Mind-melting puzzles meet retro platformers.
Delays are a common occurrence in game development, but in the case of Fez it became part of the journey. Initially announced in 2007, Polytron were forced to push the game back until April this year, with the plight being part of the documentary Indie Game: The Movie. After such a long wait, this retro-inspired puzzle/platformer is here, but was it worth the wait?
What Fez Got Right
A wondrous world to explore - Fez opens up with this bright and cheerful world, filled with frolicking bunnies, leaping frogs and strange looking white blob artifact people that fills you with warm and fuzzy feelings. The premise is simple; players fill the shoes of Gomez who happens to stumble upon a mysterious known as the Hexahedron. Suddenly his 2D world has been transformed through the use of a magical Fez hat, allowing Gomez to rotate the entire universe into a 3D perspective. It is up to Gomez to discover all the missing pieces of the Hexahedron and save the world before his world is ripped apart. You know, that old chestnut.
While it may seem like Fez isn't strong on the storytelling, it actually reveals a rich and mysterious history thanks to the wondrous world that the player can explore. Each area feels distinctly different, and tells a different story through the surroundings, music and items to discover. It may be filled with sprites, but Fez harbours one of the deepest game worlds in recent memory.
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Mind-blowing puzzles - The objective is seemingly simple in Fez; find and collect 32 cubes, which have been split into "bits" across the world. Players will need to collect 8 bits to make up a cube, and certain doors leading to new areas will only open up if you have collected enough cubes to gain entry. Finding these bits scattered throughout the game world is challenging enough; Gomez will need to run, jump and twist the world at his will to access some hard to reach places, which is a lot of fun. The level design on display in Fez is amazing, especially when you delve into the complexities of using the 3D environments to your advantage.
However it's the other moments in the game that are truly mind-blowing. Hidden throughout the game the developers have utilised a unqiue alphabet, along with numerical and movement codes that can only be cracked with certain artifacts which are picked up during your adventure. Add these features along with hidden treasure maps and another 32 anti-cubes (which are near impossible to find) to the mix, and you have an experience that is certain to melt your mind in the nicest possible way.
Amazing soundtrack - Chiptunes have been done to death thanks to this relentless influx of "retro" inspired games of late, but the Fez soundtrack is utterly divine. Disasterpiece has crafted a sonically astounding soundtrack that fits the unique world of Fez perfectly, and it even makes the transition into day-to-day life. Even if you aren't the type to purchase gaming soundtracks, chances are you'll be compelled to grab a copy of this gem.
Retro with a spin - I've mentioned a few times that sprite infused "retro" games are overdone, but in the case of Fez the art style is part of what makes the game so endearing. It's not retro because it was easier, or cheaper to do so, it really embraces the essence of retro games and adds its own spin to proceedings. Old school platforming meets a retro-inspired soundtrack with a spinning 3D mechanic to provide an old-meets-new experience.
What Fez Got Wrong
Performance issues - Considering that Fez is largely a sprite-based game, it's hard to understand why there are so many performance issues. At certain times the frame-rate stuttered to an unacceptable rate, despite the fact that there was nothing too intensive happening on the screen. Some users have been reporting system crashes, which happened to us three times during out 9 hours playtime with the game. Considering how great the gaming experience is, it was rather disappointing to have this happen more than once.
Confusing map system - Fez features a large game world with different areas. Each area has several rooms, and some of those rooms lead to other areas with other rooms. It doesn't take long to get lost, and trying to find out how to get back to an area you once visited is near impossible. The map system is perplexing at best, and it can create headaches as you progress through the game and want to return to a specific area to solve that puzzle you saw three hours ago.
The Final Verdict
Fez is one of those games that slowly gnaws away at your sanity, in a good way. The level design is simply mind blowing, particularly when you start delving into the hidden puzzles and codes that Polytron have hidden throughout the game world. The soundtrack is the best I've heard in years, and the sheer scope of this charming indie title is intense. Despite the confusing map system and some system performance issues, this is definitely a game you should add to your collection now.
By Stephen Heller - Bio
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