There has been quite the resurgence of puzzle platformers in the past few years. It seems many developers, and gamer alike judging by the sales figures, are nostalgic for the days of yore when graphics were pixelly and a game had only one functioning button. Today, for your pleasure, I bring you another such game; Fez.
Fez is the debut game of Polytron, a Montreal based company with a grand total of two employees. The game was initially announced in 2007 and had been under construction since that time to many a wagging tongue.
Fez is a game that grabs interest right off the bat, and not just because it has quite a selection of awards to its name, anyone who grew up in the late 80s or the 90s spent a lot of time playing games that looked like this. On the surface Fez looks like a game wallowing in just how retro it looks, but it only takes a light scratch to uncover the depth and complexity hidden beneath it’s charming exterior.
The game opens with our hero, Gomez, waking up in his room one morning. Players take control of the game almost immidietly, as you would expect of a game of this sort. Once Gomez leaves his house he is summoned by an elderly man at the very top of his village. Once he arrives, the elder states merely that is it ‘Gomez time’ before a huge cube of light appears and takes Gomez to some other plain.
What essentially happens is that the people of Gomez’s village live in a realm where they are content to only live a life consisting of two-dimensions, only one person, or ‘bearer of the fez’ as I like to call them, is ever made aware of the third dimension. I’ll conveniently forget the fact that time also plays a major role in the events of the game. This particular morning is the one where the elder fez wearer is passing down his responsibilities to Gomez, however, something goes wrong with the ritual and shortly after becoming aware of the third dimension the great cube explodes into pieces before Gomez.
Thus, with the great power gone, reality itself slowly begins to fall apart and it is up to Gomez and his newly found awareness to collect all the pieces of the ‘Hexahedron’ and put it back together, while also learning the history of his people and the source of this bizarre and disturbing third dimension.
Fez is very cleaver in its introductions to the game, during the first climb to the top of the village; everything is strictly on a 2D plain. The gameplay is about platforming; as pure a form of gaming as you could ask for. However, when the cube explodes, the game itself appears to crash, pieces of broken graphics and lines appearing all over the screen, in a manner similar to a corrupted NES or Mega Drive game would when freezing up. The game flicks to an old school style boot up screen and sends you back to the main menu, although this time with flickering graphics and an unmistakable glitchiness that only a gamer who lived with cartridges for a period of their gaming career would really appreciate.
Fez gives enough indication that the game itself isn’t actually busted, so to stop you from just turning off your Xbox, which I’m sure a lot of people would have done at this point. During your second run to the top of the village, everything it introduced in an entirely new perspective thanks to the power of the fez and Gomez’s new awareness.
It is during this second part that players can use the left and right triggers to rotate the world 90 degrees and not only gain a new perspective of the area, but also reveal doorways and align ladders that were once on separate halves of the town. And this is where the game really starts.
While the game, at its most simple, is a platformer. It requires players to become very familiar with the ability to change their perspective in order to progress even a small distance into the Fez’s world. Early puzzles are relatively simple, like my previous example, two ladders that are on opposite sides of the map from one perspective will become perfectly aligned when viewed from the side. Rather than being a true three dimensional world, the gameplay area merely exists in the form it is currently being perceived from, which is an incredibly cool game mechanic that gives this game a lot of fuel for unique puzzles and environments.
In fact, there a number of puzzles in this game that are borderline both ingenious and insidious. Eventually, you stop thinking about how two aligned doorways can essentially become a teleport to the far side of the area and just roll with it. In order to finish the game, players must collect 32 cubes, these are either found whole as rewards for traversing certain areas or pieced together from collecting eight cube fragments and putting them together. As well as these 32 cubes though, there are another 32 anti-cubes, and these are where the game grows a pair of little devil horns.
Nearly all of the anti-cubes are tricky to find, they’ll be the result of you figuring out a seemingly innocuous area wasn’t, in fact, as unexceptional as it first appeared. They’re the type of puzzles that are a throwback to the days of the 8-bit era where you would find the solution in Nintendo Power or something and have nothing to say aside from “How the hell does anyone figure that out ?!”. When you do figure them out though, there is a feeling of elation that only a game such as this can provide; the feeling that you’re outsmarting it.
For example, I was exploring a town I found, I entered a room to see the wall plastered in the strange hieroglyphics that are commonplace around the game, it was only when I was about to leave that something cause me to falter and I realised this image wasn’t as indecipherable as it first appeared.
I, like many others, was very impressed with this game. The solid gameplay and genuinely fun and tricky jumping puzzles are as addictive as they are infuriating. But not only does the gameplay impress, the graphics are also a strange blend of old school pixeliness and current age clean and crisp visuals. There is something oddly right about seeing a high def ‘hexahedron’ floating around in 8-bit world.
The music is even impressive, once again reminiscent the old school sound of an Atari or Nintendo game before suddenly changing to sounds of a euphoric or atmospheric nature. There is a general feel of light-hearted adventure, but with an underlying tone implying something much darker at times. The constant use of glitches and holes in programming makes the game oddly self aware, almost in a disconcerting way. Hell, even Bryan Lee O’Malley, of Scott Pilgrim fame, did the game’s cover art. I can’t stop listing things about this game that make it incredible.
Fez was a game five years in the making, and it was well worth that time. Gameplay is kept relatively simple can be beaten with the minimum requirement by almost anybody. But then it is also tricky and secretive enough to satisfy even the most masochistic puzzle hunters for 100%. The graphics are brilliant for a pixel fiend and look very Minecraft, before Minecraft was even a thing mind you. I really don’t have a bad thing to say about it.
Fez is only available for Xbox Live Arcade for the, in my opinion, very low price of 800 Microsoft points (which comes to less than £10, even with the overlap). And I wholeheartedly endorse anyone to play this, Fez is truly deserving of any recognition it gets.
You must be logged in to post a comment.