Fez – An Indie Game Review

fez-forest screenshot
Fez – An Indie Game Review

Platforms: XBOX Live Arcade / XBLA, Steam, Windows PC

Game Name: Fez

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: Polytron Corporation

Genre: Action, Puzzle, Platformer

Release Date: 4/13/2012

Developer Summary:

Gomez is a 2D creature living in a 2D world. Or is he? When the existence of a mysterious 3rd dimension is revealed to him, Gomez is sent out on a journey that will take him to the very end of time and space. Use your ability to navigate 3D structures from 4 distinct classic 2D perspectives. Explore a serene and beautiful open-ended world full of secrets, puzzles and hidden treasures. Unearth the mysteries of the past and discover the truth about reality and perception. Change your perspective and look at the world in a different way.

What We Think:

Five years, copious pre-release awards and a documentary later, Fez may have been the most buzzed about and anticipated XBLA title of all time with the possible exception of creator Phil Fish’s contemporaries (who happen to co-star in said documentary “Indie Game: The Movie” – Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (“Super Meat Boy“) and Jonathan Blow (“Braid“).

As the story goes, working from a humble office in Montreal with sole programmer Renaud Bédard, game designer Fish wanted to create a beautiful, happy and colorful world that people, himself included, would love to stay in for a good long while. For this reviewer, the brightly colored cloud cities immediately evoked a personal favorite Nicktoons’ animated series – “Skyland” wherein Sky Pirates terrorize peaceful peasants living on the cloud-bourne remnants on a shattered world. And this is a good thing.

But unlike said anime, Fez pays homage to “8-bit” (though arguably 16-bit) titles of yore, from Jumpman to good ole’ Mario Bros. while introducing a very clever visual trick – the 2-D world can be “rotated” to reveal solutions to puzzles and progression opportunities to otherwise unreachable surfaces.

But it doesn’t stop there. Fez also includes a search for treasure maps, dimensional portals that sometimes serve as shortcuts, a loose storyline, entropy, keys to secret rooms and levels, bomb-tossing and a huge collection of levels laid out like a synaptic network with at least a dozen different theme settings that range from sun-dappled forests to Blade Runneresque cityscapes.

What Fez does right is that, in spite of all these mechanics, it keeps things fairly simple once it gets going. Whereas some titles may endeavor to build these up into larger game-states, Fez states its agenda and then subtly adds complexity without ever veering into mission-creep. And in spite of this simplicity, Fez sustains a constant sense of discovery and curiosity and this is arguably why Super Meat Boy and Braid were also so successful in their deployment.

fez-forest screenshot

In the Details

Another important detail gleaned from watching the doc is how Fish took at least an extra year, if not two, to add variation in the tilesets to the point of obsession, so that no two levels would become visually redundant, down to single 32×32 pixel squares.

The game also features very nicely produced music and mercifully has a lot of it, because the opening levels feature a theme that could quickly become tedious in its chirpy saccharine bounce. But new levels introduce ominous synthesized pads or Brian Enoesque ambient drones that make it a very pleasant experience as you negotiate your way through increasingly complex puzzles.

fez - cube completed screenshot

Another nice touch, though some may find this barely worthy of noting, are the little animal critters that roam about – most of which do not directly affect gameplay, but are very creative, cute enough to make you say “aww” and sufficiently varied so as to never become just another collection of pixels distracting you from the task at hand. I mention it because it reinforces the subtle attention to detail that five years of iteration can afford.

No, Fez is truly a lovingly and painstakingly crafted work of art and it is nothing less than a pity that it is presently only available for XBOX 360 owners because like thatgamecompany’s Journey (which is only available on PS3), everyone should get a chance to jump into its delightful alternate reality and craftsmanship.

A Tear in the Pixel-Time Continuum

In spite of the seemingly incessant bugs that crop up throughout the lead-up to the game’s release, as portrayed in the documentary, Fish seems to have ironed out all the glitches and the game runs very smoothly and glitch free. Well, for the majority of those lucky people for whom it actually works.

Unfortunately, (and we won’t dock the game any points for this one):

“a small subset of older Xboxes with smaller hard drives can’t run the game at all. The game has trouble running off a USB stick. Crashes are occurring in specific levels or situations. In a rare situation (exiting the game from the “wall village” interiors), the save file becomes unusable. Nasty stuff.”

The devs are well aware of the issue and have posted an email address at the Polytron site where anyone encountering these issues can write in for some simple workarounds.

If there is a creative gripe, it is that the opening is overly long, as though it suffers from introduction-itis, and the initial learning curve is steepened by the fact that you begin with one kind of game before it transforms into the multidimensional, rotating version that is the core of its novelty. This is a problem only because your first experience is fundamental in deciding whether or not a title will be something you want to pursue, and perhaps only because this reviewer knew what was on offer did he persevere. It may prove off-putting to those who aren’t as well aware of its promise.

Once you have a handle of things, however, Fez is one of those rare gifts that comes as the result of a determined visionary who didn’t give up when the going got tough. If you own an XBOX 360, owning this title is as no-brainer as it gets.

Learn more about Fez at the Official Site

Get Fez at the XBOX Live Marketplace

Get Fez on Steam

[xrr rating=”5/5″]

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