Hands-On With Horizon Lego Adventures: A Perfect Fit For Nintendo Switch

The first thing to know about the recently announced Horizon Lego Adventures is that it’s a Lego game first and an adaptation of Horizon Zero Dawn second. It’s not attempting to be a one-to-one, brick-by-brick recreation of the expansive open-world RPG or even an abridged version. Think of it more as a Shakespeare for Kids spin on the sci-fi adventure, except instead of translating the Bard’s iambic pentameter into contemporary English, it’s taking the familiar bones of a Lego adventure game and putting a pre-historic robot-smashing twist on it.

It was a bit of a shock when Sony revealed that it’s bringing Horizon Lego Adventures to Switch as well as PlayStation 5 and PC, but playing it for roughly half an hour at Summer Game Fest, it quickly becomes clear that it’s the perfect fit for Nintendo’s handheld hybrid. Out this holiday, the game features two-player co-op and was designed to be playable with just one joystick so that multiplayer would be an option right out of the box with players using an individual Joy-Con each.

Tim Symons, franchise development lead producer at Guerrilla Games and the person who led me through my demo, seemed thrilled to be making a childhood dream of sorts come true. He joined the Dutch PlayStation studio five years ago after more than a decade at, surprise, Nintendo. He also loved playing with Lego as a kid and confided in me that his favorite set he never actually got to have was the giant pirate ship called the Skull’s Eye Schooner (he wasn’t alone, that was also the set I coveted while incessantly browsing the home catalog back in the day).

Gif: Sony
Gif: Sony

“For us, it’s super exciting to make a Nintendo game for the first time, right?” Symons told me. He said that, rather than make the game for PS5 and scale it down, both versions were made simultaneously. “We do it actually all at the same time, in parallel, so we have a dedicated team of engineers optimizing all this for Switch, but it will be exactly the same.”

Instead of two-player split-screen, both heroes, selected from Aloy, Varl, and two others, share the same game space and follow one another around through verdant, post-apocalyptic forests, villages, and caves. Players have a single projectile attack—a bow and arrow in Aloy’s case and a spear in Varl’s—with the option to pick up additional limited-used power-up abilities during the course of exploring each level. Machines you encounter still have weak points like their counterparts in the original PlayStation 4 game, but there’s no pausing to target specific pieces or using Aloy’s abilities to override and control them.

She does still have her Focus though, which can be used to highlight interactive objects and other useful info on each level, and you can still deploy makeshift traps by lighting things on fire, blowing up ice barrels, and taking advantage of other elemental effects. I didn’t really see the traditional build mechanics of a Lego game put to use, with much of the exploration and combat feeling more like a stripped down version of Horizon, complete with a light upgrade skill tree, than something reimagined in the world of Lego. You can fight cultists and pick them up and throw them into one another, though.

Image: Sony
Image: Sony

This narrower focus can make Horizon Lego Adventures feel simplistic but still compelling. Movement and action control well and the crunchy, tactile feel of Lego is everywhere, from stop-motion animations to the fact that everything in the game was designed out of real pieces first, a requirement by the Lego company.

“They’d be checking it all to make sure every brick is real,” Symons said. “It’s all their brick library, essentially. So we’re just rebuilding the game in Lego, which was a cool challenge because we were inspired by the movies. The movies are also made fully out of Lego and we have a bit of stop motion animation because we didn’t want to bend the plastic. We want to be true to the actual product.”

Even the Horizon story has been re-tuned to introduce the goofy, irreverent humor the other Lego games and movies are known for. Ashly Burch returns to voice Aloy and you can tell she is having a lot of fun re-interpreting the character and her story through comedic moments that vary from slapstick to knowing parody.

Image: Sony
Image: Sony

While Horizon Lego Adventures feels specially designed with the Switch in mind, it will have some bells and whistles on its home platform of PS5, including a 60fps performance mode. There’s also a bevy of customization options with light settlement-building mechanics and costumes from other Lego franchises and themed sets that can be unlocked over the course of the game. The main campaign runs about eight hours and Symons promised post-story content and other unlockables would keep players busy beyond that.

I peppered him with a few more questions before my session ended. How did Hermen Hulst, managing director of Guerrilla back when Horizon shipped and now co-CEO of PlayStation, react when he first played the new game? “He loved it,” Symons responded, chuckling. What’s Symons’ favorite Lego game? “The Marvel one is pretty good because there’s so many different playstyles,” he said. And finally, does this new partnership mean Aloy might eventually come to the next Super Smash Bros.? “That’d be nice. If you speak to Nintendo and they want to invite us let me know.”

It’s clear that Horizon Lego Adventures is a carefully selected touch point to get the Horizon brand into more people’s hands, especially kids’, thanks in part to an abridged story that tones down some of the dark parts of the source material (I bet we’ll see some more Horizon Lego sets as well). At the same time, based on playing the opening stages, it seems like an obvious recommendation for any parent like me who loves Horizon and has kids who want me to play games with them. In that way, it feels similar to the purpose Minecraft Dungeons served for parents who love Diablo-inspired dungeon crawling. Whether Horizon Lego Adventures will manage to justify itself as a game that stands alone on its own two feet remains to be seen. Minecraft Dungeons certainly did that. I hope Horizon Lego Adventures can too.

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