It’s been a long time coming. Five years to be precise, which may well be a record development time for an indie title like this. Some of you will have been waiting impatiently since it was first announced, entranced by the wonderfully anachronistic visuals. For others, it will have only shown up on your radar in the past year or so, but has been sending out strong signals ever since. More importantly though, is Phil Fish’s opus worth the wait?
In a word, yes… a thousand times yes. This is a difficult review to write, not because of the game, but because of you, the reader. The trouble is that we don’t want to spoil a single surprise, and this game is absolutely full of them. Sometimes the mechanics will surprise you, at times it’ll be the graphics and, occasionally, you may even surprise yourself. ‘How did I figure that out?’ will be a frequent question that pops into your head whilst playing this and the answer will be a combination, most likely, of your own lateral thinking, the genius of the level design and the subtle hints placed around the world. We’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but if you don’t want to know anything at all then you’re best served by picking this up right away.
The most immediately striking aspect of the game is the presentation. Both the graphics and sound harken back to the days where games were much simpler, largely because they had to be. It’s a brave move then, in the age of Call of Duty and chasing realism, to develop a game which is so proud of the fact that it could have been released 20 years ago. At least, this is what you would think from the first 5 minutes. You wake up in your bedroom with no explanation as to who you are or what you’re doing. You’re told some basic controls by a cubic entity through speech bubbles and once you leave your little abode, you are introduced to your home village and tasked with climbing to the top to meet the village elder. On the way, you are introduced to some of the other townsfolk, with the recurring theme being that everyone around you believes the world to be entirely 2D. There is no cube, only square. You can only move left to right and there seems to be (as your townsfolk suggest) no third dimension. So far, so early 90’s adventure right?
Once you reach the elder things become more interesting, and after a brief cut scene you are bestowed with a magical Fez. What does it do? Well, that’s the game changer. It could well be a moment on par with running out on to Hyrule Field for the first time, or emerging from Vault 101 in terms of sheer impact. By a simple squeeze of the trigger, you turn the whole environment 90 degrees on its axis, left or right depending on the trigger. This transforms a 2D platformer into a 3D challenge set to test your logic, spatial awareness and sense of adventure. The game tasks you with finding the scattered pieces of a golden mega-cube, which explodes during the fez adornment ceremony. Why this occurs is just one of the game’s many, many mysteries.
The main mechanic might not sound like much in itself, but it’s in what this allows you to do and reach the places you can that makes things so special; the platforms that were once too far for your little protagonist can now be brought to you. You see, you’re spinning the world around you, but everything you do is still on a 2 dimensional plane, so if a platform looks closer, then for you, it is closer. Yawning chasms between platforms disappear as you change your perspective, and although it can some time to click, once it does you’ll be manipulating the world around you with consummate ease.
The game then restarts in a manner befitting its presentation that we won’t spoil, and it becomes clear that on returning to the town parts of the golden mega-cube have been scattered here. There is also a door which needs a complete cube (8 cube fragments) for it to open, and so begins the adventure. From here, you arrive at the hub and the whole world begins to unfold for you. Every level is akin to the infamous rabbit hole. Just when you think you’ve gone as far as you can go, another level shows itself, or another idea, or perhaps another riddle. So you continue to piece together cubes and open new doors, delving ever deeper into that rabbit hole.
To go into any more detail about the game itself would be doing both the developer and you a disservice. There are so many surprises, puzzles and fourth wall breaking moments that it would be churlish to reveal them and remove the element of discovery – it really is a joy to uncover the game’s more obscure secrets.
The graphics, sound and gameplay together so perfectly that you can tell five years worth of work has been poured into this. One particular area is reminiscent of the classic Gameboy, with its colour scheme and subtle tetris references. Another had shades of Blade Runner. Rarely will you see so much variety and so many ideas packed into a game of this size. That’s not to say it’s small by any means, but there is not a single inch of screen space wasted in this adventure. Also, gladly, there is a New Game+ option, so any unsolved mysteries shouldn’t remain that way for long.
So, it’s abundantly clear that Fez is a high-quality title, probably more so than any other you’ll have played this year, but there must be a few problems right? Well, yes, there are a few niggles. There is some slowdown, but never enough to impact the game in a meaningful way, but it is noticeable. Also, some of the puzzles are just obscure. There’s always a modicum of logic behind them, but some of the solutions are based on the tiniest of details. When you do solve them, it feels incredible, and yet sometimes the journey toward the solution sails a little too close to inducing a rage-quitting level of frustration. This isn’t helped by the fact that the world map so proudly tells you of the rooms where you have failed to discover the secrets with a taunting, riddler-like icon. The world map is also a little obscure; it’s in keeping with the game certainly, but it can be difficult to ascertain the right route to get to where you need to go, particularly if you’re backtracking.
Don’t let any of that put you off though, as this truly is a classic. The aesthetics, the way it plays, the satisfaction of discovery – all are aspects that are missing in too many modern releases. Should you have found your interest in gaming to be waning of late, then this may have the power to restore your faith in the industry’s ability to surprise and innovate. For that alone, Fez deserves your undivided attention.
This review first appeared in screentear.blogspot.co.uk
Have you downloaded the latest issue from GamerZines yet? Check it out here!