Few indie titles have been more anticipated or celebrated than Fez, which was due in no small part to creator Phil Fish being featured in the documentary, Indie Game: The Movie. A lot has happened since the game hit Xbox Live Arcade in April of 2012, including most significantly Fish’s departure from the gaming industry (and cancellation of Fez 2) following an online feud. What hasn’t changed is the game itself, and that’s a good thing for PlayStation loyalists.
Built as a 3D world that exists on a 2D plane, Fez allows you to turn the world itself by utilizing the left and right triggers (or bumpers). It handles flawlessly, working in conjunction with your jump ability to create some truly unique platforming. There are a handful of other functions — you can pick up certain objects, tapping the touchpad brings up the map, etc. — but jumping and rotating the levels constitutes about 99 percent of what you’ll be doing.
Tons of games aim squarely for that retro vibe. Not many pull it off as ably as Fez, however, as the game takes simple, blocky graphics and imbues them with style and charm. There’s a tremendous amount of variety in the environments, and it’s quite amazing how much personality a white blob wearing a tiny red fez can have. Despite not having any flashy visuals, Fez succeeds so thoroughly at what it tries to create that you cannot help but be drawn into its world.
Musically, Fez is excellent. It never feels at all limited by its 8-bit inspiration, and the music and sound effects heap layer upon layer of charm onto the already delightful visuals. And nowhere does everything come together better than when you collect one of the full-sized cubes and Gomez (that’s you) floats into the air triumphantly with a wide-mouthed smile. It’s tremendously endearing.
As mentioned, you control Gomez, a small, marshmallow-like creature that seems perfectly happy living among his people in a 2D world… until he receives a magical fez, of course, which grants him the power to change this 2D realm into one with three dimensions. From that concept springs forth a surprisingly deep array of gameplay, which focuses on platforming and puzzle solving.
There’s also a large number of diverse levels to visit that creates a sprawling 3D map with each node informing you (generally) of what can be found in the corresponding area — you’ll know you’ve found everything when the outline turns gold. While there are potentially several items to find in a given area, the single biggest thing you’ll be doing is collecting cubes and/or cube bits, eight of which combine to form a full-sized cube.
These cubes emit a pulsing beacon, alerting you to their presence and location. To reach them you’ll need to rotate the levels, which are 3D worlds projected onto a 2D space. What this means is that climbable paths will be created by the actual spinning as the 3D world flattens. Changing perspective turns huge gaps into easily accessible walkways, and the longer you play the more manipulation you’ll need to do as levels become more complex and additional hazards are introduced.
Level design is the high point of Fez, and it allows the game to stretch a fairly straightforward gameplay mechanic for the duration without it ever feeling like you’re playing reskinned versions of areas you’ve already visited. It’s also worth noting that, even as things get tougher, Fez never punishes you for failing as after each death you’re simply whisked back to the last point you were on solid ground. As such, it’s the falls that don’t kill you that turn out to be the most annoying.
Beyond the quest to assemble and collect cubes, there’s a lot more to do in Fez. The game is filled with interesting puzzles, many of which hide goodies like anti-cubes, treasure maps and artifacts. Some of these can be solved by careful study of the surroundings, but odds are you’ll stumble into seemingly purposeless rooms with no clue as to how to trigger their secrets. If you plan on trying to work through all these on your own, I wish you good luck; for those with less patience, the fact that the game launched roughly two years ago means YouTube has you covered.
As someone that played the game when it first launched, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed coming back to it. A puzzle here or a level there were familiar, but enough time had passed that it was almost like playing it for the first time. That being said, for most once through will be enough, and as such the lack of replay value might hurt its appeal, though hopefully it won’t dissuade would-be purchasers.
Ingeniously simple in some ways and deceptively complex in others, Fez is a tremendous game that’s worth your time if you’ve got any love for puzzlers, platformers or retro titles. Don’t let the somewhat bizarre story behind the game keep you from experiencing it.