Before you start swinging your lightsaber around all willy-nilly, you'll first have to launch the Star Wars Jedi Challenges app on your smartphone and then place it into a slim container, which slides neatly into the headset. From there, the smartphone projects a double image into one crisp view that that's in front of you. Flip on the lightsaber and tracking beacon and the Bluetooth-connected app will pair with both devices in less than a second. The pair of fisheye cameras located front of the headset tracks the lights in the tracking beacon and lightsaber.
The 8.2 x 3.3 x 6.1-inch headset is relatively light, at 1 pound, and once I got it to work with my butt-length hair, this peripheral fit comfortably without any undue pressure or slippage. And unlike VR headsets, the Mirage's lightly tinted visor lets you keep an eye on the real world, so there won't be any unfortunate accidents (hopefully).
The lightsaber, measuring 12.4 x 1.9 inches and weighing 0.6 pounds, had a nice heft to it, and the pair of strategically placed buttons (select and center) were easy to navigate with one hand.
Lightsaber Dreams Come True
The star of the show is definitely going to be Lightsaber Battle. After selecting a planet to start on (Naboo), my opponent (waves and waves of droids or an actual Star Wars character) and my Force Power (Force Push), it was time for me and Darth Maul to throw down. On the easiest setting, he was manageable. Though he evaded me with a few flips and volleys, it was easy to land blows and hold up my saber to deflect his blows when prompted. I even got to hit him square in the chest with a Force Push, opening up to some more serious strikes from my lightsaber, which led to his ultimate defeat.
Things got much more intense when I bumped up the difficulty. This was a Darth Maul straight out of the movies and Clone Wars series. He was fast and relentless, and I went from having to defend once or twice each volley to four to five times each showing, and I was forced to hold the saber in the correct position for the Force Prompt each time. If I failed to do so, I took serious damage. I did manage to wear Maul down to the halfway mark, and he responded by lighting up the bottom half of his saber, essentially dual-wielding on me. Now, I was really on the defensive and couldn't keep up with his onslaught, eventually succumbing to his furious attacks.
I licked my wounds by trying my hand at deflecting droid lasers back at them and found it almost as easy as shooting womp rats. I faced off against several waves of droids, complete with their funny quips about the tide of battle, and I used my saber to whip their blasts back at them while cutting down the ones that got too close.
Real-Time Strategy in Your Face
When it launches, the Jedi Challenges app will include two other games: Strategic Combat and Holochess. Strategic Combat will appeal to the real-time strategy lovers as it allows you to attack and defend strongholds throughout the Star Wars universe by dispatching a series of turrets and clones to do battle.
When the battle got particularly fierce, I got a prompt informing me that I could dispatch a Jedi into the fray to turn the tide of battle. I quickly selected my Jedi and put him on the field, and lo and behold, there was Obi-Wan Kenobi, swinging his saber, deflecting lasers back at the enemy and generally being bad-ass. Best of all, I could walk around the battlefield to get a better look at the action as everything went down.
Holochess? Yes, Please
Like the regular game of chess, Holochess is a thinking person's game. It's conducted on a black and white disc with a number of available tiles. I had to maneuver three creatures into position to do battle with my AI opponent's menagerie. I managed to win the first volley and thoroughly enjoyed the animation of my club-wielding beast hammering my opponent's creature into oblivion. That feeling of victory didn't last long, as two of my stable were quickly destroyed. I eventually lost the match after some poor positioning on my part resulted in my last monster getting body-slammed into oblivion and my AI opponent's admonishment that maybe this wasn't the game for me. Point taken.
Bottom Line: Want (but not perfect)
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Star Wars Jedi Experience. The games are highly immersive and entertaining, and I love holding a physical representation of a lightsaber. The relative lightness of my saber allowed me to assume a poor imitation of a fencer's stance, with one hand behind my back. That made it a bit easy to quickly line up my sword with the Force Prompts during the battles. I'm also excited that as you progress through the games, you gradually unlock powers and characters to further enhance the gameplay.
That's not to say there aren't some kinks that could be worked out. I'm a bit concerned about image opacity. During my test, the play space was lined with rich, black-felt curtains, which made the images really pop in the visor. But I'm curious to see how transparent or opaque these scenes look against a brighter background. I would also want some haptic feedback for when I'm clashing sabers with Darth Maul and the like as it would seriously up the immersion factor.
My final complaint is set to be addressed at a later date, but I still have to mention it. When Jedi Experience launches, it will be a one-player game, which is fine for now. But personally, you can place a lightsaber in my hand for only so long before I want to duel the other Star Wars nerds in my life. I desperately want to take someone other than the AI to task in Lightsaber Battle or Strategic Combat (I harbor no hopes of victory in Holochess). Lenovo says that a multiplayer feature is coming at a later date, but there's no release date as of yet.
But as it stands, Star Wars Jedi Experience is positioning itself as the must-have Star Wars gear of the year. For $199, you get a comfortable headset that accommodates a fairly large number of smartphones, with three highly entertaining games that expand with your progression. Also, you get a freakin' lightsaber!