Lego Horizon Adventures: Charming and Creative! 26

Lego Horizon Adventures: Charming and Creative!

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I’ll be perfectly honest: Lego Horizon Adventures as a concept sounded rather silly to me. There are so many Lego games already — did PlayStation’s Horizon series really warrant getting that treatment? I felt that way when Lego Horizon Adventures was first leaked a few weeks ago, and its formal reveal at Summer Game Fest (SGF) didn’t exactly change my opinion.

But after playing 45 minutes of the game at SGF and speaking with James Windeler, narrative director at Horizon maker Guerrilla Games, I’ve really come around on the whole thing.

First, it’s completely different from pretty much any other game in the current PlayStation Studios catalogue. In some ways, it feels like a direct response to the people who reductively say PlayStation exclusives are all the same kind of third-person action-adventure experience. But beyond that, the worlds of Lego and Horizon just mesh together a lot better than I expected, and that starts with Guerrilla Games and the Danish toymaker themselves.

“It’s always been an ambition of Guerrilla to work with Lego. We have lots of lots of fanatics, Lego fanatics, at Guerrilla. The story goes that we prototyped the first machines in Horizon Zero Dawn out of Duplo,” says Windeler in a group interview. That helped pave the way for the creation of a physical Horizon Lego set, and Windeler says that eventually encouraged Lego to want to deepen that relationship.

“Lego, on their side, saw a lot of opportunity in working with us on the IP. Our world is so bright and colourful, and we have these optimistic themes that run through the stories. We have an inclusive fan base,” he says. “These are all good signs from a Lego brand perspective, and they were like ‘Oh, yeah, this is a partnership that makes a lot of sense.'”

Windeler’s point about “optimistic themes” struck a chord with me. Indeed, within the solemn, machine-ridden post-apocalyptic world of Horizon lies a poignant story about a young woman, Aloy, who ventures out to discover her lineage and save humanity in the process.

Windeler says Guerrilla and co-developer Studio Gobo are staying faithful to the core coming-of-age from Horizon Zero Dawn while presenting it in a more family-friendly fashion befitting of Lego.

“There are iconic scenes that we have reimagined through a Lego lens that are in the game, but we’ve also taken a lot of leeway. It is definitely its own thing; you can’t really consider it to be canon,” he says. “There are definitely moments that are emotionally impactful and have some of that gut punch of some of the scenes in the first game, but we really do try to undercut everything with comedy and awareness and tongue-in-cheek playfulness.”

While I did find the lighthearted depiction of Horizon to be a bit jarring at first, it soon became rather endearing, especially where Aloy herself is concerned. With Ashly Burch already delivering a powerfully heartfelt and dramatic performance in the main games, this breezier tone lets her bring out more of that charmingly manic energy she provides Tiny Tina in Borderlands. Intentionally or not, it also feels like a self-aware acknowledgment that the otherwise serious Aloy in the main games had a frustrating tendency to constantly monologue.

I was also impressed to see how well Horizon‘s core gameplay lends itself to the Lego framework. In the main games, you’d use Aloy’s Focus to highlight machine weak points that you’d then have to try to hit as they hopped around and attacked you. Taking apart these components would allow you to systematically dismantle the robots and yield lucrative materials and even weapons.

In Lego Horizon Adventures, that whole gameplay loop has been retained, albeit streamlined to become more family-friendly. Here, you can also use your Focus to reveal weak points that Aloy and other playable characters can then automatically target. You can also find more powerful limited-use weapons in the arena or purchased at certain points, although they’re much quirkier than what you’d see in Zero Dawn or its sequel, Forbidden West. These include a hot dog cart that fires exploding hot dogs, booster boots that let you jump and blast enemies and exploding throwable spears (exclusive to Aloy’s friend Varl).

All told, these power-ups capture the zaniness of the Lego property while still often feeling at home with the high-tech, futuristic world of Horizon. That more combat-heavy approach feels at home with Guerrilla’s series while also helping to differentiate it from the many other Lego games on the market. And in classic Lego style, you can play with a friend in co-op, which adds another dimension to Horizon since you could previously only take on the signature machines alone.

“The general approach is that we wanted to break our own rules and we wanted to have fun with it,” Windeler says. “We’re not trying to be like a purist about ‘everything has to be Horizon’ — we wanted this to feel like a child’s playset.” Part of that includes featuring a variety of colourful skins for the characters, be they more in line with Horizon‘s signature tribal aesthetic or more outlandishly Lego-inspired, like a man in a hot dog suit. The demo even had some skins from Lego City Undercover and Ninjago, although Windeler wouldn’t confirm whether we might see any costumes from other PlayStation franchises.

Like any Lego game, you’ll also be able to collect studs as you make your way through levels, which can be used to buy not only the aforementioned skins, but also parts to customize Mother’s Heart. This location, which is home to the Nora tribe to which Aloy belongs, will serve as a hub area between levels. It’s here that the “child’s playset” mentality is fully realized, as you can spend studs to build all kinds of colourful structures in the village, including roller coasters, homes made out of Tallneck machines, carnival games and food carts.

But perhaps most surprising of all is the fact that Lego Horizon Adventures will be available on Nintendo Switch as well as PlayStation 5 and PC. Not counting MLB The Show, which is a licensed title, this would be the first wholly original PlayStation property on a Nintendo platform, which is pretty wild to think about. Windeler says the move was made to help ensure that the game was “for everyone,” be it family members who are casual gamers or “hardcore” Horizon players.

“We’re trying to bring as broad an audience as possible to this product and to this game, to the franchise, and the Switch has a family-friendly audience, and it’s a really good fit in order to expand,” said Windeler.

Overall, I’d have to say Lego Horizon Adventures was one of my most pleasant surprises of SGF. I went in rather apathetic and came out impressed with how effectively Guerrilla and Studio Gobo have translated one of my favourite PlayStation franchises into Lego. Be sure to keep this one on your radar when it launches sometime this holiday.