Looks have rarely been as deceiving as they are with Fez, with its pixelated world masking its true premise and taxing challenges at the outset. You could be forgiven then, for booting up the game and wincing at the basic environments and turning it off before the first five minutes are over.
This would be a mistake however, as once the set-up is complete and the introductory sequence has done its thing, Fez blossoms into a unique outing which looks to do away with conventions and walks the line between 2D and 3-dimensional gameplay.
You take control of Gomez, a small sprite which, like the rest of the world’s denizens has up until now perceived everything in only two dimensions. When the threads of reality are torn asunder and gaping holes begin to crop up in his otherwise tranquil realm, it’s up to Gomez to gather the pieces of each cube scattered throughout the lands. To help him in this quest, he’s immediately gifted the mystical Fez – an item that grants its wearer the ability to perceive the world in its proper, cubist state. He’ll only be able to move in a flat plain as opposed to a 3D space, so it’s up to you to shift each stage on its axis to proceed.
Whether you deem such a concept as a gimmick or not, shifting between perspectives with the left and right triggers is central to the gameplay in Fez. This might sound like a pain and thoroughly unappealing on paper, but it’s the design of the stages themselves – or more specifically the way in which the puzzles have been developed with this mechanic in mind – that will leave the greatest impression. Early on in the game, it’s a simple case of jumping around, entering buildings to check for cube pieces and using the triggers to assist in your explorations. The focus on platforming soon shifts to accommodate more puzzling, with this aspect taking centre stage as reaching each piece becomes more of a challenge.
Pretty soon you’ll be more than comfortable with switching between the four perspectives, making use of the climbable vines, floating platforms and rotatable bolts which allow you to make the journey. The game often throws a new brainteaser your way and it’s nearly always in the name of reaching a distant door to access a new path. Hub worlds lead to smaller locales, but you’ll want to keep a mental note of where each door leads, mostly due to the confusing layout of the map; it can be handy for seeing which places have been cleaned out and where has yet to be explored, but the act of getting to them can be something of a chore. Patience is a requirement here, as it is with any puzzler worth its salt, but when Gomez plummets to his demise it’s only a mere second before he spawns back on the ledge from which he fell.
Fez is a game which is fully aware of its own identity and indeed runs with it. Everything from the plucky sprite’s gleeful expression upon completing a cube down to the ambient music builds a unique atmosphere – it really is unlike anything you’ve played in recent memory. There are certainly better looking downloadable titles out there, and so gushing over the deliberately basic visuals would be nothing short of pretentious. It may quell that nostalgic itch even if the pixelated style won’t appeal to everyone, but then Fez seems to be a game with a specific audience in mind. While the game may look as if it’s two decades too late, this shouldn’t detract from the fun to be had in dealing with its many (and fairly challenging) puzzles.
It’s clear that a great deal of effort went into the development of Fez, and it’s fair to say that the game delivers on exactly what it promises. Small touches are commonplace, with birds, a changeable day/night cycle and a few secret areas all adding to an already solid package. It’s the more prominent aspects of the game which make it what it is however, where shifting perspective can turn a tremendous gorge into a jumpable gap, and opening a simple door can lead to an unexplored land complete with those all-important fragments to discover.
The very act of collecting to complete cubes will become an addiction for a certain type of player, in which case Fez understands its target audience better than many retail releases do. There’s a distinct sense of progression here and although the game offers little in the form of actual in-game extras, completing a cube and the cutesy animation that follows may well be rewarding enough to see you through to the end. If a solid mix of platform and puzzling is what you’ve been craving, and you consider eighties pixilation to be nostalgic rather than dated, then you could do much worse than give Fez a go. Just be aware that this is the patient man’s game.
8 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.