2D Platformer, Puzzle
Review copy provided by the publisher
It feels like we’ve been waiting for Fez for an impossibly long time, watching patiently as the game was shown off at gaming conventions around the world with promises of an eventual release date never met, until now. The game has finally launched and the question stands: what is it, and is it any good?
At first glance Fez doesn’t look too different from many indie games out there: 8-bit style minimalist graphics with an old school design philosophy and simple controls. However when you see the games main “gimmick” things become a little more clear. Read on to see why Fez is everything we hoped for and more.
The story in Fez is as simple as everything else and I honestly mean that in a good way. After some brief introductions a strange cube appears and you’re tasked with gathering other similar cubes that have been spread about the world or collecting smaller bits that form together to make a larger one. Gathering 32 of these will apparently fix things and the goal is up to you for one reason, as you’ve been granted a special gift.
While the entire world exists in a 2D plane your character Gomez is able to flip the world on its horizontal axis and explore the sides that are hidden from everybody else. This of course becomes the main aspect of gameplay and changes things in a drastic way that you won’t fully take in until you’ve been exploring for awhile.
Simple stuff like far away ledges being next to each other when viewed from a different angle might be a little more obvious at first but things get very interesting and complicated later on with the introduction of moving paths, blocks that rotate the world on their own and doors from one side to the other.
After the introduction you’re pretty much left on your own to explore the world with a little assistance from a talking cube that follows you around acting as the occasional narrator and guide. There’s a central chamber with multiple locked doors requiring a certain number of cubes to enter each one which you can return to at whim.
The game consists of a number of interconnected areas which you must explore to find all the hidden bits and cubes as well as other items scattered around. The game is very helpful in pointing these all out and while the path to your target might not be clear the location of it always is.
By turning the world and opening new paths the game sticks to the “keep it simple” concept and relies solely on the world-flipping mechanic as your main method of exploration. Some puzzles might leave you scratching your head for a moment but the answer is always right in front of you. Some of the simpler ones that just seemed hard actually had me laughing at the solution once it became clear.
In any platforming game how well it controls is one of the most important things to its success and Fez does an above-adequate job at this. The way Gomez controls can take some getting used to and even after you’ve been playing for awhile you’ll constantly miss jumps or make a wrong step because of how floaty he can feel.
Thankfully this is remedied by the lack of any kind of life system or a timer and you always respawn immediately back at the last safe location you were standing in. This might seem to take the challenge of the game out of the game but I can assure you the main challenge is a mental exercise and not a physical one.
Each of the games various areas are connected through the different doorways spread around and standing in front of one for a second will give you a small preview of what’s through the other side (granted you’ve been there before) in a thought bubble above Gomez’ head.
This goes hand in hand with a map system that initially seems a little lackluster though once you get more accustomed to how to read it this problem mostly goes away. The map does stand out as one of the weakest parts of the game but it’s nothing more than a minor inconvenience and not something to fuss about.
The map does helpfully point out many details about each area that will greatly help you in finishing exploring them, pointing out if you’re missing anything and highlighting each fully explored and completed area to prevent you from wasting too much time looking for something that isn’t there.
Fez has a delightful old-school charm present throughout the entire game and while the graphics are the first noticed and most obvious aspect of this I found the music and the entire atmosphere of the game downright delightful. The game is littered with small details that help bring the world to life including NPCs commenting on your bizarre new ability, several cool idle animations and even a strange alphabet that seems to hold the key to understanding the game in greater detail, should you choose to unravel it.
The game can be “completed” in a relatively small amount of time if all you’re going for is a 100% end-game stat and an “ending”, but there’s plenty more to unravel that will leave you coming back for more for quite awhile. The existence of a New game+ option certainly helps this, and the completion percentage does indeed go above 100% thanks in part to the inclusion of Anti-Cubes, special hidden cubes hidden throughout the world that are much harder to find.
The first hint to finding one of these is hidden in the games achievement list telling you how to flip the world in a certain way but other than a few hints on the map you’re mostly left on your own as far as figuring these out goes and I personally find unlocking them all the more thrilling thanks to this.
Fez is a game about hidden depths in every aspect of its existence from the literal interpretation of turning the world on its access down to the more complicated instances of this mechanic in use and the amount of stuff hidden in the background that might reveal that there’s more at work here than appears at first glance.
Fez might look like any other dime-a-dozen indie game out there but take a closer look and there’s so much more here than is apparent. Though the game does have some minor control and interface choices that are a little lacking in their execution the core experience remains one of the most delightful games I’ve played this year and I look forward to unraveling more of the mysteries of this world.