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Abyss - DSiWare Review

Game Info

DSiWare | EnjoyUp Games | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | 200 Nintendo Points
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30th August 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

There's nothing forgettable about being at the helm of an undersea trek and witnessing spectacles largely unseen to the surface world. Though still connected in a different fashion, staying on the sidelines in a control room may seem like an unfair trade by comparison. Anxious as what, I can see myself feverishly eyeing every last pressure-sensitive and sound-reactive monitor as each second of silence brings on an overwhelming mix of arresting worry and controlled enthusiasm. But how that anxiety must fade as each transmission brings you back to reality and allows you to focus on the sheer wonder of it all. I'd like to say that Abyss caters to your imagination in a similarly exciting fashion, but it doesn't. There's very little that it accomplishes in the way of producing visually-motivated, person-to-game connectivity. Yet it shouldn't be quickly dismissed on the sole grounds that it isn't imaginative. Because when it wants to, it does deliver something in the way of relaxation to make for a fairly desirable experience.

    Commencing with a straightforward premise and few burdens to lug around, the game has you controlling an underwater probe that goes by the name of Nep2no. I'll be holding out for the sequel when they bring in Plu2o, but in the meantime, there's nothing in the way of story to explain this character's origins or even explain the "whats" and "whys" surrounding your goal of making it to the end of each maze. Not a misguided decision by any means considering there's minimal direction from the get-go. Scattering four to seven energy orbs across each layout, the game leaves you to it and has you guessing your way around each environment, which could potentially be risky had it not been for one key exception -- the levels are designed with linearity in mind. With such an approach thus making Abyss (more or less) a directed experience, don't be quick to assume that the game prides itself on exploration because you'll be setting yourself up for disappointment.

    Your goals are simple and never expanded upon -- collect all the orbs in any order you wish, but don't touch the goal portal at the end of the track until you've gathered 'em all. The longer you take to recover a new orb, the more the beam surrounding your probe -- which serves to guide your way through the dark mazes -- will shrink, so there's a mild push for speed there. Navigation has a bit of a learning curve to it in that your movements are always influenced by gravity and you must always toggle on the fly between plowing ahead and putting on the brakes. Any of the main button inputs to the right of the Touch Screen will nudge yourself upwards, while holding it down will produce a continuous propulsion. To direct your movements, you can use either the D-Pad or the L and R buttons, and in either case you'll find that once you hit a stride -- which happens pretty quick -- the controls are very responsive and not at all a barrier to immersing yourself in the experience.

The main environments you start off with have an organic feel, often with thorns protruding from walls. This isn't a case of bushwhacking, though, for a single touch will result in instant failure. So it's more a case of adopting the strategy of a nervous child navigating their way through a hedge maze -- just without the fear and aimlessness. By the time Mission 8 rolls around, you'll have mines to deal with, but this added element doesn't ever become too taxing on the player to handle. Just enough spice in difficulty is added to keep you moving. Just as this takes place, the mission directly after it will change the form of levels ever so slightly with boundaries consisting of grey, man-made material. Besides these two aesthetic changes, gameplay remains the same for the twelve missions assigned. That's not really a problem, though.

    If there's one thing you can say about Abyss as a distinct quality, it's that it's nicely balanced. Yes, the occasional splits in pathways don't push the envelope as far as cementing you in this world and feeling like you should explore every inch. But by the same token, the game doesn't ever become unreasonable by presenting a bed of hazards just for the sake of doing so. The overall design also isn't claustrophobic, which works hand-in-hand with the balance that the game attempts to strike and the relaxation that is periodically felt. So ultimately, while you won't ever observe the direction teetering in a more progressive fashion, these choices have valid roles.

    Presentation does play a part in this, I must admit, especially in regards to the music. The soundtrack does a great job of capturing that motivation of embarking on a journey of uncertain proportions. This should be a given, all things considered, but it's still good to see that the ball wasn't dropped in this area. And just to add, you'll also hear voice clips at the start and end of each mission, when you collect items, and when your mission is aborted. A minor thing, but it helps ensure that Nep2no isn't just some vacuous entity. As for the look of the game, I have very little to say other than it works as a decent execution. 

    Sure there's no real escalation of principle or difficulty, and yes, the game's design isn't anything special, but there's also relatively little about Abyss that you could take to court. Perhaps some will take up issue with the scope not meeting their definition of a true journey, but there is an unlockable Speed Run mode that extends things a bit. Granted, I don't really see this as being a positive enforcement of replay value, so your mileage may vary. At the end of the day, Abyss is a competent little effort and worth your time despite it not impressing on any level.

19/30 - Good

Gameplay 7/10 - Linear design, responsive controls that shouldn't take too long to get used to, nicely balanced, wisely doesn't push for claustrophobia
Presentation 7/10 - Music effectively communicates related themes, overall look works just fine, voiced announcements, one or two typographical errors
Enjoyment 3/5 - Nothing terribly special about it but it can be fun at times, reaches relaxing points on occasion, minor changes along the way
Extra Content 2/5 - Twelve missions in all, features a bonus Speed Run mode that doesn't do much for the replay value

Equivalent to a score of 63% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

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