Review: ABZÛ

At a Glance

This game is recommended!
This game is not just good fun, it also stays fairly true to Christian moral values, making it a great addition to anyone's library!

ESRB Rating: E - Everyone
My Rating: Everyone
Genre: Adventure
License: Commercial
Release Year: 2016
Review Published On: May 21st, 2018
Played on: Thaddeus

Available from:

Gamer's Gate, Humble Store, Steam, Microsoft Store

Save System:

This game uses a variation on checkpoints. Everything you do is recorded, but when you resume, your location will be reset to the nearest checkpoint position.

With the exception of slip stream areas, nothing happens without your input, so pausing is optional. To pause the game anyway, bring up the menu by pressing ESC

Summary of
Major Issues:

There is some mild violence as the predators do bloodlessly eat other fish, and the machines encountered later on are often hostile.

Late in the game, there's a particularly sad scene where one of the characters is attacked by one of these machines and dies from their injuries.


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Rushing through the slip stream

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Opening a path

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Meditating on a shark

Game Overview

By any chance, have you watched Disney's Fantasa 2000? If not, then you definitely should; it's a great movie. ABZÛ has nothing to do with that movie of course, but I'm bringing it up because of how strongly this game reminds me of it. Specifically, in both Fantasa and this game, the story is told without words, with the music playing a large role in shaping the atmosphere. The visuals are similar as well, as the dominant color palette follows the tone of the scene.

Taking the Fantasa 2000 analogy further, this game's plot is very similar to the segment based on the Firebird suite. There is no dialogue, leaving the player to decipher the story from the actions of the protagonists. Also, in both cases the main protagonist seems to exist solely to explore the world and spread new life wherever they go.

But, once they stray far enough into the world, they encounter something that's out of place and dangerous. For the sprite in Fantasa, it's the Firebird itself. Here, it's pyramidal alien machines that are very out of place in the underwater world. Not only do their sharp angles and dull colors menacingly contrast with the living waters around you, these machines are also actively hostile towards you and everything else swimming around.

Obviously, these things cannot be allowed to continue to pollute the world's oceans. The only problem is, you don't have any powers or abilities that would allow you to fight them. Something more natural, more spiritual, is needed.

All in all, this is a game you've got to give a try, just so that you can experience it once. Find yourself a comfortable spot on a rainy evening, and just immerse yourself in this work of art.

...and one side note for the curious: "abzu" was the name given to fresh, life-giving water drawn up from aquifers in Sumerian mythology. Some parts of this game have you pump water around in a similar fashion, so the name is quite fitting.

Points of Interest

Gorgeous underwater world
It's pretty clear from that a lot of effort went into creating this game, and that this effort didn't stop at the story itself. Thus, this is as much an interactive art piece as it is an immersive story. Everything in this game is incredibly detailed and alive, and it would be an almost spiritual experience to just hang around and watch the marine life go about their lives.

Of course, this beautiful aesthetic rapidly vanishes once you start exploring the mechanical ruins. The world's natural beauty is swiftly replaced by a sickly rusty orange, and things become dangerous for the protagonist.
Hidden secrets
Each area of the game boasts a number of secrets. These include special "meditation statues", spawning pools, and spiral shells. In addition to being slightly hard to find, the statues serve a purpose. As their name implies, interacting with them instructs the protagonist to assume the lotus position on the statue's head, and quietly meditate. This meditation involves releasing control of the character and centering the viewpoint on a marine lifeforms in the area. This allows you to just sit back and watch the world go by from the perspective of whichever animal you've selected.

Spawning pools may not be as dramatic, but they do have an important purpose: Triggering them brings new lifeforms into the game's world. So, if you can find them all, the world will truly be filled with life.
Steam community features
There are only twelve achievements to earn with this title, but most of them aren't earned by completing the story. Instead, you'll need to do a lot of exploring and experimenting with various things. Some of them require a bit of patience and chance, but this is definitely the right sort of game for that.

There are also some Steam trading cards to earn, if you're interested in collecting them.
Quite short
There really isn't much to the game's story, as you can play it through in less than an hour. Then again, I don't think the story is the main reason you're here, and despite its length, you can still experience a range of emotions as you reach the climax. After all, most modern movies around about two hours long.
Very easy
Each section of the game has something you need to do before you can progress. However, the challenges are limited to finding the interactive objects in the environment, and most of the time, there are paths or chains that you can follow. There's no trial and error, or any actual puzzle solving required. Additionally, since you can't be killed, even the "dangerous" elements don't really stop you.

Concerns and Issues

Fish eat each other
This is something to expect from a game that recreates complete ecosystems. Predators occasionally eat some of the nearby fish. It's so quick that you can blink and miss it entirely; in fact, it's completely bloodless. One moment a fish is swimming along, and the next moment there's nothing there.
Evil technology
In contrast to the romanticized depiction of the natural world, there are machines found in the later chapters that are clearly malevolent. Your first encounter with them is in the form of floating mines. Although you can't die in this game, the sudden explosion and disorientation is extremely jarring.

It only gets worse as the story reaches its climax, where the protagonist only narrowly survives an attack from the core or primary machine. In the saddest moment in the game, someone else important to the story isn't as lucky.
Reliefs show people worshiping animals
Throughout the areas, you'll find ruins of a past civilization. The people depicted in the artwork left behind sometimes seem to be offering tribute and worship to different marine creatures. Later in the game, these reliefs show a being much like yourself being honored.

As there's no dialogue and the only writing is in indecipherable hieroglyphics, the exact nature of this relationship is up for debate. There are some spiritual undertones to some of the things that happen in this game, so it wouldn't be out of place to assume the ancient peoples viewed these specific creatures as some sort of natural guardians or gods. This also begs the question: what exactly is your character's role?