We aren’t sure about you, but we’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a proper Lightsaber duel. Or maybe play a game of Holochess.
Thanks to the joys of augmented reality, you can now do both. Lenovo and Disney have partnered to create an AR experience using your phone, a special headset, a tracking orb and, yes, a Lightsaber.
We had a quick battle against the new Sith upstart Kylo Ren when it first came out in November last year. And since then you can even battle against other users in full-on, 2-player Lightsaber duels. Oh yes!
We’re yet to try that for ourselves, but here’s what we thought of the single-player challenges.
Lenovo Star Wars Jedi Challenges hardware
Not to be confused with the company’s more expensive Windows Mixed Reality headset, Lenovo’s Star Wars Jedi Challenges kit consists of three hardware elements.
The main bit is a Lenovo Mirage AR headset that you slip your smartphone into. There is also a tracking beacon which is placed on the floor. It acts as a stable base for the headset’s sensors to detect the user’s movement during gameplay. And there is the pretend Lightsaber.
The headset works in a similar way to mobile VR equivalents. You load the app, put the phone in the caddy and then slip it into the headset. The difference is that the phone actually sits flat, facing down and uses two mirrors to reflect the image onto a plastic windshield-like element in front of you.
Because the shield is see-through, you can still see what’s going on around you, although the immersion might still draw your attention from the real world.
The headset isn’t just a plastic casing, it also features two built-in fisheye sensors to provide inside-out positional tracking. That tracking comes from a small coloured ball that you sit on the floor in front of you while you play.
It’s slightly different, but the technology works in a similar way to PlayStation Move controllers. The bright colour helps the tracker pick up your position so you can move around freely. This is a completely wire-free experience.
To give you a sense that you are actually battling with a Lightsaber, you get a plastic but weighty Lightsaber controller, modelled after the one wielded by Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker and Rey in the Star Wars films. It adds to the experience and makes you look the part.
The Lightsaber acts as a controller and pointer, allowing players to navigate the user interface, with all controls, actions and commands activated with a simple two-button configuration. It’s all very easy.
Lenovo Star Wars Jedi Challenges Lightsaber Battles
In our demo we duelled with a computer-controlled Kylo Ren. If you have a friend with a similar setup, you can now fight them too.
Turn the app on, slip it into the controller and press the button on the Lightsaber and away you go. The app features more games and more experiences, including a strategic combat game and Holochess, but our first play was all about hacking down Ren as best we could.
Through visible light-tracking technology (the orb, remember), the headset’s sensors work together to lock onto the position of the Lightsaber controller, allowing players to see a virtual beam form above the “hilt”, which you can use to block and interact with the universe in-game.
It’s all very self-explanatory and we had no problem getting to grips with the gameplay straight away.
Haptic feedback is activated as you strike or block the foe that you come up against, while an inertial measurement unit sends rotational information from the controller to the smartphone to assist the beam in remaining stable mid-swing.
In practice, it’s great fun. While you can still clearly see what’s around you because the display is see-through, you can soon forget where you are and what you are doing.
The graphics are more drawn outlines rather than photo-realistic forms, but nonetheless we enjoyed our demo – certainly enough for us to ask to go a second time. Our duel lasted what seemed like a good couple of minutes with Ren moving around us keeping us on our toes.
The controller was responsive most of the time with the beam projecting from the hilt as you would expect.
Surprisingly, we managed to win our duel, but not without panic and almost taking out a small child who was watching us at the time.
We would definitely recommend playing in a wide open space where possible.
We didn’t get a chance to play the Strategic Combat game or Holochess, but you can even try out the latter yourself as you don’t need to have the Lenovo kit. Just download the Jedi Challenges app.
In Strategic Combat players marshal the forces of the Republic, Rebel Alliance and Resistance against the might of the Separatists, Empire and First Order on the floor, while Holochess, as you might expect, gives you the chance play the boardgame first seen A New Hope.
At £249 in the UK this is a fairly pricey experience for what could be seen as three games you might tire from over time. Two-player Lightsaber duels might add to that, but that requires two complete kits – a big outlay for a family, for example.
However, other AR devices are even more expensive, with devices like Hololens sitting out of reach of many. So, in comparison, this does offer a fun experience and a much cheaper way to experience what everyone is talking about.
It also seems that Lenovo and Disney is coming good on its promise to deliver further content, to help justify the price tag in the long run.
For some, just the chance to wield a Lightsaber in the best way possible for now will be good enough.