Fez is the long-awaited puzzle platformer from indie developer Polytron. Announced way back in 2007 with an original release date of 2010 the game has already received two Independent Game Festival awards before it was even released.
So, after all of the hype and the extended wait does the final product live up to expectations? Absolutely, yes.
Though it doesn't adhere to actual dimensional physics the skewed perspective makes instant sense when you see it in action
You play as Gomez who, when bestowed with the titular head wear, receives the ability to perceive his 16-bit style two dimensional world in the glory of three dimensions. However, this isn't the usual 3D perspective that you're used to experiencing in video games.
You see, each stage can be swung horizontally in 90 degrees increments allowing you to view it from four fixed angles. Our adorable hero can only move through these four plains two dimensionally however so you'll need to shift perspectives at the right time to traverse the game's often mind-bending environments. Though Gomez can jump, climb and shimmy it's this perspective shifting that's the main mechanic of the game. While your ultimate objective of collecting glowing blocks may sound routine, this refreshing twist (no pun intended) allows for traversal puzzles that have never been seen in a game before.
But that isn't all that Fez wants you to do. If you'd like to find and collect absolutely everything in the game you'll need to do some sleuthing. Only through following treasure maps, scanning QR codes and even decoding the various symbols around the world will you find every last thing and get to the bottom of the mysterious back story of the game. What's nice about this is that if you're not the detective type then these more intricate tasks can be ignored as you need only half of the total 64 completed cubes to reach the ending.
Fez is also a delight to look at and listen to. The retro inspired 16-bit visuals are beautiful especially when you consider that they are actually rendered in three dimensions. If you've witnessed the likes of Minecraft or 3D Dot Game Heroes you'll know what to expect from this blocky '16-bit in 3D' aesthetic but here it's even more gorgeous to look at.
32 completed cubes will open up the ending though there are a total of 64 that can be hunted out
There are many visual touches throughout, more than you'd expect from something aping 80s and 90s game graphics. From the wild frolicking animals and moving cloud shadows to the back story of the world depicted through only visual clues, sometimes you'll feel compelled to stop and soak in the atmosphere.
This sense of place is helped in no small part by the outstanding soundtrack. Though you might expect it to be comprised of chiptune music given the game's retro leanings, composer Richard Vreeland delivers a heavily synthesised score with a 1980s flavour, paying homage to that genre of music and not just games from the era. A particular inspiration seems to be Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack given the mellow and often dream-like vibe. It's not a style or tone that we're used to hearing in video games and it allows Fez to stand out even further from the crowd.
Some players have reported a number of bugs in the game. In my time with it I've only had two noteworthy issues having experienced one crash to dashboard and one spot where the physics went haywire. However, due to the robust auto-save feature (or in the case of the latter, just exiting and re-entering the room) I didn't lose any progress.
My only other nitpick is that the elaborate map system can be confusing at first. This intricate 3D web of areas is not the easiest thing to navigate and even with a legend it isn't apparent at first what the icons used mean. After some practice though you'll come to understand it and adapt to its finickiness.
Fez is a testament to the strength of independently developed games
There's a lot more of Fez worth talking about but I wouldn't want to risk spoiling anyone's experience. Besides, it's a game that needs to be played to be fully appreciated.
It's one of the those rare titles that I'd recommend to pretty much anyone regardless of gaming experience. Not only is it unique and beautiful to behold, the lack of death penalties and time limits mean it's easy to pick up, play and enjoy at whatever pace the player demands. As if that wasn't enough, it's also selling at the lower price tier of 800 Microsoft Points (roughly £7 / €10) on Xbox Live Arcade. It's an absolute must-buy and, despite it still being early in 2012, a strong contender for indie game of the year.
Top Game Moment: There are tonnes of memorable moments throughout but to avoid spoilers I got a big kick out of spotting several allusions to Nintendo games (and even a certain monochromatic portable console). See how many you can spot!