Review: Abzû (Switch)

A deep tale in the deep ocean.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 12/20/2018 06:15 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Enchanting visuals; top-shelf sound; profound story
Poison Mushroom for...
Short; not a ton to do once you’ve finished; challenge is minimal

In 2007, Nintendo released Endless Ocean, a deep-sea diving adventure with beautiful vistas, sea life galore, and absolutely no enemies (2009’s Endless Ocean 2 continued the formula, albeit with a little more danger). Ocean-based games are otherwise few and far between, particularly those that involve controlling an individual diver, and fewer games still provide a chance to explore with no true enemies to fight. That’s what makes Abzû such a curiosity. It’s a game cut from just such a cloth, which makes it perhaps fitting that it has found its way to Nintendo’s current console… although it’s anything but an Endless Ocean clone.

Abzû, a multiplatform title, is available on the Nintendo eShop for $19.99. It’s a bit of a latecomer to Switch, having released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC back in 2016. If one were to try and peg a genre, Abzû would probably best be described as an adventure game with light puzzle elements, but that doesn’t really capture the spirit of the game. In truth, Abzû feels less like a game and more like an experience. Players control the main character, but the path is strictly linear and there is no health bar. Players cannot deviate from the path and cannot die, which leaves the player as more of a caretaker for what is essentially a foreordained outcome, and the challenges, such as they are, won’t be much trouble even for the casual gamer.

On paper, this might make it sound like the game isn’t all that exciting. And, if the most important part of a game for you is a steep challenge, you’d be right. But if you’re one who values epic storytelling and character development, Abzû has both. In this tale, players take on the role of a diver who awakes, alone, in the middle of the ocean. What follows is a journey of exploration, both to learn about the diver and to learn about what has happened to this water-dominated world. There are a few unexpected twists, and a few moments bound to pull on the heartstrings.

Plus, there are places to go. The game is, after all, an ocean adventure, and there are many locations to traverse and explore. Throughout the adventure, players will head into various locations, where there is terrain to look at, ocean animals to interact with, puzzles to solve, and even the occasional secret to unearth. The controls are simple yet effective, allowing players to slip effortlessly through the waters, communicate with some objects via sonar, and even ride certain aquatic animals with a single touch of a button.

And the setting is nothing short of high art. The style is absolutely inspired, with so much invention and color put into each location that just stopping and looking around is an experience in and of itself. Watching a giant animal swim by as you duck under a rock outcropping or explore one of the game’s mystical temples never gets old. The look is supplemented by a fully orchestrated soundtrack that makes Abzû sound as epic as it looks.

Sadly, it doesn’t last long. Abzû, from start to finish, only runs 1-2 hours tops. Completionists and those who feel the ocean jaunt was over too quickly may find some value replaying the trip, but there aren’t a lot of other incentives to go back once the credits roll. On the other hand, some players might spend just as long hunting the message boards trying to make sense of the story and ending, which operates by and large without words, leaving some of the finer details open to interpretation.

So is Abzû worth it? That’s not entirely easy to answer. In an era when games can deliver potentially hundreds of hours of entertainment, $20 seems a bit high for a 90-minute game. But, in an era when people also routinely pay that amount for a Blu-ray or digital copy of a movie, an experience like Abzû might be worth the trip for some people. And for players itching to go swimming, this is one of the best options currently out there, especially on Switch.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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