Lego Horizon Adventures might be Sony’s most important game of the year

Hear me out.


Sony takes games seriously. That’s reflected in its tentpole releases, which are overwhelmingly gritty, adult affairs like Horizon, God of War and The Last of Us. It’s surprising, then, that its Summer Game Fest demo area replaced Sad Dads and apocalypses with cutesy Astro Bot figurines and Lego. Lots of Lego.

Lego Horizon Adventures might not have generated the Summer Game Fest headlines that the new Doom and Assassin’s Creed games did, but in many ways its legacy may be more interesting. Co-developed by Guerilla Games (known for the Horizon and Killzone series) and the AAA support team Studio Gobo, it aims to bring the world of the Horizon games to a new generation — and a new platform, the Nintendo Switch.

Horizon Adventures isn’t the first Sony game on Switch. MLB: The Show routinely comes to both Nintendo’s console and Xbox, but that’s a licensed sports game, and Horizon is a key PlayStation franchise. It has a VR spin-off, a live-action adaptation confirmed for Netflix and an MMO heavily rumored in its future. Bringing the latest iteration of the series day one to Switch, then, is unusual.

“We’re trying to bring in as broad an audience as possible,” Guerilla Games narrative director James Windeler told Engadget. “The collaboration with Switch, that’s an incredibly unique opportunity … it will really help bring in a family-friendly audience.”

It’s also just a plain bigger audience. Nintendo’s console has been around since 2017, and the market for Switch games is over 140 million. (For context, there are around 58 million PlayStation 5s in the wild.) Lego titles are also in a tiny minority of non-Nintendo games to top the Switch retail sales charts.

The game itself, from the 30-minute demo I played, seems delightful. The world of Horizon translates well to Lego, with the robodinos in particular being a highlight. There is already a Forbidden West Tallneck Lego set and it would be extremely surprising if we don’t see Thunderjaws and Scrappers showing up in Lego stores soon. Combat is surprisingly faithful to the original games, with Aloy sneaking around tall grass to get a good angle on an enemy and using her Focus to spot weak points. Also faithful to the original games is that stealth can very quickly fall by the wayside in favor of frenetic dodging. Less faithful: I got through one tricky fight by repeatedly summoning a hot dog vendor to throw exploding franks all over the place. It is a Lego game, I guess.

Tone-wise, Guerilla is shooting for the Lego Movie-like cross-generational irreverent humor, which isn’t really my jam but I appreciate it. Windeler said Guerilla is trying to hit key elements of the first game without directly remaking it: “It's definitely not a one-to-one retelling, but neither is it a parody in the sense that you don't need to be a Horizon aficionado to really kind of respond to the humor. It's broader in that way.” The voice cast from the original games, including Ashly Burch as Aloy and JB Blanc as Rost, is back for Horizon Adventures and seemingly having a lot of fun. Burch’s delivery in particular is ultra wide-eyed and excited, more like her work as Tiny Tina in the Borderlands series or one of her many animated characters. It’s a fun spin on a traditionally stoic character.

Lego Horizon Adventures -- co-op play
Lego Horizon Adventures -- co-op play (Sony)

Co-op is a big feature for Horizon Adventures. Local co-op is a drop-in, drop-out affair, which, as with most Lego games, enables an adult to easily help a kid get past a tricky area. But Lego games are also a lot of fun to play among consenting adults if you’re both into the particular franchise — I know plenty of grown-ups who live for Lego Star Wars. Away from the couch, there is online multiplayer, which is obviously more targeted at adults.

I am not a huge Horizon fan. Of all the open-world collect-a-thons, it’s one of my favorites, but it is very much not my genre. My partner is a fan, though, and we’re always on the lookout for middle-ground co-op games that can bridge the gap in our tastes. Maybe Horizon Adventures could be that, and I’ll become a real Horizon head because of it?

Finding new audiences is something Sony and Microsoft have been grappling with over the past couple of years. This Xbox-PlayStation generation has not seen as explosive growth as the last, and the kind of AAA experiences they typically shoot for are expensive to produce.

Microsoft seems to be committed to multiplatform releases for several established franchises it’s acquired, like Call of Duty, Diablo and Doom. It also ported four formerly exclusive titles — Hi-Fi Rush, Grounded, Pentiment and Sea of Thieves — to rivals’ machines earlier this year.

Sony’s approach has, until recently, been to court PC players with ports of older titles such as Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War. This year it also released Helldivers 2 on PC day one, which went very well until it didn’t. Company president Hiroki Totoki told investors in February that he “would like to go aggressive on improving our margin performance” (what a gamer!) by focusing more on multi-platform releases. The assumption at the time was that he was solely referring to PCs, but the Switch release of Horizon Adventures seemingly opens this effort up to more platforms.

It’s unlikely that Sony will bring its giant AAA games to a rival console at launch. But it could be that Sony begins to treat the Switch much like Nintendo used to treat mobile devices. The mid '10s saw an influx of Nintendo games on iPhone and Android, including Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing Pocket Camp and Mario Kart Tour. The strategy was pretty clear: Introduce Nintendo characters to a more casual audience, and convert a number of them over to the “full” experience. If Horizon Adventures goes well — and why would it not? — it’s easy to see Sony opening the floodgates and sending a bunch of its franchises to Nintendo’s mass-market console.

Lego Horizon Adventures launches 'Holiday 2024' on PlayStation 5, PC and Nintendo Switch.

Catch up on all of the news from Summer Game Fest 2024 right here!