My first lightsaber battle did not go as planned
Hands on with Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenge Lightsaber Versus multiplayer gaming mode
I raised my son on Star Wars, the original trilogy, which means I’ve been having lightsaber battles for the better part of twenty years. We’ve used everything from plastic toy lightsabers to Wiffle Ball bats.
I’m pretty good. My son is better. However, when I donned Lenovo’s Star Wars: Jedi Challenges AR headset ($199) this week and started swinging the connected Rey replica lightsaber, I felt overmatched by my opponent, Seth Davis, Director of Connected Products for Lucas Films parent Walt Disney.
Davis agreed to battle me with a new and long-awaited update to the popular Star Wars gadget that launched late last year to general acclaim. The original version let you battle tiny robots and characters like Darth Maul who appeared to stand directly in front of you in the real world. The free update, Lightsaber Versus Mode, which drops, naturally, on May 4, adds the ability to battle friends who also own the Jedi Challenge set.
Lenovo’s headset, for the uninitiated Padawan, is not a VR headset. It’s best described as augmented or mixed reality. It does use your smartphone, but also employs a pair of mirrors, two cameras and an external light beacon to combine the smartphone-based Star Wars Jedi Challenge game with your real world.
For our head-to-head battle, Davis had placed a pair of beacons, featuring two different light colors, on the floor between us. Last year, “people asked why the beacons came in different colors,” Davis told me, “because we always wanted to do two-player.”
I watched Davis slide a phone into his headset as an assistant placed my Lenovo helmet on my head. It fit snugly (there are three velcro straps to adjust the fit) and didn’t interfere with my glasses.
Before the game started, Davis gave me a brief tutorial on how to use the game controlled-lightsaber to start the game. I reflexively grabbed the realistic-feeling galaxy far, far away weapon with two hands, as any good Jedi would, and pointed it at Davis.
After setting up the game for two players, Davis told me to press the large button on the chrome weapon. My glowing lightsaber blade sprang from the hilt. I could see Davis’ lightsaber spring to life as well.
In multiplayer-player mode, the game tries to guide you with visual cues. There are thin arrows slashing across your view, indicating which way you should try to slash your opponent. There are also large, fat arrows pointing this way and that, indicating when you should duck and dodge. There are also orange ghost sabers that appear that indicate when you might want to try a blocking action.
Davis told me that the battle is semi-choreographed (there are still visual cues telling you when to block, strike and dodge), but there’s still a lot of variability in the action (it adds unlimited play to the 30 hours of gameplay to the main story). A choreographed lightsaber fight might seem to defeat the purpose of person-to-person gameplay, but it reminded me of how my son and I would try to recreate crucial battles, like the final showdown between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, in our favorite Star Wars movies.
The choreography may explain why Davis, who barely seemed to move during our battle as I ducked, swerved, slashed, huffed and puffed, won so soundly. He’s played the game all day and probably many times before and simply knew what to do.
We fought in a roughly 3-meter square and, even as sparks flew from our clashing lightsabers, we never got close enough to intersect in the real world.
Even though you can still see your real-world opponent and the world around you, the AR overlay can get quite chaotic during an intense multi-player battle. It’s not an issue, but since the graphics are decent, but not great and there’s the occasional screen judder associated with low-end VR, you can almost lose track of whose lightsaber is doing what.
As the screen informed me of my defeat, I hung my head, dejected, and considered asking for another round.
For those who already own the $199 set, this multi-player battle mode is an awesome added value. As for me, I wonder if I’d have any more success against my son.