Game Rant’s Jacob Siegal reviews Fez
Fez has been a long time coming. As the past few years have gone by, indie game fans everywhere have been desperate to see Polytron’s final product, and in almost every imaginable way, the game lives up to the expectations.
Fez is a natural evolution of the 2D era of gaming (before Mario brought platforming into the third dimension) – even though the environments are 3D, as players and the protagonist, Gomez, will quickly learn. Gomez lives in a little village on a small island, surrounded by other odd creatures like himself. One of those creatures tells Gomez it is time for him to embark on an adventure. He is granted a small red fez that gives him the ability to shift perspective 90 degrees, seeing the world from angles no one else can.
The unfortunate side effect of this new power is the deconstruction of the space-time continuum. The only chance Gomez has to save the universe is by reconstructing the giant cube that broke apart when he donned his fez.
After discovering the first few islands and acclimating to the constant perspective shifts, players will quickly forget that they are playing a ten dollar indie game. They’ll lose sight of the fact that the action is taking place on a flat, 2D plane. Very rarely does a game come together so seamlessly, so cohesively that button presses become organic and technical deficiencies can be easily overlooked.
The game revolves around a simple concept – Gomez can spin the world around to suit his platforming needs. It is not a new idea, but this is quite possibly the best implementation of that mechanic on the market. Much like Portal, the puzzles and platforming are not separate sections, but instead completely intertwined. Some jumps can only be made from one perspective, some ladders can only be climbed from another. As the game progresses, new twists, both literal and metaphorical, are imposed on the gameplay, making traversal even more challenging – and subsequently more rewarding.
Fez never really stops growing and evolving. There are 64 cubes to gather. 32 are necessary to “beat” the game. There are golden cubes, anti-cubes, and cube shards (8 of which make a full golden cube) scattered throughout the universe of Fez, some in plain view, others hidden behind such inscrutable puzzles that a walkthrough might be a necessity. I managed to complete the game in around 5 hours, obtaining exactly 32 cubes before entering the final area, but even up into that fifth hour, I was being introduced to entirely new concepts and ideas. A single missed door, as was the case in my playthrough, might have about 40% of the game’s content behind it, laying dormant until the player discovers it. There are no glowing arrows, hints systems, or yellow exclamation marks. Fez leaves the finding up to the player.
This is part of the game’s brilliance, but also one of its largest hurdles. Although the first two or three hours move at a fast pace, as the main hubs branch off into smaller areas, eventually backtracking comes into play in a very big way. The map is very stylized, quite a sight to behold, but when it becomes necessary to pull up that map every few minutes, to make sure areas are cleared (indicated by a gold ring around the area on the map), the perspective shift becomes a nuisance. Mercifully, the game gives players plenty of opportunities to get where they need to go, from warp gates to secret shortcuts, and by keeping each island small enough to cover ground quickly.
Speaking of mercy, death is not treated as a punishment in Fez, but instead as a learning tool. Falling off a ledge from too high up will kill Gomez on impact, then immediately respawn him back at the last platform. There are no lives, no continues, only trial and error. Death will occur fairly often as players learn how to manipulate the environment to their advantage, so cutting time between death and rebirth down to about half a second helps keep the game moving.
Gamers might hurtle to their death every so often, but Fez is not an exceedingly difficult game. The platforming is never too treacherous and finding enough cubes to reach the final stage shouldn’t tax the player’s brain too terribly hard. Stick to collecting the simpler cubes, and Fez can be a relaxing, charming experience. That said, lurking behind the cute, colorful facade are some mind-numbing puzzles that might leave even the most intelligent gamer dumbfounded. There is one tiny room in particular I have stared at for well over twenty minutes without being able to decipher even a glimmer of hope for a solution.
Fez will challenge as often as it will delight. One house seemed empty until the shifting perspective revealed a QR code plastered on one of the walls. Pull out a smartphone, scan the code, and follow the instructions. In little ways like this (the others are worth seeing for yourself), Phil Fish and the team at Polytron show just how in touch they are with culture – the goofy, useless little conveniences and contrivances of our daily lives. Gomez might live in a different universe, but that universe is completely self-aware.
That universe is also gorgeous to look at. Most of the levels of Fez are bright and filled with color. When they aren’t, the ambiance becomes gloomy along with them – though there is still always something to look at. The sun cycles in and out of the sky, rain falls to the grassy surfaces, little woodland creatures race through the background, all accompanied by a rousing chiptune score. With or without Fez, Disasterpeace’s soundtrack is worth owning. The gravity of the sights and sounds tie Fez together perfectly.
Fez is not a perfect game by any means. The map, as mentioned, could use some tweaking and there are some hitches as well as occasional slow-down when transitioning from one area to the next. In all likelihood, players will get lost, confused, and even a bit stumped (in a good way) at some point during their journey, but none of that compares with the experience of being inside this vibrant world. Fez is an homage to classic gaming, yet something entirely modern.
Fez releases on April 13, 2012 on XBLA for 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00).
Follow me on Twitter @JacobSiegal.