Saturday, December 1

Review: Abzu [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Abzu is a title that has really made me think quite a bit about where the games industry is at and how to evaluate something that is honestly more of an experience than a game. I’m a gamer who loves being challenged, and I like interesting and diverse action. Right off the bat, Abzu offers absolutely nothing in those categories. Nevertheless, having finished the game, it somehow has made a major impression on me and it’s hard not to at least mildly rave about it.



The vast majority of Abzu is played underwater, with your character swimming in lush environments and through some trial and error figuring out what you’re supposed to do in them. You could call the majority of situations you find yourself in puzzles but aside from perhaps at the very end there’s really nothing challenging about them. When you’re not in these sort of sandbox open areas you’re generally just flowing through the water to another destination.


The thing is, it seems the point of the exercise isn’t to share a specific narrative (there’s no dialogue or narration) or even to challenge your skills, it’s simply to experience something. Whether that’s swimming through a school of fish, simply exploring the underwater space to appreciate small details, or catching a ride with a sunfish, a whale, or more Abzu does an incredible job of setting the stage for moments that wordlessly convey meaning through a sense of wonder. One of my favorites was swimming next to a blue whale, and as the camera pulls out appreciating its immense scale and how very small we humans are by comparison.


Even as the credits rolled for Abzu I still couldn’t hope to tell you what it all means. It’s an experience that’s full of wonder, some breathtaking moments, and managed to make me feel a bit more connected with nature. What you may come away with may differ but I’d be a bit shocked if anyone could play it without it hitting them somewhere emotionally. The beauty of it all, the wonderfully fitting musical score, and small moments of the unexpected make Abzu a pretty special experience even if I may question whether it’s necessarily a game. In the end I don’t know that I much care, it’s something that will still stick with me for some time.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Gorgeous underwater environments and an abundance of aquatic life for you to swim with
  • While there’s no heavily defined narrative there is a story with an adversary of sorts, and some touching moments along the way
  • The music brilliantly matches the action consistently throughout and gives the experience depth

Cons:
  • It is absolutely at the fringes of what I’d call a game with limited opportunities for any player agency
  • Only lasts a few hours, though it feels like the right length for the experience it offers