“Fez” offers a fresh perspective on gaming
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 22:08
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Under the right conditions, it can instantly transport a person to a long-forgotten time in life and make him or her feel like a kid again. Even something as simple as a design or melody can strike that chord, reducing us to wide-eyed children. As far as nostalgia is concerned, Phil Fish’s long-awaited platformer “Fez” pushes all the right buttons.
Players take control of Gomez, a young boy living an idyllic life in his simple 2-D village. That all changes when he receives the titular fez, which allows him to see that the world is not flat after all. His new ability to travel in 3-D space breaks the mysterious and omnipotent cube known as the Hexahedron, scattering its pieces across the world. Gomez must recover these pieces and restore the cube before the whole of reality collapses on itself.
“Fez” is an absolutely ambitious game. Originally announced in 2007, it went through several different versions and was completely redone no less than twice. The game’s creator, Phil Fish, became something of an Internet pariah during this time, and the game’s hardships were well-documented in the film “Indie Game: The Movie.” But for all the bumps along the way, “Fez” arrives as both a technical masterpiece and a love letter to gaming’s heyday.
At its core, “Fez” is a game about exploration. Players can use the left and right triggers to rotate the 2-D landscape up to 360 degrees, finding new pathways to advance. Once rotated, the world’s logic returns to two dimensional, meaning platforms and surfaces that were previously far apart can be easily reached from the right perspective. It is a simple concept that is executed flawlessly.
Visually, the game is stunning. Vibrant colors and sharp pixel art are a definite nod to the early NES platformers that inspired “Fez.” There are also dozens of homages to games like “Tetris,” “The Legend of Zelda” and “Super Mario Brothers” littered throughout the game. The amount of detail packed in to the various levels is astounding, and the game is absolute eye candy. The game’s beautiful chip tunes soundtrack helps set the tone, making “Fez” an all-out retro assault on the senses.
At first, it may seem like “Fez” is an easy game. There are no enemies, no time limits and no penalties for dying. While it is true the game is more laid back than most, “Fez” is anything but “easy.” The game features some truly mind-boggling puzzles that require serious thought and practice to overcome. Finding the minimum amount of cubes required to beat the game may be possible for most gamers, but finding all 64 hidden throughout the world and unlocking the true ending is a downright Herculean task. There are countless secrets waiting to be discovered, an alien language to translate and hints of a deeper story than simply what is on the surface. And “Fez” makes the player work to discover all of them. There is no hand-holding, and very little is spelled out for the player beyond the basic mechanics. Discovering all “Fez” has to offer comes down to a combination of cleverness and determination. Players may want to keep a notebook handy to keep track of everything, which is something many gamers have not done since the days of 8-bit gaming.
There is no such thing as a “perfect game,” and “Fez” is no exception. The game is positively massive, with multiple rooms and areas spiderwebbing from each other. Keeping track of where everything is and finding a way back to earlier areas is practically a game in and of itself. There is a world map, thankfully, but late in the game it becomes almost cluttered with all of the game’s various rooms. Trying to find the last few undiscovered secrets can be extremely frustrating, especially since the clues to uncover them are incredibly easy to overlook. It is clear the game is looking to emulate the difficulty of classic games, but in the Internet age where gamers can find video walkthroughs on YouTube in seconds, the formula just feels antiquated.
It is also worth mentioning that the latest, and likely final, game patch has a bug that can completely wipe out a player’s save file. Though it has been assured this bug is by no means widespread, losing hours of progress is still a possibility.
For all its flaws and falters, “Fez” is still a remarkable game. It is a testament to everything good about classic gaming while standing as a creative and technical modern marvel. No matter what era a gamer is from, “Fez” will not disappoint.
“Fez,” available on Xbox Live Marketplace, receives 4 out of 5 stars.