Developer Giant Squid's Abzu is just as hard to quantify now as it was when it originally released in 2016. This is due in large part to Abzu being a wealth of contradictions. The world feels expansive and breathless in the moment but on reflection the experience is actually quite short. Abzu is also all about the narrative journey but there's very little "actual" story. Most off-putting of all, Abzu is a video game where there's very little in the way of traditional gaming mechanics.
The contradictory Abzu first made it its way to gamers' screens on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One two years ago and now Abzu has come to Nintendo Switch. There are no special features in the Switch version besides the obvious of making the game portable. This itself is questionable as Abuzu is more suited to indulgent play sessions than anything that can be picked up and played on-the-go. Even so the unique Abzu is still a journey worth taking even if it can sometimes feels more like an interactive screensaver than a video game.
The conceit of Abzu is simple. Players are put in control of a nameless, genderless deep sea diver and tasked with following the words of Finding Nemo's Dory to the letter, "just keep swimming." There's only one goal in Abzu and it's to go. Abzu is an adventure game in every sense of the word. There's no real challenge to speak of and all the storytelling is ambient as opposed to anything direct. Abzu gives exactly what the player puts into it which is unconventional but understandable and welcome. The diver travels from area to area without fear of losing oxygen and just the player takes in the ocean behind them. A few surprises and secrets can be uncovered in Abzu but for the it's mostly very straight forward.
However, this simplicity isn't a knock on Abzu's overall quality. Everything Abzu lacks in challenge and directness it more than makes up for in memorability. From the very start Abzu manages to entrance with its graphics. Abzu begs players to explore its magical undersea world with these visuals and there are plenty of rewards to be found if the mission is taken. Whether it's just entering a new area with a radically different color scheme than the previous one or riding on the back of a dolphin Abzu is stuffed with charming and relaxing moments. Abzu won't hold the player's hand and point out the most interesting areas of any given location but that wonder of discovery is the selling point.
The "feel" of Abzu is one of its best qualities. There's a sense of calmness and serenity that pervades every inch of Abzu. It's so refreshing to play a video game set in an underwater world and not be frightened of running out of air or be in a constant battle with the controls. Water levels in some iconic games are infamously terrible but Abzu is the exception. Most of Abzu is a different type of experience from most mainstream gaming but that's rather welcome. 2018 has seen so many monstrous-sized triple AAA releases that are full of open worlds with almost too many things to do. It's a perfect change of pace to literally dive in Abzu and just start leisurely exploring.
Abzu isn't a blemish free experience. The big flaw of Abzu is the game's length. It'll take roughly two hours to reach the game's endpoint. While that time can be doubled to uncover every secret that's still only four hours in total. To Abzu's credit the brief runtime does feel wholly complete. There's material jam-packed into those two hours but it's still just two hours, which is on the short side even for an indie game. It's even harder to reconcile this short time as the Nintendo Switch version isn't launching with any kind of price cut or discount despite the age of Abzu.
It's fair to be turned off by Abzu in concept alone. If similarly styled games like Journey, Flower or even Limbo and Inside weren't enticing Abzu won't be any different. Abzu doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to slow-paced adventure titles with interesting art designs. The world is what makes Abzu special not anything about how it plays or the game's ambitions. That was the case in 2016 and it's certainly the case now. Yet even if Abzu doesn't offer a brand-new experience it still accomplishes its goals very well.
Abzu is available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. Screen Rant was provided a review copy for the Nintendo Switch.