Reagan Morris finds living as a 2d character in a 3d world kind of fun…
Back in 2007 the indie game scene was really starting to grow. New developers were arriving on the scene and making themselves seen in a serious light and in a notable manner. Among the flourish was one by the name of Fez. Not much more than basic platforming and rotation of the 2D world (ala Paper Mario) was shown but enough to make an impact. What little was shown had quickly earned itself quite a following and before long not only was every gaming website/blog reporting on every new bit of info but its development was also included in Indie Game: The Movie – a film that documents the struggles of indie development.
And after 5 years of struggling, Fez has been released upon the world and it needs to be said that there’s more to the game than meets the eye. On first look – and through your first couple of minutes with Fez – it’s easy to think you’re about to venture into just another typical 2D platformer. After what is one of the more unique and inspired intros you’ll start discovering the depth to what lies hidden in the gameplay. Suddenly everything matters, and your first mechanic to uncovering every hidden cube is unveiled.
Gomez – the little white fez wearing biped – finds himself with the unique power to rotate the flat world around him and squishing it back down in a rather Escher-like fashion. It’s with this power that Gomez starts exploring the world around him and discovers that all is not quite right. A benevolent cube speaks to him in a language he is yet to understand and suddenly he is bestowed with the challenge of fixing the world by finding all golden cubes and anti-cubes. While the golden cubes can be as easy to find as walking into the right room or dropping onto the right platform, the anti-cubes are a whole other story.
Fez utilises the tried and true formula of needing enough cubes to open the door to a new section of the world, and while the main story can be completed with half of the cubes scattered through the game, the challenge doesn’t really begin until you restart with NewGame+. In this case, NG+ is less like starting the game and trying again and more like reaching the end of a book and finding Act 2. Everything you’ve collected is collected, every door you’ve unlocked and every world you’ve completed are still unlocked and completed. The difference here is that by this stage you will have started to uncover the secrets to Fez and maybe even have some new tricks up your sleeve.
Fez is ALL about secrets. Upon my first playthrough not only had I not collected every cube available, but I also had only collected one of the four artifacts. Artifacts are there to help you decode the mysteries of the world around you, and lead you to discover more of the cubes hidden throughout the worlds. Although, even with these artifacts you’ll need to really study both them and your surroundings to truly understand their meanings.
Another thing you’ll notice fairly quickly is the abundance of symbols. Small square-shaped symbols and tetrominoes swarm the worlds, and they all mean something, or maybe they hint at something, or maybe they just add to the world. But you won’t know which is which until you’ve discovered what they mean, and discovering what they mean is a challenge that really only becomes something of beauty once you’re on your second playthrough.
You’ll spend the majority of your first playthrough lost and confused. While the first few minutes of the game feel warm and comforting you’re swiftly dumped into a galaxy of worlds with absolutely no direction or purpose. You know you need to find some cubes and they could be in any door, which can lead to numerous other worlds. Before too long that one world you wanted to complete before moving too far off course is 6 doorways away, and you’ve forgotten which doors to take anyway. It can be rather intimidating, and this sense of helplessness can be off-putting, but like the challenges and puzzles found in Fez it becomes part of the character of the game, and something you’ll look forward to conquering on your second playthrough. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction, and relief that is gained when completing a section of the world, and that second playthrough is when you get the payoff for all the hard work you’ve put in.
Fez does everything possible to make gamers feel like they’re not only experiencing something new, but by utilising the retro pixel art and sound style it feels like something you may have played 25 years ago. There’s plenty of homages to the old ways but it never comes off cheap or insulting.
Every gamer of old and anyone interested in thinking games should have this game in their collection. This won’t be the kind of game that your average COD gamer will sink his/her teeth into, but something tells me that Fez just wasn’t made for that group of gamers.