Fez ReviewJoe Green
Where 2d becomes 3d and frowns turn upside down
Ever wondered what would happen if you took an old-school 2d platformer and switched perspective to see it from a different flat angle? How about flipping that perspective to reveal a chest where before there was an empty room? But most of all, what happens when you put a fez hat on a 2d game sprite? Magic.
Magic happens from the first time you hit a trigger and switch that beautifully crafted, artistically retro world from one view to another. It may be to stop yourself from falling, instead landing on a ledge. It may be to see the answer where before there was none. It's often to bring a platform within reach to scale a height. Whichever it is, the ingenuity of Fez becomes apparent from that first switch. You realise the enormity of the task sole indie developer Phil Fish set for himself was truly mind-boggling.
And boggle your mind it will. Fez's world is large and unbelievably complex. What might be a reasonably small immediate part of the map, becomes abundantly bigger with 4 new viewpoints to consider. To be able to visualise your next step can be a task in itself, never mind to design it. Phil Fish has done a wonderful job of crafting a world which is simple when flat, but so uniquely complex when spun.
The variety of locations and character of the surroundings is another notable achievement. You will find yourself starting off in sun brushed, green surroundings at first and move onto other-worldly gate realms of purple flowing rivers and pixelated alienation. You visit jungle inspired places, maps which seem akin to cyberpunk vision with neon urban signs, haunted bone strewn ruins and just about everything else. In this way, the game feels reminiscent of other beloved retro platformers such as Mario.
The puzzles also adapt to these surroundings in some fascinating ways. In the aforementioned haunted locations, you find yourself unable to reach heights normally within grasp from tilting the perspective. That is until you notice the intermittent lightning is silhouetting invisible ledges and others can be seen by tiny droplets of pixel rain outlining their edges. Ingenious.
Intelligence is at the heart of Fez and you certainly need a modicum of smarts if you are to beat it. There is no easy mode, no arrow pointing you in the right direction, or shiny lever begging you to quite obviously press it. You start off with the simple premise of collecting cubes and shards of cubes to bring the world's new 3d skew to normalcy. You wander off, take one direction through a door and end up in another. Sometimes even returning through that same door doesn't bring you back where you were before. Before long, you may have no idea where you are or precisely where you should go next as I often did. This is both a boon and a burden. For dedicated gamers who don't mind the perseverance, this shouldn't pose a problem.
That is, in truth, Fez's only downside; except perhaps its short length, relatively speaking. You could run through the game in a matter of a few short hours but you would miss so many of the game's quirks and hidden places. Personally, I still haven't grasped Fez's hidden language or runic drawings you find scattered throughout the game world. I don't expect to either. There are only subtle clues as to what these might mean and how you might accomplish something with them. In fact, Phil Fish has said himself that, to date, no one has completely discovered every secret there is to find in Fez's world. There are not many games you can say that about.
As a final thought, how then does the game differ on PC compared to the previous exclusivity of the Xbox Arcade version? Not much. But that's a good thing. I have encountered no hiccups, glitches or hindrances unlike many who first purchased the game on the Xbox arcade, which is certainly a plus. There is also still the ability to use the Xbox 360 controller, which is unquestionably smoother and for most, preferable. This time round however, Phil Fish has included an over-world map, which he admits he is not entirely happy with. It can be of some help in ascertaining whether an area's secrets have been found (represented by a gold outline). But in truth, it offers little aid in navigating the world due to its complete randomness. Many doors, many places: I'd high-five the person that could coherently explain how to navigate to any specific location.
So, there you have it. Fez is as good now as it was just over a year ago at launch on the Xbox Live. You still can't twist your eyeballs in your sockets to help you figure it out though, which may or may not be a positive. Go out and try it already. DISCLAIMER: the former, not the latter.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.