ABZÛ hits the spot for video game lovers who enjoy a visually striking and emotionally stimulating experience that’s only a few hours long. This may seem like a really specific audience, but a lot of games in that space have gained significant traction like Inside, Firewatch, and Gone Home.
In ABZÛ, players take the protagonist, a polygonal swimmer, under the sea and across diverse, colorful, aquatic biomes. While the game leaves much to the abstract, this much is clear: years ago, a calamity toppled a great underwater civilization, damaged the health of the sea, and our polygonal hero must restore balance.
Ruins and decay overshadow some of the game’s zones, but marine life feels active and the ecosystems flourish with vivid beauty. A healthy variety of fish, squid, coral, turtles, sharks, dolphins, whales, and much more populate the water. Swimming through a school of fish while pressing the boost button causes the fish to join in synchronized motion with the swimmer. One of the most enjoyable mechanics occurs when grabbing on to the fin of a sperm whale or some other large sea creature then gently riding it through a forest of sea weed.
Those unfamiliar with flying in games may find that ABZÛ’s controls take some getting used to. Other than the possibility of a learning curve, the game works like a charm. It’s not even close to difficult for even a moment; there’s no unscripted death in the game.
It’s impossible to talk about ABZÛ without mentioning the PS3 game Journey. The similarities are obvious, especially the art style. Both involve the adventures of a mysterious hero across a path of highs, lows, and, ultimately, ascendence. But why criticize ABZÛ for this? After all, the games share an art director by the name of Matt Nava.
So what if the game has a lot of parallels with Journey? Just because one exists doesn’t mean the other can’t. Art borrows from other art all the time. ABZÛ is in no way a rip- off of Journey. It’s similar in spirit and form, but it evokes entirely different emotions. What if we didn’t get Overwatch because people said “Why do we need another cartoonish, competitive FPS when we already have Team Fortress 2?” Overwatch has brought a lot of joy to people and ABZÛ will, too.