[Review] Fez Is a Sublime Puzzle Platformer

Published on April th, 2012

Fez is a very pretty game. It’s also very smart. These are the two qualities that set Fez apart from most other, more contemporary titles. The first game from Polytron (manned by the obsessive mastermind Phil Fish) is a unique blend of puzzle and platforming. The ‘unique’ moniker is courtesy of the game’s nifty concept. Gomez is a cute little 8 bit sprite who lives in a 2D world, but when his flat town is rocked by a 3D catastrophe, Gomez must set it right by collecting 32 golden cubes. When Gomez is given a red fez courtesy of some unknown heavenly force, it grants Gomez the ability to rotate his 2D world and explore it in 3D. This rotation gimmick is what powers all of the puzzle and platforming action. By using the left of right triggers or shoulder buttons, the whole world rotates by 90 degrees.

Playing on perspective, rotating the game world can open, close or create new paths to those coveted little golden cubes. The platforming doesn’t punish the player, which is nice, because you’ll fall A LOT. However, every time you careen off of a ledge and die, you’ll quickly respawn on the last safe ledge you were standing on. Gomez doesn’t have any health, and there aren’t any real baddies to fight, so the game allows the player to focus fully on the environment, how to navigate it, and find cubes or treasures.

If there’s one thing Fez completely and wholly succeeds at, it’s level design. To think just ONE man constructed each and every level of this rich game, is astounding. This isn’t just good design for one guy, it’d be considered brilliant for an entire team. Each pixel has its place, and they all come together to create a vibrant, complex, and engaging world. Fez is very clearly the vision of one person. Phil Fish has crafted something to be proud of. Throughout each of the game’s levels, there are a whole bunch of treasures to discover and unlock. Between anti-cubes, treasure maps, keys or other cool stuff I won’t spoil here. Uncovering all of these hidden objects will provide tens of hours of playtime, and keep you playing well past midnight as you ache to reach just ONE MORE cube before calling it quits. The only real downside to Fez’s design, is its map UI. The map is kind of a pain to navigate and doesn’t really offer up much information other than what levels still have hidden secrets, cubes, or treasure chests. It’s a shame Fish didn’t opt for a simpler UI that makes navigation from stage to stage a little more clear. It’s not as if the map is unusable, it’s just not up to par with the rest of the game’s high level of polish, and is definitely a bit disappointing.

There’s a lot to love with the technical and gameplay related elements of Fez, but it’s not just structurally sound, it’s also a sublime experience that knows how to tap into your childlike senses of fear and discovery. The game’s low-fi levels are presented in high-definition, decked out with either vibrant or melancholy hues and when combined with the minmal soundtrack, they create an emotionally engaging experience. There is very little in terms of plot, but the environments and (mostly) minor-tinged soundtrack, illicit an emotional reaction on an almost subconscious level. It’s the game’s tone that really ties the whole Fez experience together. Fez seamlessly slides from joy to melancholy with each level transition (and sometimes within the same stage).

Fez is very clearly a tribute to the adventure games of yesteryear. The most important thing about how Fez pays tribute to gaming classics isn’t just in its looks. Its formula and emphasis on exploration are what make Fez feel like a true homage to classic games. There’s the inclusion of a made up language, that I’m convinced can actually be deciphered. There’s also a whole mess of completely surprising ways to uncover secret treasures, that I won’t spoil for you, but will say that called for the use of my phone. That’s right. Fez made me use my phone to uncover a secret. It’s something that a lot of people without a smartphone on hand, wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of. Fez has prompted me to take notes while playing. Yeah, just like the old school RPGs and adventure games from the early PC and NES days. Don’t be turned off by that though. Fez is very accessible. The note-taking is completely optional, you’ll be able to beat the game without it, but if your an obsessive treasure hunter like me, you’ll do the same.

Phil Fish (Polytron) has made a fun and beautiful game. Sure it radiates love, emotion, and an affection for old school gaming, but most importantly: it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Fez is one of the better platformers or puzzle games of the past few years and was well worth the wait (Over 3 years in development). If you’ve got an extra 10 bucks to spend, throwing it down on Fez would be well worth it. There are very few pieces of media that truly feel substantial, and I think Fez achieves that. Fez will be one of those few games that stick with me for a long time to come. Just like a great album or movie, Fez is certainly a piece of art.

Rating Overal: 4.5 out of 5

  • DMTunity

    nice review. looks fun