We are in an age where storytelling in video games can take so many approaches. Some take the literal and others the abstract approach. The video games that take the abstract approach have to really define emotions through visuals and sounds, and only a handful of video games have really done that effectively. Take 2012’s PS3 exclusive Journey; It took you on a wild emotional ride, from exploring a desolate desert to swimming deep in some ancient ruins to crossing an icy mountain. The art direction really solidified the emotions felt throughout the game, and if you were lucky enough to find a partner through the short adventure, it was even better.
Fast forward to 2016, and we have ABZÛ, from the same art director of Journey, and people have made a lot of comparisons between the two games. ABZÛ – which roughly translates to “The Ocean of Wisdom” from ancient Sumerian – is an ocean exploration game. Just like Journey, the main protagonist you control does not speak, thus the story is very much driven by the visuals and sounds. And if you think that since this is just an exploration game about oceans that you will be seeing the deep blue all the time, then you are very wrong.
ABZÛ takes you to different oceanic environments. You start off in a green swamp-like lake and keep swimming to different underwater surroundings of pink coral and warm shades of orange. The scenery changes denote different levels, and progression to each level is dependent on solving very simple puzzles like cranking sets of chains to open up gates. The level progression does feel very linear, but at least the mental exertion is very minimal in this game.
In fact, I would even call ABZÛ a very zen-like game. You don’t die or get a “game over” screen; there are antagonists, in the form of underwater mines, but they are dormant and only paralyze you as a penalty for being in too close in proximity. The focus is on the experience and exploration. Oh, and also the marine life.
There is a vast majority of sea life that you can encounter in ABZÛ. Each level is filled with different fish, turtles, flora, squids and even shrimps that you can interact with. If you are able to find a shark statue, which are found at least once in every level, you can meditate on it. Meditation allows you to observe the animals in the area and their habits. One of the cool things about meditating is that it allows you to really see the intricacies added on to the different type of animal. A leatherback turtle is definitely different from a hawkbill turtle.
You can also swim amongst the marine life. By going close to one of the animals, you can hold a button to allow you to essentially “ride” with the animal. In later levels, you are able to do so with a great white shark and even a great blue whale. Since there is no multiplayer aspect to this game, this is a good alternative to make you seem like you are not venturing out alone. In the later levels, you actually will befriend a very special animal that will assist you in taking down the nasty mines.
In the end, if you are itching for a good exploration game or even a game where you can just relax, ABZÛ is the game for you. There were times where I would spend a good half hour just looking at the creatures while on meditation mode, and it was extremely refreshing. This is certainly a great addition from the genius that was behind Journey.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming
Plot - 6/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Design - 9/10
+Awesome usage of colors to depict ocean life
+Very relaxing with very minimal mental exertion to solve puzzles
+Intricate marine creatures that can be interacted with
-Story progress is very linear
-No multiplayer capabilities