Also available on: N/A
Developer: Polytron Corporation
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Action & Adventure / Puzzle Platformer
To say that Fez has been a long time coming would be an understatement. Having endured a tumultuous five years of development, during which its design was scrapped and restarted no fewer than three times, it's a small wonder that Fez has finally released. And now that the game is here, it becomes apparent that there is more to the dimension flipping platformer than meets the eye. Though not without its issues, Fez proves itself by providing a unique and surprising twist on one of gaming's most iconic genres.
Fez stars Gomez, a marshmallow-y character living peacefully in a decidedly two-dimensional village. One day a golden cube appears in the sky and with it the titular hat that falls upon Gomez's head. The magical hat grants the ability to rotate the world around him, revealing new and hidden depth, but at a cost. The world was only meant to be two dimensional and simple, and so with the introduction of depth reality shatters. Or more literally, the game appears to crash and is forced to reboot. Fez is abundantly self-aware, and not afraid to poke fun at itself and video games as a whole.
It really is a marvel how much personality and detail is packed into Fez's world. And what a vast world it is; unlike other exploration-heavy games, there are no abilities to unlock and act as artificial barriers to your progress. It creates an infectious momentum, as each room branches with new paths to discover for those who can puzzle their way through the right combination of jumping and rotation to open an out of reach door.
The openness of it all can become overwhelming at times as you try to decipher the right path of the many available. In that way, Fez is very atypical of most modern games. While most games carefully lead, or at least prod, the player toward its ending, Fez doesn't seem too concerned about that at all.
Instead, Fez is content to let players meander, exploring at your own pace so that you can soak in even the tiniest details of its world. Its those tiniest of details that hint at its pervasive puzzles, many of which narrowly walk the line between being obtuse and utterly brilliant.
This works both to the game's benefit and detriment. Discovering that a room contains a puzzle can often be a puzzle in itself, which will cause many players to miss whole swathes of content never knowing they exist. Fez puts tremendous trust in players to seek out its mysteries, but provides little motivation to actually do so as the most complex puzzles offer the same reward as the simplest ones.
Once again, Fez seems completely unconcerned, as if to say that the puzzle itself is the true reward rather than the collectible cube received upon each puzzle's completion. Fez is a game best enjoyed with a pad of paper nearby for scrawling notes, maps and diagrams as an aid against its brain teasers.
In the documentary Indie Game: The Movie, Fez developer Phil Fish recalls receiving Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Tetris on the NES for Christmas, and credits that trio of games as his motivation to create his own. Fez is the culmination of that inspiration, blending platforming, exploration and puzzles together in a world that will entrance you with child-like wonder.
Fez is ultimately a game about games much in the same way Hugo is a film about films. Fez can be very demanding to get the most out of it, but without ever actually asking anything of you. Do not play Fez to beat it, but play to explore and get lost in its puzzles and pixilated world.