Indie Review: FEZ
FEZ is everything that fans were hoping for; An engrossing, challenging and adorable adventure that is a hell of a lot of fun to play.
- Worth The Time?Every second.
- Things LovedAdorable, cute and charming world and characters, intuitive puzzle mechanic and riddles, varying environments, stunning 8-bit visuals and art direction, superb music, fantastic level layout and design, simple yet effective puzzle tool, tons of content, New Game+ option.
- Things HatedPuzzles sometimes never really give you any hints, some bad technical issues, scary hard crashes.
- RecommendationFEZ has been a long time coming, and there really is no reason to skip out on one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games ever made. It's cheap, deep and offers hours of gameplay, so there really is no excuse for issuing out.
- Quick ConclusionPlaystation 3 owners gloated when they got Journey and Xbox 360 users didn't. FEZ levels this playing field by delivering not only one of the best XBLA experiences, but easily one of the best Indie games ever created. Dive into the world of Gomez as quickly as you can.
- Name: FEZ
- Genre: Puzzle Platformer
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: Xbox 360
- Developer: Polytron
- Publisher: Polytron
- Price: 800 MSP
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
Us gamers are getting really spoiled from surprising places lately. I can’t remember a time where so many awesome Arcade and Indie games were released so close to each other, giving us new and interesting things to keep us entertained in this dry AAA spell. Journey is a prime example, showing that if you shun indie titles in light of AAA titles constantly, you’re missing out on something truly special. FEZ, in many regards, is another one of these examples. A game that starts out looking like a one trick pony, FEZ quickly turns into one of the most engrossing, difficult and entertaining puzzle platformers around today. Combine fantastically implemented elements and extremely well thought out puzzles with some undeniable 8-bit charm and you’ve got one of the best Indie titles you could possibly pick up. Several technical issues and high levels of difficulty may scare you off, but FEZ is certainly a journey that you’ll want to see to the end, just to start it all over again.
People have been waiting for FEZ for a very long time. It would even be easy to say that FEZ was one of the most anticipated Indie titles ever, with the announcement coming nearly 5 years ago already. Designer and Creator Phil Fish has become a household name to gamers around the world, mostly because of this title and his appearance in Indie Game: The Movie. Or maybe it’s because he said Japanese games suck? Forget all of that though, because FEZ is here, it’s great, and it has really been worth the wait.
FEZ doesn’t follow the story of a character named Fez, despite many people still thinking that. Instead, you take control of Gomez, an adorable white fluffy looking being in a world of other 2D fluffy white beings and animals. You see, Gomez lives in a reality that only knows 2D, where small children make remakes about how flat you are looking, teachers discuss evil 3D cubes and elders talk about “the other dimension”. It’s not long before you meet another important white being, that then reveals that “it’s time for your destiny to begin”, or something along those lines. Cue the appearance of a giant 3D cube, a massive explosion and the crumbling of Gomez’s world. However, in the process, a magical Fez is bestowed upon Gomez, allowing him to finally explore the magical third dimension. The universe simply can’t take all of this, and begins falling down around you, prompting Gomez to begin a journey that will restore stability to his beloved world. This is what FEZ makes you think it’s about, but that’s only scratching the surface, with a toothpick, the size of a hair.
You see, FEZ is more than a game with one gimmick. Sure, the feature of perspective changing is not new, but the way FEZ implements it is truly remarkable. With the simple hit of the left or right triggers, you shift Gomez’s world into a whole new dimension, allowing you to explore areas that were once non-existent for the first five minutes of the title. For a while this is your only really tool in FEZ, and coming to terms with how shift dimensions affects your position on the terrain doesn’t take long to get used to. Instead of “thinking with portals” you’re now “thinking with a Fez”, and soon you’ll be zipping through levels and mastering platforming by using your dimension shifting Fez to cut corners and connect platforms that were once far apart. That’s not to say that you’ll soon be bored of the platforming, as later levels will require some thinking on your part, as well as quick timing as time switches count down and change the world around you.
