A long time in the making and recipient of more hype than a game of its RRP should really be subjected too, Fez is a 2D/3D platformer which first strips down the genre to its essentials, and then redresses itself in one of gaming’s most complex dimensional structures.
Players assume the role of Gomez, a square in a 2D world whose encounter with that most blasphemous of objects: a cube, leaves him with the gift to see beyond the 2D, but with the cost that only he can collect the cube fragments necessary to prevent his universe from unravelling.
Such powers are manifested through the control pad’s shoulder buttons, so allowing for his world to be spun at the whim of the player – distant ledges becoming but small steps for square man, separated tangles of climbable vegetation suddenly become interlinked and gaps in walls becoming doors through which Gomez can move from background to foreground.
Enemies don’t really exist in Fez’s world, there are no koopa troopers to stomp and no Dr. Robotnik to thwart, rather the main hindrance to progress could be said to be your own intelligence – a scary thought indeed. Not that death is an unknown in Fez, in fact, due to our hero’s incapacity to fall more than a few feet with going splat, you’ll die frequently, but Gomez ‘s adventure is more about the journey and the 3D exploration than it is worrying about such inconveniences as nefarious bosses and disposable minions.
To play Fez is really the only way to ‘get’ it, but even when deeply entranced by the novelty of the spectacle there are still a few irritations. For one, whilst technically impressive, Fez’s universe is a labyrinth of connecting doors and, superficially at least, quite homogeneous stages. As you move from level to level – think something akin to how Mario moves through stages in Super Mario Galaxy, but infinitely more complex – it’s impossible to do anything but wind up getting lost.
I’m not saying that such confusion is unintentional, in fact the creation of disorientation was no doubt high on Polytron’s agenda during Fez’s construction and tends to lend itself to multiple play-throughs. But when all you want to do is return to the central hub to use your acquired cubes to unlock the next chunk of stages, and all roads seemingly lead further away, some of the shine does tend to dull.
A map which is almost as confusing as the levels themselves can lend some assistance, so too does the mini-preview of the connecting level which appears as Gomez approaches its entrance and similarly a number of home-hub portals dotted throughout the landscapes, but the fact remains however that getting lost is an unavoidable feature and something best to be fully aware of.
A further irritation, though something that Polytron have already issued a statement regarding, are a number of bugs throughout the game – a minor inconvenience or game-breaking tragedy depending on what model of Xbox 360 you own. While Polytron will no doubt fix such errors in time it’s worth knowing in advance that if you plan to run the game via a memory stick you might, as it stands, want to rethink. Quite how the game passed Microsoft’s quality control is another question entirely, suffice it to say that the situation is clearly far from ideal.
Ultimately however, and bugs aside, Fez proves to be a quite brilliant exploration of spatial relationships and is testament to the planning and vision of Phil Fish and his team – one can only imagine the graphs, spreadsheets and diagrams created during its planning stages.
Yes, you’ll get lost, yes, you’ll have the occasional gripe at Gomez’s jump arcs – which feel a little sluggish to that of say Mario – but through its visual style (with more than a passing nod to the 16-bit era) its just-comprehensible plot which can be decoded as you play and the sheer imagination on display throughout, Fez is game deserving of all our time.