Abzu is a charming, Journey-inspired aquatic adventure that is as therapeutic as it is fun. In this refreshing take on the adventure game genre, players must delve deep into the ocean to reinvigorate underwater ecosystems and unveil a history buried within. While swimming through the cracks and caverns of each chapter, players will discover details of a fallen ancient society and its inevitable rebirth.
Players take control of a somewhat ‘holy diver’, who awakens suddenly atop the surface of a clear blue body of water. Aside from a quick control scheme tutorial, there aren’t any direct instructions on what to do next. However, since Abzu is a linear adventure, the path forward is usually quite obvious and is denoted by distinct doorways and openings. There are also mechanical critters and schools of fish that can point players in the right direction if need be. Some light puzzle solving is required to unlock a few doors, but nothing too strenuous.
The vivid color palette and art style of Abzu should feel somewhat familiar to those who played Journey, since the two games share the same art director. The brilliant display of color and aquatic life encourages players to explore each underwater environment thoroughly before moving onto the next. You won’t have to worry about coming up for air or even really getting hurt, which makes your carefree stride through the sea that much more liberating.
The control scheme itself is also conducive to exploration, with separate controls for the body and head movements. The right trigger [R2] acts as the throttle to propel your character through the water, and the [X] button provides a quick burst forward while swimming. Three well-timed bursts in a row will increase the power of each burst, allowing you to leap from the water’s surface. To really embrace your inner Flipper, hold [L2] to hitch a ride on a nearby creature, then time your leaps to arc out of the water in true dolphin style.
Of course, no exploration game is complete without its fair share of collectibles. There are a number of sea shells tucked throughout each section for players to collect, along with several hidden pools that can be interacted with to unleash a particular aquatic species into the water. You’ll also unearth curious little drones from the sea floor that follow you around and act as temporary guides when needed.
The most notable items in Abzu, however, are the meditation statues. Interacting with these shark statues puts you in a meditation stance, causing the camera perspective to shift toward one of the nearby creatures. You can swing your focus between each fish and critter using the left joystick [L3] to learn the names of each species and get a better look at your surroundings. Meditation mode practically lets you interact with a stress-free fish tank devoid of fish poop, making it easily one of the most relaxing features in the game. Plus, each statue doubles as a waypoint that allows you to dive back into a specific chapter to revisit a section and gather missing collectibles.
During most of the game, players will find themselves surrounded by beautiful, serene environments, teeming with various plants and animals. However, Abzu still has a few shocking surprises up its wetsuit sleeve. We won’t spoil you with details here, but we do recommend that you prepare to enjoy the full game experience in a single sitting in order to really soak-up the narrative and relish every awe-inspiring moment Abzu has to offer.
Abzu’s theme centers around the cyclic nature of death and rebirth. The brief narrative reminds us of the inherent connection between opposing forces, and that even a food chain should be more of a food ring instead. Abzu takes some of the better qualities of an open world sandbox game and condenses it down into a neat linear package, filled with just the right balance of wonder, mystery, and charm to keep you submerged for a brief couple of hours. Although the game is relatively short, Abzu offers enough meaningful elements and whimsical encounters to leave a lasting impression.