ABZU – Nintendo Switch

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Title:  ABZU
Developer:  Giant Squid Studios
Publisher:  505 Games
Website: https://505games.com/games/abzu
Genre:  Adventure, Puzzle
Platform:  Nintendo Switch
Audience:  Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence
Release Date:  29/11/2018
Price:  £14.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this game.

What the Developers say

From the artistic mind behind Journey® and Flower®, ABZÛ is a beautiful underwater adventure that evokes the dream of diving.

Immerse yourself in a vibrant ocean world full of mystery and bursting with color and life. Perform fluid acrobatics as the Diver, using graceful swimming controls. Discover hundreds of unique species based on real creatures and form a powerful connection with the abundant sea life. Interact with schools of thousands of fish that procedurally respond to you, each other, and predators. Linger in epic seascapes and explore aquatic ecosystems modeled with unprecedented detail. Descend into the heart of the ocean where ancient secrets lie forgotten. But beware, dangers lurk in the depths.

“ABZÛ” is from the oldest mythologies; AB, meaning water, and ZÛ, meaning to know. ABZÛ is the ocean of wisdom.

Introduction

Watching the credits roll on ABZU was one of the most bittersweet moments of my time gaming in 2018. Having been excited about its release ever since its announcement for the Nintendo Switch earlier in the year, I was very much looking forward to ‘diving in’ to see what all the hype was about. Nominated in 2016 for the ‘Game Critics Award’ and the ‘Best of E3’ award upon its initial release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, it is safe to say the aptly named ‘Giant Squid Studios’ had developed a game that had been well received by the gaming community. Does it offer enough to warrant release on another gaming console? Is there reason here to ‘double dip’? I’ll stop now! Read on for a Rapid Review of ABZU on the Nintendo Switch. 

Looks and Sounds

Ordinarily, it would be this part of the review that would get the least air time during my Rapid Review as there are often more gameplay elements to discuss. For this particular game, this is not possible. If the screenshots shared haven’t made it clear enough, this game is breathtaking to look at and I want to convey this in all its glory. Clean lines, bold colours and astonishing attention to detail, Giant Squid Studios have created a masterpiece. So often during my time with the game I would just stop and take in the sights that lay before me. Be it the way the water shimmers and shines in the light, or how the sea creatures twist and turn as they showcase their good looks, or even the manner with which the plant life sway in unison with the sea as it flows, I could not take my eyes off of it all. 

It is rare a game influences me in this way, particularly on looks alone, but I felt a genuine fear of missing out as I journeyed through the seven different ‘chapters.’ I was desperately trying to ensure I left no stone unturned and as such, spent far more time than was necessary exploring. I knew full well it was not needed, and would have no bearing on the end result, however it was good for my soul – something I think the developers themselves had aimed to achieve. At pertinent parts of the game, the option was given to ‘meditate.’ Here, your character sits down and you experience a first-person view of the world before you. It even offers the opportunity to track different species of animal and see how they interact. Bliss!

I often play my Nintendo Switch on my projector, and ABZU looked every inch the part. The good news, however, is that in handheld mode, the visual experience is just as bold and beautiful. The ability to play Giant Squid Studios creation on the go was one I benefited from as I could pick up and play for ten minutes or spend much more considerable time playing too. 

As mentioned previously, the animal species which have been included here are as much of a sight to behold as the seascapes themselves. Getting up close and personal with the animals was outstanding, and I was always on the lookout for a new species I had yet to encounter. The way they interacted, the attention to detail of their appearance and how they congregated together in schools was a joy to experience. It was also pleasing to see how each animal had been created to scale – sharks were truly massive and dominated any areas that they were found. 

Accompanying the exemplary visuals is a soundtrack which is a fitting tribute to the on-screen happenings. Austin Wintory is the man behind the composition and production of the audio, and his vision to provide a dynamic musical score has been realised here. At every stroke along the way, the music was appropriate and atmospheric. With a game of this nature, the soundtrack can play a pivotal role in ensuring the game achieves what it set out to and Wintory has excelled. A minor detail, but one deserving of a mention, is that when playing in handheld mode, the sound quality was not as good as would be desired. Having never had a problem with this on other games, it is difficult to attribute this to the console itself. 

Gameplay and Replayability

Clocking in at roughly two hours, ABZU is a rather short gaming experience. For this reason, I do not wish to provide much of a backstory to the gameplay itself so as not to lessen the experience. Part of ABZU’s beauty is in the exploration and finding things out for yourself, and this should be protected. What can be said, however, is that by taking on the role of a female diver who awakes to find herself in the vast ocean, you immerse yourself in incredible seascapes full of ancient ruins and murals which seemingly make reference to an ancient civilsation. 

Controlled using the left stick, your ‘diver’ swims effortlessly through ocean with poise, finesse and ease. The fluid controls and simplistic control layout – only ZR is required to swim – meant that most of the time could be spent marveling at the feast before my eyes. The right stick is used for the camera angle, which can be used as standard or inverted, and this was well-executed too. 

Once you have a handle on the controls, you will direct your diver on a rather linear journey from one seascape to another. Although you are encouraged to explore as the visuals are so inviting, there is little motivation or need to. At various points throughout the game, you are required to complete a ‘puzzle’ to gain access to the next ‘chapter’, however these are very simplistic and not at all challenging. 

Where replayability is concerned, this will be a personal preference. For me, ABZU is best described as an ‘incredibly detailed, interactive, visual novel.’ It is rare that I return to a novel once experienced, and I fear this may be the case here too. The serene atmosphere and calming effect it had on me increases the possibility, but for the most part I imagine it to be something I show to a friend so that they too can marvel at the visuals on display. 

Aside from the obvious drawback that the game only offers a few hours of enjoyment, there was one other issue I had that I mention only because it affected the level of immersion for me. Detailed on the eShop as a feature, you can ‘interact with schools of thousands of fish that procedurally respond to you, each other, and predators.’ When this occurred, it was mightily impressive. When it didn’t however, I was able to swim through fish as if they weren’t there. I would love to see this rectified to provide the most immersive experience possible, and a first-person camera mode also wouldn’t go a miss.

Conclusion

ABZU is a breathtaking visual experience that I believe everyone should have the pleasure of trying. Short on gameplay it may be, but Giant Squid Studios have created an atmospheric, detailed underwater world that it would be a travesty for you not to encounter as a Nintendo Switch owner. At £14.99, the value for money could be debated, however somewhere, somehow, and at some time, I recommend you give it a whirl. 

Rapid Reviews UK Rating

4 out of 5

You can purchase ABZU by Giant Squid Studios on the Nintendo eShop NOW at the following address, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch-download-software/ABZ–1467719.html

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