I have to believe that there are whole periods of human history where if you tried to describe Fez to people, you would be burned as a witch. Fez is both a beginner and a master class in the fields of logical analysis and perceived realities; a quantum theory gumball wrapped in a cutesy platformer candy shell. It will simultaneously make you feel like a genius and an idiot, and I love it.
GAME NAME: Fez
PUBLISHER(S): Microsoft Studios, Trapdoor, Polytron
RELEASE DATE(S): 4/13/2012
Fez follows the adventures of Gomez, a simple resident of a two-dimensional village. When one of the town’s older residents picks Gomez to follow in his footsteps and introduces him to a sentient four-dimensional hypercube, Gomez’s world gets turned on its side… literally. He is gifted with a magic fez that shows him the world in its three-dimensional glory, and allows Gomez to change on which two-dimensional plane he exists.
Using the power of the fez, Gomez traverses the world looking for the magical golden cubes he needs to restabilize the dimensions. The gameplay takes advantage of Gomez’s 2D physiology and perspective in the 3D world, as he’ll often close the gap on a large, impossible jump by simply rotating the world view to an angle where the ledges are closer together. Ladders and bridges separated by dozens of yards may become a single structure when viewed at a 90-degree angle, and environmental effects can carry from one area to another by Gomez’s gratuitous shifting of X- and Z-axes.
The total presentation comes together with a beautifully rendered world of retro pixelated graphics, with plenty of referential nods to classic 8-bit gaming tropes (my personal favorite was the sewer zone, with a Game Boy-inspired four-color green pallet). The sound design is punctuated with classic gaming beeps and clanks, and the musical score includes some of the best chiptunes seen in gaming since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
The game has its flaws, though they tend to be pretty minor. The world mapping system is atrocious, and large sections will be obscured from view without careful manipulation. Also, areas on the map will receive a gold outline if you gather all that location’s collectibles, which can detour you from finding hints you will need in the metagame parts later (see below) if you ignored the highlighted areas. There are occasional loading glitches as well, but recovery from these bugs come quickly.
More than just a retro-styled platformer with a gimmick (of which anyone who has followed the Indie scene for a while will tell you there is no shortage) but Fez has a hidden depth that you cannot really begin to understand until you have played it for a while. Finishing the game unlocks a “New Game +” mode, which will grant you new abilities you will need to undertake the rest of the game. Puzzles that will twist your mind inside out await you in this new run-through, testing spatial reasoning, logical analysis, and cryptanalysis. It turns into a metagame that will require real-world tools such as a pen-and-paper, a QR reader, your controller’s rumble function, and, in all likelihood, an online FAQ to lay all of Fez’s secrets bare (though, for your own sake, you should put off digging through FAQ’s as long as you can stomach–there are no bragging rights in simply looking a puzzle’s answer). It took the online community over a week to compile most of the game’s secrets (something unheard of in games since the internet became a household staple), and no one is really sure that we have cracked open all Fez has to offer yet.
It’s a beautiful way of taking the game off the screen and injecting it into the players lives, something modern gaming’s “cutscene-right trigger-cutscene” design ignores all too often. And the story of the 2D-boy exploring a 3D world will charm and invade your mind. After all, we humans are only able to perceive three-dimensions. Sure, we can conceive of the fourth dimension of time and we can test and measure its existence, but we can’t really perceive multiple points in the fourth dimension the same as we can see several three-dimensional points simultaneously. As a three-dimensional being in a four-dimensional space, who is to say we can’t find our own “fez” to shift our perception of which part our three-dimensional point of view occupies, opening up new worlds and ideas and…
Yup. There it goes. I gave myself a nosebleed.