Fez has been in the works for many years — odds are if you are reading this review, you have heard of the game.
So, given the game’s prestige, I’ll keep this intro short — the wait was worth it.
Writing a review for Fez is difficult, as I do not wish to reveal a large portion of the game, but I’ll be able to cover pretty much every core aspect without spoiling key sections. Simply put, the game is basically a mix between VVVVVV and Cave Story. There is no hard action per se — Fez is a straight puzzle platformer, in the rawest sense of the term. There’s no gunplay, no enemies, and no complicated inventory system.
The actions your character (a puff-ball man named Gomez) can take are fairly simplistic, given that outside of movement, there’s only a jump and interaction button. But where the game excels is not limited by what Gomez can do — it’s what you can do by manipulating the camera with the LT/RT buttons. By pressing either trigger (or bumper), you can switch the camera’s point of view around the game in a cube-like fashion. Using this method, you can find hidden doors, areas, and pick-ups to help continue on your quest to collect as many cubes as possible (which help you gradually unlock new doors to complete the game)
Fez excels in the sense that it mostly offers players a choice on how they would like to approach completion. You can choose to engage in a number of the game’s tricky puzzles in mystery rooms to collect the coveted blue cubes (ranging from block puzzles to more complicated endeavors), or focus more on hard platforming, to collect the more common yellow cube pieces, which can be assembled into cubes once you collect enough. Each cube is counted as one currency, so you can open cube-doors with any combination of both types. To complete the game, you have to collect 32 of any combination of cubes — yellow or blue. In total, there are 32 yellow cubes and 32 blue cubes, so theoretically you could complete the game with mostly venturing after yellow cubes, or wracking your brain over blues. Letting you work at your own pace is not a major genre-bending decision, but it still helps make the game enjoyable nonetheless.
But while it is a platformer at it’s core, Fez excels at setting a relaxing and unique tone that is rarely found in gaming today. Through a combination of sights and sounds, Fez is able to draw you into it’s world without forcing it down your throat. While there is a finite amount of the world to explore, the game basically lets you find it at your own pace. Occasionally it may remind you of a particular area to visit so you don’t get lost, but for the most part, you can get to anywhere you need to go with your basic set of abilities. Once you earn more cube collectibles to unlock the game’s limited amount of key-doors, you can enter more areas and explore more of the game — however, this design choice is clearly to avoid you simply walking into the ending.
Fez does have a few technical issues, which is strange given the lengthy development time. For starters, my game crashed twice (once in a menu, once randomly), and I was put into an infinite death loop, forcing me to restart my game manually. Thankfully, the game saves as often as an MMO, so I was able to load up my game in less than thirty seconds and pick up where I left off. Also, given the prestige of the game, I can’t imagine these issues being patched out at a later date.
Visually, the game may not blow you away if you’re not a fan of pixel art, but those who are open to the medium will find some incredible level designs to behold. Even without the rotation mechanic that allows you to see each area in it’s fullest, the game’s aesthetic design could still be considered in a league of it’s own. While there are tricky jumps, nothing feels unfair — yet, areas also feel challenging at the same time. You can clearly tell that much of the game’s development time went into fine tuning the platforming mechanics to ensure that they were pretty much perfect.
While it’s not mind blowing, Fez’s soundtrack deserves credit for fantastically fitting the game. If I had to compare it to anything, it would be the soundtrack to Clockwork Orange, in that it simultaneously gives you a feeling of whimsical calm and makes you feel uneasy in the same measure. Not many soundtracks can claim this feat, so it’s nice to see that a large amount of work was done ensuring that each track matches the area in question.
So aside from the mood, there of course is actual gameplay involved. Thankfully, Fez goes through great lengths to ensure that you have fun. For starters, you have an unlimited amount of lives, and you basically respawn immediately after your death right where you left off (similar to VVVVVV). Fez also highlights cube pieces., and gives you subtle hints as to where pick-ups can be found, without explicitly revealing the solution to a puzzle. As a result, even casual gamers can find solace in the fact that they’ll eventually find where they need to go, even if they have issues navigating the (initially) complicated map system.
At first, the map will feel like it’s difficult to read, but once you take a look at it for a while, you shouldn’t have any issues. Every possible power-up or pick-up is represented on the map, and if you clear an area in it’s entirety, the quadrant will turn gold — ensuring that you don’t aimlessly wander around areas you have already completed. You’re free to not only collect all thirty-two required cubes to finish the game, but a number of artifacts and collectibles as well. If you rush through the game it could only last you around five hours or so, but if you’re keen on getting absolutely everything, you’re going to net around double that.
Fez is a truly remarkable game, and can be placed in the indie pantheon along with Cave Story and VVVVVV. It provides a unique sandbox to engage in puzzle platforming, and it does that platforming aspect well — if you’re fan of the genre, don’t miss out on Fez. Let’s just hope the sequel doesn’t take five years to produce.