Abyss reminds me of the NES games of yore: it throws you into a level right off the bat and forces you to figure out what is going on and how everything works. It doesn’t bog down the game with any tutorials or instructions at all; it simply lets the player loose to learn the simple yet challenging rules of the game — or they die. And it is awesome.
The year is 3024 and humanity is desperate for new energy sources. You are the biomechanical robot Nep2no, sent deep into the depths of the Earth to find a recently discovered source of energy called “Gaia.” Unsurprisingly, the story is by no means the focus, though it pops up occasionally, and exists purely for there to be some reason for the gameplay. Fortunately, the gameplay is excellent.
In every level, your goal is to recover the six Gaia stones and reach the exit. There are no enemies; the only danger is running into a wall or slow-moving obstacle. Running into them once will make you vulnerable, but your strength returns after a second or two. However, if you run into one again before recovering your strength, you die and must restart the level. Seems easy enough, right? Nope. This game is hard — seriously, seriously hard. It is all due to one thing: the controls — but not in a bad way. Abyss is completely designed around mastering a simple, precise, yet challenging set of controls, and slowly escalating the challenge around them.
By pressing B, Nep2no will accelerate in whatever direction he is pointing. To change direction, you must swivel him around using the D-pad or control stick. Gravity is always pulling the robot down ever so slightly, though, so there is never any time to rest. You must constantly be on alert throughout the level and must adjust your position accordingly, manipulating the controls to do what you wish whilst battling the gravity that is pulling you down slowly. The gameplay is generally slow-paced, with brief moments of sheer panic and intensity when a particular challenge is attempted.
While the beginning levels are all pretty basic and each feel like a slightly more difficult version than the last, basic obstacles are soon introduced: moving blocks, doors, and the like. These easily could have made the game suddenly very unfair, but fortunately, they are kept well-balanced enough that they work with the game’s controls to create even more engaging challenges without going overboard. It is challenging, to be sure, but the controls are so simple and easy to comprehend while at the same time so hard to master.
When you fail — and you will fail a lot — it is completely your fault. It makes the game one of the more satisfying titles I’ve played in recent times. Finally completing a level you have been trying for nearly an hour gives that unique sense of satisfaction that can only come from attempting a challenge over and over until you overcome it at last using nothing but your own skill. Of course, not all will enjoy this. Some don’t want a game that requires you to do everything near perfectly and punishes you if you do not. Others do enjoy such things, however, and if you are one of those people, chances are you’ll like Abyss.
Moving on from the gameplay, the visuals are simple but stunning. The dark foreground makes for a beautiful contrast to the elegant, colorful backgrounds. They aren’t particularly detailed, but they do not need to be. The simplicity just works and makes for a truly gorgeous experience. Nep2no is always illuminated by a light that surrounds him and it slowly dims until a Gaia stone is collected. This doesn’t affect gameplay very much, as everything typically remains visible just enough, but it is pretty cool.
The music is what really surprised me, though; while there are not many tracks, all are simply fantastic. They are quite calming and have an almost techno feel to them, making for a superbly exquisite atmosphere that is both eerie and ambient at the same time. The music and visuals together help create an environment in which the highly difficult gameplay ceases to be frustrating — for the most part, at least. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the sound effects. A voice on the radio talks to you whenever you do something, such as hitting an obstacle, collecting a Gaia stone, reaching the end, or dying. Frankly, I do not know why they were added. All it does is attempt to jar you out of the calming atmosphere. It is not a huge issue by any stretch of the imagination; it is just a bit annoying.
Its length is a great value at two dollars. As this is basically a port of the original DSiWare title, there are the original twelve levels but now, there are an additional eight for the Wii U. How long the game will take is entirely up to your skill level; some later levels took me dozens of tries while others did not. All in all, though, the twenty missions that are included lasted me four to five hours. There is even an extra set of modes: arcade and two-player. The first has you attempt to beat a set of missions while a timer tracks your progress that is shared on leaderboards. Two-player allows for multiplayer antics on the GamePad and the TV. This is great but, due to the challenging controls, it will likely not work out too well unless your fellow player has somehow played the game before and you both have patience.
Alas, all great things have downsides and, in this case, it is the glitches — and they’re not small ones, either. My screen would suddenly start breaking up, then freeze, not allowing me to power down my console multiple times. Upon unplugging and reconnecting the wire, the disc drive went wonky before returning to normal and this occurred several times. I really cannot say if this is a unique for my console specifically, as I have not heard of others experiencing the issue. It could just be me, but nothing like that has ever happened to my Wii U before or since playing the game, so I get the impression that this could end up being a recurring issue for multiple people. Either way, it was a huge detriment to what was otherwise a fantastic experience.
Abyss isn’t for everyone. Not all will enjoy the incredibly challenging gameplay, the difficult-to-master controls, or the ambient atmosphere, but for those who enjoy such things, it is an absolute no-brainer. The gameplay is pitch-perfect, the visuals are simplistically beautiful, the music is excellent, and best of all, it’s dirt cheap — only two dollars. Just be prepared to risk a few system crashes and ignore a few sounds effects because, if you do, you’ll get one of the best budget eShop titles around.
- Beautiful atmosphere
- Excellent music
- Incredibly challenging, but completely fair
- No hand holding
- Two player mode
- Major crashes
- Annoying sound effects
- Could be considered too punishing