Abzû is a game where you swim in the ocean. You look at fish and explore sea caves. You can ride on big fish. Sometimes you can ride on squids.
Graphics: Let’s get the important thing out of the way: this is one of the best looking games I’ve ever played. The artwork is the selling point of the game. Abzû was designed by, Matt Nava, the art director for Journey and uses the same cell shaded 3-D art aesthetic. Mr. Nava knows what he is doing and has created an amazing visual experience in Abzû. The lighting, shading, and colors all come together to create an almost spiritual experience. Ugh, I need to work on my art vocabulary. I don’t have any better words than: It’s very pretty. Let me roll on a random art criticism table* and see what comes up…
Where’s my d12 at… here we go… art criticism:
HOW DOES IT SIGNIFY!
Indeed, how does it do that? Signification is important. That is very art criticism-y. Games are art. Checkmate.
Anyhoo, I may not be a great art writer, but I do know magic, and this game is magic.
Gameplay: In Abzû you control a diving suit avatar who explores eight levels of beautiful ocean scenery. Each level has dozens of different kinds of fish and other delicious sea life that each act in different ways. Sometimes big fish will eat little fish. You will experience the circle of life.
Much like Copoka, Abzû is more of an exploration toy than it is a game. There are some nominal puzzles where you need to pull a switch or find a robot helper to unlock the next area, but they really aren’t difficult. They aren’t really puzzles at all as all the triggers are pretty heavily signposted along the mostly linear path of each level. I get it. It’s not that kind of party. This isn’t meant to be a puzzle game where a player can get stymied and give up. The designers want to show off all their pretty work. I dig it. I just feel like there’s a lost opportunity here of making this more of an environmental puzzle game ala ICO.
Ridiculous aside involving Aquaman: I think the seeds of the Best Possible Aquaman game are in Abzû. Seriously. There will be a terrible licensed tie in game to the Aquaman movie, but I think the possibilities that Abzû presents would make for an actually good game. Who needs another cruddy 3D punching game? Why not make a game where you explore the deep blue sea? Add in a puzzle mechanic where you need to direct fish to get you through environmental puzzles (“Hey, you whales, push those boulders out of the way!”), and I think you’d have an actual honest-to-goodness good Aquaman game. ICO + Abzû = The Aquaman game I want. It occurs to me that this game kind of already got made. I need to dig up my Dreamcast and load up Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future. I am way into the fairly useless realm of dreaming about the game I want rather than enjoying the game I have, which is always really shaky ground for a critic. Like, just go create something yourself, dude. I’ll stop.
One caveat is that this is a short game. It’s only going to take about two hours to get through the whole mainline. You could probably double that if you went back and searched out every collectible in a second play through, but that second play-through is going to much lighter on the awe of new discovery.
Sounds like I’m complaining, I’m really not. This game is good. Mostly because it looks awesome. Play it.
*Courtesy Maze of the Blue Medusa. Perhapse the finest D&D adventure from the last few years.
Note: I did not record this properly. The mic didn’t record voices properly. Or rather, the user of the mic didn’t properly set it up to record voices properly. Which is too bad as I had my apprentice with me. It was pretty cute. We named the shark “Sharky McSharkshark.”