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‘Star Wars: Jedi Challenges,’ the future force in AR games? (Review)

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If you’re a “Star Wars” fan, seeing the lightsaber from “Star Wars: Jedi Challenges” will make you smile.  And that’s exactly the emotion Disney, Lucasfilm and Lenovo hope will persuade those fans to spend $200 for one of the first augmented reality game systems available for consumers, especially as excitement builds ahead of the Dec. 15 premiere of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the next installment in the iconic sci-fi movie saga.

That’s a lot of cash for a self-contained gaming system that, for now, only has three basic types of games — “Holochess,” the famed game Chewbacca plays in the original movie; “Strategic Combat,” which turns your floor into a virtual battlefield; and “Lightsaber Battles,” pitting you against the likes of Darth Vader. And notably, the compatible smartphone required is not included.

After testing a review system — which includes an augmented reality headset, lightsaber controller, tracking beacon and various adapter cords — supplied by Disney and Lenovo, we found it fun, exciting and good exercise. But even “Star Wars” fans have their price limits. Just look at the backlash Electronic Arts faced for “Star Wars: Battlefront II,” the major PC and console game that will be released Friday.

Early-access players complained on Reddit that they spent $80 to buy the game, but could not unlock heroes like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker without playing for at least 40 hours to unlock credits or paying extra money to buy those credits. EA’s response received nearly 700,000 “downvotes,” by far the most negative votes in Reddit’s history.

 

Still, for no extra cost, you can fairly easily work your way up in “Jedi Challenges” to fight Darth Vader, after you slice through Darth Maul, Kylo Ren, some Stormtroopers and an assortment of clones. The system offers about 12 hours of total game play, and for the most part, it is a satisfying experience.

Here are our thoughts:

Christopher T. Fong: “Jedi Challenges” is cleverly packaged. You lift the box lid to find the lightsaber controller sitting alone in a jet-black cradle. Your eyes focus on the most coveted artifact of a galaxy far, far away, mentally bathing it in holy light. It reminded me of Rey finding Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Hidden in the bottom half of the box are the headset, tracking beacon and cables.

Benny Evangelista: I half expected to hear a church choir in the background singing a high A each time I opened the box. The hilt is a realistic replica of the one Anakin, Luke and Rey used in the movies, although internally it relies on gyroscope, accelerometer and Bluetooth technology from this galaxy. Two cameras on the headset track your positions.

CF: First, you have to download the required app onto your smartphone, which must be a newer-model iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, LG or, of course, Lenovo’s Moto Z2 Force. Then you sync the lightsaber to your phone via Bluetooth, turn on a ball-shaped tracking beacon and place it on the floor. The beacon casts a violet light, turning your room into disco night at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Then you open a hatch on the Lenovo Mirage AR headset, which has a clear front visor, and tug out a tray to secure the phone.

BE: It’s not intuitively clear which way the tray or the phone goes. I’d recommend reading the instructions several times, and follow each step in order. But it does become easier the more you do it. Patience you must have, my young Padawan.

Players fight villains like Kylo Ren in “Lightsaber Battles,” one of three games. Photo: Lenovo
Photo: Lenovo
 
 
Players fight villains like Kylo Ren in “Lightsaber Battles,” one of three games.

CF: Pro tip: Only insert your phone into the tray once it asks for screen adjustments.

The biggest challenge with AR and virtual reality headsets is getting a proper fit, and “Jedi Challenges” is no exception. While the visor fit over my large plastic glasses frames, I wasn’t able to alleviate the downward pressure from my nose, making weight distribution uneven. The headset needs a counterweight — something the PlayStation VR includes.

BE: Once you’re in the game, a virtual box called a Holocron appears on your floor, leading you to six planets floating in the air, starting with Naboo. This is the navigation map. AR makes the game less disorienting, because you can still see your couch, TV or other visual points of reference in your room. Plus AR isn’t as socially isolating as virtual reality — you can still see your friends and family in the room.

CF: But AR isn’t as immersive as a fully enclosed VR game. It’s just odd seeing Darth Maul emerge from my IKEA furniture, then rudely stand on top of my coffee table. I was thoroughly displeased with Stormtroopers running across my shag rug with their shoes on.

BE: Pay close attention to “the Archivist,” a sort of Jedi instructor who leads you through helpful training exercises. You must try “Lightsaber Battles” first. It’s the only one that activates the lightsaber’s glowing plasma blade, the biggest reason to consider buying this system. When that blade appears, you feel like you’re really wielding an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

CF: You julienne droids and duel Sith Lords to augmented reality death. With each victory, you gain a new Jedi power — force, speed, etc. The game feels like real sword fighting because of the controller’s haptic feedback.

BE: Indeed, I felt a little sweaty after facing Darth Maul, who got so close, it felt like he was going to charge right through me. When I took off the helmet, I was startled to find myself standing 5 feet behind where I started. Pro tip: Clear the room of obstacles. The gamemakers recommend a clear rectangular space 4½ feet by 10 feet.

CF: Holochess” brings the Millennium Falcon’s recreational board game to “life.” “Strategic Combat” is a defense tower game. Both are entertaining. But with these two, the lightsaber becomes just a pointer. And this is also where “Jedi Challenges” shows its dark side. The biggest problem is how the game picks up your tiniest head movement. And the AR imaging isn’t perfect for players with eyewear because it produces a mild double image.

BE: I found sitting down helped calm the jittery images. But the lightsaber was not as fun when used to select which animated Holochess pieces to move.

CF: Playing during the daytime is nearly pointless. For the best experience, find a dark corner or wait until after dusk.

BE: I waited until everyone in my house went to sleep, then turned off all the lights, connected Bluetooth headphones to the phone, and turned the phone’s display to its brightest setting. This made “Strategic Combat” more vivid. It created a virtual battle scene across my hardwood floor, including buildings, battle droids, X-wing fighters and Stormtroopers. I became a general, overseeing placement of gun turrets, soldiers and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi to fight waves of Separatist troops that appeared from my La-Z-Boy couch.

CF: Final tip: Turn off your phone’s notifications. Nothing like work emails to pause and ruin the immersion.

BE: This is more of the future of AR gaming than “Pokémon Go.” But in a way, it still feels one-dimensional because of the limited content. Disney said they are working on more games, but wouldn’t say what those were or when they will arrive. Like the Force, you’ll have to trust in something you can’t yet see.

CF: Is it worth it? It depends. I love “Star Wars.” But spending $200 is a big ask. Still, for a family of multi-generation “Star Wars” fans, “Jedi Challenges” will get a lot of play. We can forgive the flaws.

Benny Evangelista and Christopher T. Fong are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: bevangelista@sfchronicle.comcfong@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @ChronicleBenny

Star Wars: Jedi Challenges

Cost: $199.99

Included: Lenovo Mirage AR headset, Lightsaber controller, tracking beacon, smartphone adapter cables.

Not included: Compatible smartphone: iPhone 6 and newer (though not yet the iPhone X); Samsung Galaxy S7 and newer (excluding Note8); Google Pixel and Pixel XL; Moto Z2 Force Edition; LG G6.

Where to buy: Best Buy stores, Bestbuy.com, Lenovo.com.

Source: http://Review-Star-Wars-Jedi-Challenges/

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