You may have seen my non-reviews on this very blog before. The movies, Black Panther and Captain Marvel, were appropriate objects of critique based on their strong animal themes, something they share with a game I just played. ABZU—available on PS4, XBOX One, Switch, and PC—is a colorful adventure wherein you hang out with lots of marine creatures. My back-of-the-box quote: “I never thought a great white shark would become my best friend.“
ABZU takes place almost entirely underwater. Its vast array of colors comes from corral, plants, the marine life itself, and the gorgeous light that breaches the surface. It is a joy to behold and to hear, as the music swells at fateful moments, filling one feline player with a sense of awe and contentment.
Labeling this game as an underwater Journey minus the multiplayer is not without merit, as the creative director of ABZU did work on Journey. The emotion it creates from its sparse storytelling, characters, and systems relies on its art, level design, and music, which are all wonderful, much like its spiritual predecessor. As such, the inevitable comparison is not meant to be disparaging; rather, it’s an accurate description and the highest of compliments.
So what about the animals? ABZU has neat mechanics that lets the player hitch a ride on the back of sea turtles, sharks, and whales, among others, and “meditate” to follow any of the available sea life around. Did you ever want to inhabit an angelfish or a giant squid as they peacefully swim through beautiful environments? Just sit your butt on a ancient statue and meditate. ABZU can be weird.
That’s all well and good, but what is it about? This game is a short adventure (three to five hours, I’d say) through various underwater locations. And the spirit realm. There are the remains of technology scattered about, the most conspicuous of which are sea mines. These appear in the later part of the game and can shock the player, who has to navigate around them.
Sea life, drones, and the aforementioned great white shark join in this adventure that’s ultimately about life and nature reclaiming their dominion over the technology that harms and destroys them. You might weep as I did, but before long you’ll be transported to new heights of blissfulness and delight. All I wanted was to whet my appetite by looking at fishies, but then a shark grabbed at my heartstrings and tugged. Well done, ABZU.
Final rating: Three giant squids and a school of snappers.