April 13th, 2012 | By Richard Glenn
It’s here. It’s beautiful.
And know this: you can take everything you once knew about puzzle platformers, screw them up into a spherical mass and throw it out the nearest opening because Fez changes everything.
If you weren’t already aware, Fez is a convergence between the once disparate worlds of 2D and 3D running and jumping – an intertwining marriage of two visual planes that so many have tried and failed to nurture, if you will. A simple touch of the right trigger or right shoulder button will cause the very landscape of a level to shift on its axis, unveiling extra dimensions to the flat, mundane layouts initially thrust in the face of the pensive player.
But a mere gimmick this is not. Fez’s rotational mechanic is tantamount to its value as one of the hottest new commodities in the gaming medium, forming an absolutely intrinsic foundation upon which the game functions. A mere 90-degree shift in perspective will grant the player access to a new face of interaction, churning out new objects, platforms and secrets with which to play and experiment, and it’s this experimentation that proves vital to your chances of successfully traversing each of Fez’s charming worlds.
Perhaps a platform lies agonizingly out of reach on the opposite side of the screen. The solution? Change the viewpoint to reveal a hitherto unknown climbable surface or a complementary platform previously concealed behind the oppositional scenery. OK, but then what? Time for some more shifting.
Alas, if only it were that simple. Although a handful of the game’s puzzles may be solved by employing such simple procedures, it isn’t long before matters start becoming a little more convoluted. Herein, however, lies the inherent genius behind Fez’s level design. More often than not, the game’s quandaries are structured, multi-pronged affairs, requiring several minutes of lateral thought and inevitable trial-and-error before they’re overcome. Oh, yes, it can be a frustrating ordeal, but you’re always comforted by the knowledge that, somewhere, the answer is out there, ready to be discovered amidst a moment of triumphant glee and self-satisfaction in which the game so effortlessly revels.
That sense of accomplishment is the glue underpinning all the bold ideas forged by Fez since its initial reveal back in 2007. Unraveling the game’s plethoric mysteries one-by-one is a joy that can’t easily be articulated in the spoken word, but it’s a feeling of discovery that becomes all too rare as one leaves childhood behind and embarks on the clinical journey of adulthood. Remember when you first learned to ride a bike unaided, or when you were learning how to read, write and count? Fez evokes the very edge of wonder and adventure that once stemmed from such seemingly simple, innocent encounters and it’s a testament to the game’s poise and stature that it brings back such memories of what it felt to truly be alive and in awe of the surrounding world.
Hang on, though. That’s all well and good, but what’s it all for? What’s the whole raison d’être behind Fez? Well, you’re Gomez, a little white creature with a swish hat and a universe of responsibility on your diminutive shoulders. Following a mishap in which the previously two-dimensional domain was transformed into the pseudo-3D madhouse around which the game is based, and also in what happens to be one of the most memorable opening sequences of a video game in recent memory; it’s your job to locate 32 gold cubes and being stability back to a land inhabited by talking owls, chickens and 8-bit pixels.
In most cases, the blocks are divided into eight separate retrievable parts scattered across the far reaches of the game’s universe, spanning dozens of distinctive worlds bursting with self-referential charm and character. From time to time, you might come across a full block perched in the most awkwardly accessible region of a level, forcing you to scratch, claw and time your way to such a hefty bonus. Also up for grabs are unlockable treasure chests, often containing additional treasure maps and, more prominently, keys, which can be used to access previously blocked areas of interest and necessity. It’s a system that, for the most part, is handled superbly and it’s a more than effective incentive for more of the exploration and out-of-the-box thinking that makes up so much of Fez’s appeal.
It shouldn’t be forgotten, however, that Fez is also ostensibly a platformer, and it’s ironic that this might be one of the very few areas in which the game threatens to fall short of magnificence. While the running and jumping controls, operated by the analogue stick and ‘A’ button, work admirably in tandem in a manner that’s both effective and easy to master, there are instances in which it’s easy to misjudge a jump or underestimate the speed of Gomez’s on-screen movement. It’s fair to say that Fez’s control system lacks the tightness and precision of Super Meat Boy, not to mention the tactile satisfaction of the Super Mario Bros. franchise, and you’re likely to find yourself falling into unwanted crevices and troughs more often than you might like. Still, if you’re unfortunate enough to overstep the mark and fall to your apparent death, you’ll be given the welcome benefit of an instant respawn, ensuring that these fiddly moments never break the game’s impressive level of flow or immersion.
Controller-snapping fury is also alleviated by both the game’s mesmeric soundtrack and its luscious, expertly-crafted visuals. Disasterpeace’s in-game music, soon to be made commercially available, is the perfect aperitif for a relaxing, yet unerringly engaging interactive experience – its varied, punchy melodies deriving some of the most evocative facets of the 8-bit tunes of yesteryear. It’s the perfect complement to Fez’s unmistakeable old-meets-new flavor, all imperiously backed up by the nostalgically charged graphical blend of blocktastic 8-bit sprites and vibrant 3D environments awash with one of the greatest of colors ever seen in an indie game.
With its iconic allure, interactive richness and seamless capture of human cognition, Fez is, quite simply, the gold standard of puzzle platforming today. Substantial in its lifespan and unrelentingly impactful in its execution, this is a game that will stay with you for a long, long time, potentially changing the way you perceive not only video games, but the essence of the human mind itself. For a meagre 800 Microsoft Points, its value as a purchase, and, more poignantly, an experience, just cannot be questioned.