It’s undeniable that the gaming industry is currently dominated by a slew of sequels and remakes. We are constantly bombarded with game previews that proudly boast the ‘best’ of graphics and gameplay, and it’s now becoming almost impossible to know nothing about games before their release.
Sometimes, in the midst of the madness, a game is released that has little marketing and promotion, and they can easily be lost in the depths of the seemingly endless indie game library.
Fez is one of these games. I will make my viewpoint clear from the start – Fez should definitely NOT be missed.
I’m just casually saving the world… who cares why?
Fez is a retro experience from start to finish, sporting heavily pixilated graphics throughout. A small downside, as with most retro platforming games, it has little to no story.
It opens with our hero, Gomez (possibly the greatest name ever), waking in his tiny 2D rectangle of a bed, which must be rather uncomfortable for the poor chap. He very quickly receives a letter from a mysterious character, requesting his company at the top of the village.
For reasons unknown, he bestows a gift upon Gomez, a fez with the ability to ‘rotate’ the world 90 degrees to the side. As a result, it is now up to Gomez to restore a giant golden ‘cube’, as it’s obviously the only way to save the world.
Despite the classically incoherent story, the game that unfolds sports incredible art design, intelligent level design and an unthreatening gameplay style that rewards exploration, and demands a wild imagination.
Around the world – Fez style.
The rotation mechanic is fantastically implemented, and basically allows each individual section of the map to rotate 90 degrees from a static 2D environment to 4 separate screens, which distinctly changes the landscape. It allows for some amazing platforming and environmental puzzles.
For example, two platforms could seem miles apart, but with a flip of the screen, be brought together, allowing our hero to safely leap the gap. Much like Echochrome and VVVVVV, this gameplay feature is fundamental to the experience.
‘Retro’ is definitely not collecting dust…
The game requires Gomez to explore a series of interlinked mini-environments, each with a treasure trove of collectables. By collecting cube fragments, doors are unlocked and new routes are discovered.
There are 32 cubes in all, with 8 fragments needed to make one full cube. There are also a variety of additional collectables that are much harder to find, such as ‘anti-cubes’, which are usually protected by mind-bending puzzles.
Some of these are really quite frustrating, and give the player little idea of what to do. But when you finally work out that you can move a certain block, or rotate a piston, there is a true sense of reward.
This is great but… where the HELL am I?
By solving puzzles and finding secrets, slowly the world begins to expand. The map screen is a series of interlinking hexagons, and sometimes made me feel like I was looking at a child’s discarded ‘Spirograph’ efforts.
Luckily for me, when you’ve cleared an area, the borders on the hexagon turn gold, a decent indicator for completion. Without it, I would have soon given up on the map, as it was starting to give me a headache.
A Link to the Past
From the title screen, it is obvious that Fez draws heavily from the ‘retro’ theme – but not just in terms of graphics. Various references to Nintendo classics litter the land, such as your companion ‘Dot’ shouting “Hey, Listen!” – a phrase that any Zelda fan will know very well, very well indeed…
Also, opening a chest consists of the classic Zelda ascending theme and the camera begins rotating around the action. The various shapes of Tetris blocks are imprinted on the environment, sometimes indicating secret areas.
Some may argue the game relies too much on these various references, but they simply enhance the gameplay experience. It creates a perfect blend of inspirational roots, and a cheeky look into the future of the modern platforming game.
A pixel for your thoughts?
I could literally talk for hours about Fez’s visuals, as there is something special about seeing 90’s graphics blown up in glorious HD. I am a self confessed retro addict, and it’s clear that the developers are too.
From the tiny cute non-violent creatures that roam the game world, to the sprawling environments in which Gomez travels, it is clear that they were all crafted with passion and a genuine love for the art style. The various districts are complex and distinct, but always ooze attention to detail.
Old dog, a million tricks.
With the rotating gameplay mechanic dominating the experience, I thought it might get old. But somehow, Fez always manages to introduce a new take on the mechanic that keeps things fresh and interesting. One minute you’ll be climbing ladders whilst trying to link them by rotating the world, the next you’ll be planting chain reaction bombs.
The platforming gameplay feels like your controlling Mario, as Gomez feels weighty, and uses his own momentum to leap further. He can also climb vines, move blocks and perform other actions depending on the tools available to him. The only way for Gomez to die is to fall from a large height – even then he reappears on the same platform moments later, no worse for wear.
In other words – the gameplay is diverse, rewarding and damn good fun. I’ll admit – I struggled through the game at points, but it was never due to awkward controls or repetition. It was due to clever puzzle design.
Playing through Fez was truly awesome. Every aspect of the game is lovingly crafted, with emphasis in the right place – gameplay.
It provides a great example of an indie game that may be lacking a huge Hollywood-esque budget, but really doesn’t need it. Those who play this game will love it for dozens of different reasons. I really can’t stress this enough – if you find even a slither of entertainment from platformers, retro games or stylish Egyptian hats – Fez is available, right now. Go and play this wonderful game.
BoG’s Fez Score: 9.5
Why so High? – Everything that’s right about video games, old and new.
Why so Low? – Unlockable co-op might have been fun? Hard to think of negatives…
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