Writing for Bleeding Cool is contributor Matt Cabral,
Several hours into Star Wars: Jedi Challenges —Lenovo's and Disney's augmented reality experience from a galaxy far, far away— Darth Vader struck me down before chastising me with a menacingly familiar, "You are as clumsy as you are stupid." The Sith Lord's biting insult sounded like constructive criticism, however, compared to the The Grand Inquisitor's snarky comment. Upon besting me in an earlier duel, the Jedi-hunting baddie chuckled and queried, "Have you even used a lightsaber before?"
Both villains taunts are notable because they weren't delivered by video game avatars on a TV screen or computer display, but by life-sized figures standing before me in my living room. Using the combined power of a smartphone—running the Jedi Challenges app—and the included Lenovo Mirage AR headset, tracking beacon, and lightsaber controller, the game literally puts users face-to-face with holographic versions of the fiercest foes in the galaxy.
You'd have an easier time beating Han Solo's Kessel Run record than describing this experience in a way that does it much justice. To truly feel one with the AR-fueled Force, you must don the headset, clutch the lightsaber's hilt—which ups the immersion with haptic feedback—and clash virtual blades with Kylo Ren. Suffice it to say though, it delivers the sort of experience that would have melted my 10-year-old mind. This is due not only to the incredibly cool tech, but the many Star Wars-flavored details supporting it, from obvious inclusions, like the familiar score and sounds effects, to subtler touches, like the sparks that erupt when you drag the blade across the floor.
And while the characters are holographic, they're not monochrome or robotic. Darth Maul's tattooed mug, Vader's chest plate, and the Seventh Sister's glowing eyes are all accounted for. Stormtroopers and Battle droids of various ranks sport similarly slick details. The former fall in piles of sparking metal under your slashing lightsaber, while the latter shout, "I've got a Jedi in my cross-hairs!" before being bested by blaster fire deflected off your blade.
Speaking of bouncing bullets back at the Empire's finest, Jedi Challenges does a fantastic job showing padawans the ropes. A trainer, dubbed the Archivist, schools users in attacking, blocking, evading, and even using Force powers as they're unlocked (simultaneously downing four Stormtroopers with a Force Push never gets old). Remaining aware of your surroundings is also a breeze, as the headset's transparent, tinted lens allows you to keep an eye on the real-world even as you singe Kylo Ren's robe on Tokodana.
When not introducing the business end of your blade to the Dark Side, you'll use the lightsaber controller to play a real-time strategy game that turns living room floors into battlefields and Holochess, the board game played between R2-D2 and Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon. The strategy-focused battles have players choosing units of turrets, cannons, soldiers, and hero characters before placing them on the map which is surprisingly compelling. Unlocking new ranks like a tiny Obi-Wan Kenobi who'll scurry past your feet, striking down anything in his path is a ton a fun, as is destroying larger threats with star-ships.
Holochess isn't quite as engaging, although it's undeniably cool watching the tiny virtual beasts crush each other on the game board. And, of course, anyone who grew up saying "Let the Wookiee win." should appreciate this call back to the film that started it all. Each of the three game modes are played on five planets—Naboo, Garel, Lothal, Hoth, and the aforementioned Takodana—that unlock as players progress. On top of the games being themed to the different planets and eras in the sci-fi saga, they feature various tiers that increase in difficulty as they're tackled. Turning Battle droids into twisted metal on Naboo, for example, proves far easier than vanquishing Vader and his minions on Hoth.
The trio of experiences and their various difficulty modes provide a solid weekend's worth of content. There's a pretty solid replay value because it's hard to put down Jedi Challenges' awesome lightsaber replica once you've wielded it, which makes this a solid investment for your hard-core Star Wars fan.
As amazing as it is to see that AR blade rise before your eyes when the physical lightsaber's activated though, casual fans may be craving a bit more content before inviting virtual Vader into their homes. Thankfully, Disney's confirmed Jedi Challenges isn't a one-and-done experience, but rather an evolving platform. New planets, hosting fresh challenges, are on the docket for future updates.
You'd have to risk the lives of more than a few Bothan spies to get any official details on what's next for the platform, but it's probably (hopefully?) not a stretch to assume the game will soon see fans tackling objective and enemies based on The Last Jedi.
If Disney can fulfill the promise of on-going updates that will allow us to enjoy this potential-packed tech in new, exciting, Dark Side-destroying ways, we'll happily continue taking the Sith's verbal abuse.