Every year there tends to be a handful of indie titles that capture the hearts and minds of all those who play them. Fez could very well be one of this year's select few. Fez is full of lovable characters, fun eight-bit graphics, and a puzzle system that is easy to engage but nearly impossible to master.
At its heart, Fez is a platforming puzzle game with the most basic controls. At the game's onset, it's hard to imagine how such basic gameplay could ever evolve into a mind bending experience—but it does, and it doesn't waste any time doing it either. A mere fifteen minutes in, the story takes a standard two-dimensional (2D) platformer and adds a third dimension. However, Fez does it in a very non-traditional way: instead of being able to run into the foreground and background like most three-dimensional (3D) games, players still navigate the world in a 2D plane but can use the trigger buttons to change the cameras perspective of the player. Changing perspective quickly becomes the key element to everything the player does throughout the rest of the game. It can make two distant trees seem closer together, and turn an incredibly long jump into a small hop. Fez does a wonderful job of using this concept to its full potential. Early stages are easy but still engaging, most puzzles only involving a single perspective change here and there. The game does a great job of slowly ratcheting up the difficulty, and before players even realize it they are leaping from a platform and changing the perspective in midair to land safely on a platform that would normally be inaccessible.
The one thing that truly makes Fez engaging to players of all kinds is the difficulty. Fez never punishes the player for trying something. While this would normally make a game feel far too simple, many of Fez's puzzles show players that the game is anything but simple. What this lack of punishment does is allow everyone to enjoy Fez, not just traditional gamers. In Fez, falling off the stage merely results in being placed back on the ledge that the player fell from—no reloading check points, no loading the last save. This system allows players to try that jump they aren't sure of, or to see if the hero, Gomez, can swim in that mysterious liquid or if he cries out in agony as he disintegrates in it. This experimentation is part of what makes finally solving a difficult puzzle or ascending to the top of a structure so rewarding. Even though dying has few repercussions, players still feel a great sense of accomplishment when completing tasks. The only real gameplay issues that crop up are glitches. There are a few spots within the game that making the wrong jump or trying to re-enter a door too quickly leads to infinite death loops or the game locking up. These instances are few and far between though and do little to tarnish the overall experience.
As players progress, each new area they unlock is more mesmerizing than the last, from towering windmills to dark sewers. The 8-bit graphics add a sort of charm to each new setting. Players will also find that even though Gomez is only 8-bits he is surprisingly expressive; he'll lay down and fall asleep while idle, beam with joy after completing an objective, and players will even be able to see the desperation on his little face as he clings to a ledge. Along with Fez's retro music selection the game feels like a blast from the past in all the right ways. Fans of classic platformers will feel right at home in Fez. The team at Polytron truly did an excellent job recreating a 2D universe within a 3D realm.
Within each vibrant new area there are a host of things to do and collect. There is usually at least one puzzle in each area in addition to the fact that simply navigating the area tends to be a puzzle. Completing each puzzle rewards players with treasure chests containing clues to solving other puzzles or keys to unlock new areas. Throughout all this players are working to collect cube parts to save their village. There are thirty-two cubes and thirty-two anti-cubes in all, but players need not collect every last bit to finish the game. In fact, players needn’t collect any of the anti-cubes at all. Since replaying the game doesn't change any level layouts or puzzles at all, adding in this set of thirty-two incredibly difficult to obtain anti-cubes helps to ensure that players have something to come back and work towards even after the game is done.
Players also have access to a world map that charts how each level is connected to another and what items are still hidden within the area. Unfortunately, by the end of the game the map ends up a jumbled mess of lines, which makes using it to navigate from one area to another almost useless. Simply making one large world map with the major areas on it and allowing players to select an area to view its smaller, adjacent areas would have done wonders to clean up the map. However, the ability to see what areas are complete and what areas still have secrets left to uncover is very useful, especially for completionists trying to hunt down the last few items.
Fez is a magnificent game that delivers a fun and engaging experience. Audio and visual blend together to create a charming retro feel while gameplay will keep players of all types coming back again and again. The true glory of Fez is really in its accessibility. It caters to the causal gamers out there that avoid most games simply because they are too hard or the learning curves are too steep, while still being interesting to the traditional gamers well-versed in gaming mechanics. In Fez, there really is something for everyone.
(9s represent excellence. Any issues it may have are minor or easily forgiven for what is a fantastic experience.)
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