But even this is not entirely what FEZ is all about, which may come as a surprise to most people who have been following the game’s development. FEZ is essentially a puzzle platformer, but at its core it’s an intuitive and often highly challenging series of puzzles. Puzzles are littered throughout every area of the game. While simple platforming and exploration will reward you with gold cube shards (needed to complete and progress through the game), it’s the anti-cubes, artifacts and treasure maps that will keep you coming back to FEZ for hours on end, and a New Game+ option ensures its longevity. It’s what makes this simple title to unique and engrossing, but it could also lead to some players abandoning it all together.
FEZ’s puzzles aren’t always fair. Sure, most of them have enough clues, subtle at most, for you to figure them out and even riddles that take you an hour to unravel are still enjoyable and rewarding at the same time. However, there are some that simply expect you, as a player, to see things most wouldn’t. I’m treading lightly on this subject, purely because even just giving examples of some puzzles diminishes the surprise of travelling through FEZ, but you should be warned that this is not an entirely easy game if you’re going for more than simple completion. Puzzles will force you to see the world from different angles, interpret 8-bit diagrams, decipher a completely functioning language, figure out how numbers work in Gomez’s world and more. Puzzles aren’t always solvable from the moment you encounter them, but the game also does a poor job of communicating this to you. Some may see this as an addition to the challenge, but a little hint that suggests further exploration could’ve saved me a lot of wasted hours.
Thankfully, FEZ is so chopped full of content for you to explore that you’ll never really feel that one left puzzle hinders your entire experience. FEZ is made up of several hubs. Wait, make that tons of hub worlds, all connected and interlinked to one another. Some act as major hubs that offer multiple doorways to smaller, more focused pieces of land. It’s hard to become completely lost in this world, as telling yourself that you’ll eventually back track becomes a bit hard when you’ve teleported to five different hubs in the space of ten minutes. Thankfully, a highly detailed map that shows all the hub connections ensures that you never get too lost, and hints at other unexplored areas. Back tracking will happen more than once, but FEZ’s worlds are so varied and well-designed that you’ll never feel as though it’s a chore.
It’s just utterly incredible how much environmental variety there is in this gorgeous 8-bit game. Yes, it’s all 8-bit and absolutely stunning. One minute you could be on a small island with a lighthouse, hearing seagulls chirp in some monotone beeps and listening to the ebb and flow of water, and a few doors later you could be in a graveyard world, dominated by sounds of thunder and populated by some cute little ghosts. Each section builds onto the hub it originates from, with subtle differences bringing change in a gradual way. Level design is superb; you should rarely ever get lost or confused as to how to progress in a given area, regardless of the fact that you can only see one side of each area at a time. Some inspiring 8-bit visuals that complement the game style and an incredible soundtrack keep you completely immersed in this stunning world, you’ll soon come to love Gomez’s world like no other in gaming.
There are, however, more than a few things that strive to break your immersion in this stunning world. FEZ is not without its technical problems, which is bizarre considering it has been in development longer than most AAA title nowadays. Crashes, and some really violent hard crashes, do occur. Your game may simply freeze, or throw code at you and completely lock out. Polytron are at work on fixes for this, but right now it could happen nearly once every hour if you’re unlucky. It breaks the illusion that the game puts on you, which is sad considering it’s such a happy and engrossing universe. On top of that, controls can sometimes not respond in the way you want them to, and some odd visual glitches and slowdown when transferring from one environment to another do a good job of reminding you that this is just a game. It’s disappointing to see, but thankfully it’s nothing really game breaking.
Other than those few niggles, there is really no excuse for you not to take notice of FEZ, if you haven’t already. I could honestly tell you a lot more about the world that has spawned out of Phil Fish’s brain, and how the team at Polytron has done such a fantastic job with this Indie title. However, FEZ is about exploration, discovery and surprise. Polytron hasn’t delivered what they have been teasing and promising for the past five years. Instead, they’ve gone leaps and bounds ahead of what most expected from them, creating a game that is destined to become an instant classic, and a game that will certainly go down in gaming history. FEZ is not a game you should consider, but rather a game you shouldn’t think twice about downloading. Wake up Gomez, we have lots of exploring to do.