During Fez’s lengthy five-year gestation period, the game managed to gather a boatload of indie awards and prestigious accolades. The result: hype was at an all-time high; a dangerous position for any indie developer to find themselves in. It’s a good thing, then, that Fez is a total triumph.
Simply put, Fez is a 2D platformer with a 3D twist. You play as Gomez, a 2D character who learns that the world he inhabits has a third dimension that can be accessed thanks to a magical fez. So starts a journey across a seemingly endless chain of meticulously crafted environments that are slathered in 8-bit, retro delights and frequent, nostalgic nods to games from the ‘80s. If you played NES or Game Boy titles while growing up, I have little doubt that you’ll love this game.
In order to navigate the world, you need to rotate levels in ninety-degree increments. After a few rotations and improbable perspective tricks, areas that appeared inaccessible suddenly become reachable. It’s really quite clever, always satisfying and somewhat tricky to describe. Fortunately I’ve managed to hijack a gameplay clip that Tarryn put together during one of her playthroughs. Check it out below but note that the clip itself is a work-in-progress and something Tarryn was experimenting with:
Fez isn’t meant to be a stressful experience and Polytron seems to have gone out of their way to ensure that player frustration is minimal. There are no enemies to fear in Fez. While you will die due to missing jumps, you’re instantly teleported back to where you initially leapt to your death. This makes Fez a rather stress-free platformer, which might be a negative to some people, but for those looking to get lost in exploration and puzzle solving, it doesn’t get friendlier than this.
Progression is based on accumulating cubes, as certain doorways require certain amounts of cubes before they’ll open. In order to find cubes you need to explore and solve puzzles. You’ll also come across cube bits, which turn into whole cubes once you’ve found eight of them. Ordinary cubes are gold in colour, but there are special anti-cubes that are much harder to find and normally require cracking codes and solving extra devious puzzles involving tetrominoes.
You could finish Fez in a few hours by doing the absolute minimum, but you’d be missing out on 90% of the game’s genius. Fez is layered with secrets, codes and treasures to uncover, but the way it implements its secrets far outshines the secrets themselves. There is some very, very clever stuff happening in this game, but in order to find everything there is to find, you’ll need to: decipher a new language; learn what the game’s repeating tetromino shapes mean; and keep a constant eye out for anything that looks somewhat important. There are many objects scattered throughout the game that at first glance seem like little more than décor; invariably they turn out to be way more than just that and will eventually lead you to discovering those elusive anti-cubes.
As undeniably delightful as Fez is, it’s not without some setbacks. I experienced quite a few console freezes during my playthroughs, but they seemed to become more frequent once I’d started a “New Game Plus” mode. Technical issues aside, the game’s map is frighteningly convoluted and a pain in the ass to use. Furthermore, while Fez does make use of teleporters between various sections of the world, they’re few and far between. Ordinarily that would be an easy problem to overlook, but Fez is a game built around the premise of coaxing the player into unbridled exploration; in next to no time you can become completely lost in the warren of level screens, and with only a disappointingly putrid map to guide you, backtracking becomes a chore. Unfortunately, backtracking plays quite a large role in Fez IF you want to explore and unlock as much as possible. If you want to breeze through the game once, then this problem becomes moot; you can quite easily locate most cubes within a single visit to each area. However, as stated earlier, the meat of Fez lies deeper down and in order to get at it you must be prepared to re-explore areas.
Honestly, the few faults I found with Fez pale into insignificance when you look at the game as a whole. There is so much to love about this indie gem: the soundtrack is utterly superb and hasn’t left my playlist since the game came out; the level designs and artistry are so charming you’ll begin to wonder why you forked out so much money for a decent graphics card, when all it takes for gaming bliss are bright colours and cheery, pixelated characters. While we’re inundated with FPS sequels and seldom get to experience anything unique, Fez is a breath of fresh air. When that jaded gamer mentality begins creeping up on you and you become convinced that the industry is built on endless military shooters and me-too MMORPGs, Fez is the kind of title that’ll cheer you up and remind you why it is we play games in the first place.