This holiday season, “Star Wars” fans will have another chance to relive their dream of using the force, thanks to a new augmented reality (AR) kit that went on sale this Friday. “Star Wars: Jedi Challenges” was made by Disney in cooperation with Lenovo — and while it doesn’t include a real lightsaber, it may just be the next best thing.
“Star Wars: Jedi Challenges,” which retails for $200, includes an AR headset, an AR-powered lightsaber controller, and an LED puck to help with motion tracking. Similar to VR headsets like the Samsung Gear VR, Disney’s headset also relies on a phone for graphics rendering. Unlike the Gear VR, it actually works with a wide selection of phones, including most recent iPhones and Android phones.
And there’s another key difference to mobile VR headsets: The phone actually gets placed above one’s field of view, with the display facing downward. The picture is then mirrored on a transparent plane, allowing you to see the environment around you, and combining that view with various “Star Wars” games. The lightsaber consists of a realistic replica of the handle with a small LED propped on top. After putting on the headset, this LED gets magically extended with that signature glowing blade.
At launch, “Star Wars: Jedi Challenges” supports three types of games. There is your basic lightsaber combat against a number of enemies, including Kylo Ren and Darth Vader; a strategic combat game allows you to command troops to fight against the Empire as they fight on your living room floor; Holochess is, well, Holochess as known from the franchise.
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During a recent brief demo, the headset did deliver on its basic promise. The AR overlays were smoothly rendered and bright enough to make for immersive game-play, but still offer a view of the environment around you, so you won’t knock over any furniture during your lightsaber duels. The lightsaber also was fun to play with. At times, the digital projection of the blade was slightly off, and didn’t really align with the handle — but this wasn’t much of a distraction from the game play.
The headset itself did feel a little rigid, and the horizontal placement of the phone, protruding outward from your forehead, also made it feel heavier than your typical mobile VR headset. What’s more, the AR image projection technology does have a significant impact on your field of view. That especially noticeable vertically. It feels a bit like wearing a baseball cap just a bit too low on your face. Glean up just a little, and you won’t see anything.
The game-play itself is fun, with the lightsaber duels being the clear highlight. And there’s enough there to keep you entertained for some time: The main game menu gives players the option to explore multiple planets, which equate levels of difficulty within the game. And Disney can easily add more content to the game just by updating its mobile app.
Disney advanced development VP Mike Goslin told Variety that the company already has a multi-player mode working in its labs, which would make it possible for two players to duel each other with their lightsabers. He also hinted at plans to eventually bring other Disney franchises to the headset as well. To enable this, the headset already comes with a few extra buttons so that players of games not related to the “Star Wars” franchise won’t always have to wield a lightsaber. Goslin said Disney may also release additional accessories in the future.
Starting this Friday, “Star Wars: Jedi Challenges” will sell for $199.99 exclusively at Best Buy, at Disney stores, and via Disney’s and Lenovo’s website.