If you’re relatively new to gaming, indie developer, Polytron Corporation’s new platformer, Fez, probably looks a little strange, or dated, to you. If, however, you’re an older gamer (or veteran, if you prefer), you might look at Fez and think it’s a game from your childhood that passed you by.
Whichever side of the camp you’re on – I urge you to immediately dismiss anything you think you know about Fez upon first glance and open your mind to new possibilities. Judging this games by its cover, or its pixels, is certainly not doing it any justice. Pick it up and play it for 2 minutes and you’ll get a very different perspective. Literally.
Fez looks like an old school 2D platformer, such as 8-bit classics like Mario Brothers or Sonic. However, before long, you realise that this game is very much housed in a 3D world! The player is only ever given a flat-plane, 2D view, but they have the ability to rotate the 3D world to offer a new perspective on the same area – often granting access to new, or differently positioned, ladders, platforms or doors.
Our Fez wearing hero has a few more modern day twists up his sleeves too. He can scale walls, so long as they’re covered in vines, he can also leap onto the edge of a platform and grab hold with his tiny pixel hand, then either drop down, shimmy along the wall, or climb up onto the platform (imagine the countless deaths Mario could have saved himself if he’d just thought to grab hold of a ledge!).
The real beauty of Fez though is in the calm exploration that makes up the majority of the gameplay. Once the power of the third dimension is bestowed upon our hero, it is up to the player to guide him wherever he so pleases, to search for golden cubes (or fragments of cubes). There is some direction to all of this, but only in as much as needing a certain amount of cubes collected to unlock certain doors. The order in which you collect the cubes and where you go to find them is entirely up to you!
In addition to this freedom, there are no enemies to speak of in the game. Because you’re not taking a straightforward left to right, A to B approach, the game taxes you by offering you the constant puzzle of how to progress. More often than not, your progress relies on climbing towers and finding doors and cubes as you go. To progress, you might need to rotate the level to move to a perspective that brings a platform closer, then again to find a wall with vines to climb. At other times, you may need to grab a bomb from the floor, then run round to the back of the area you picked it up and place it in-front of a cracked wall before it explodes.
There were a number of times I got stuck temporarily because I could see a cube I wanted, but couldn’t reach it from that perspective, when you rotate the world, the cube goes with it – so it’s not always immediately obvious how to get to the platform the cube is on. One puzzle required me to climb to the top of a tower, get above the cube, then rotate the world until the cube was beneath, allowing me to drop down from a new perspective and grab my prize! There are buttons to push, cogs to turn and many, many secrets to find, spread throughout the world.
It’s deliciously compelling stuff. Not having to worry about enemies attacking, or dying in general, keeps the focus squarely on exploration and experimentation – where it belongs. Though there are some brief tutorials and hints, the game leaves you, largely, to work things out on your own. This gives a wonderful sense of achievement when you work out how to manipulate the world to your advantage and acquire that last cube you need to open a new path – but it can be a little frustrating in places.
There are all manner of puzzles, hidden codes and patterns spread through nearly every level. These are incredibly difficult to understand at first and make you feel as though you’re missing something important. The map, which is also a little confusing at first, does little to shed any light on the situation. It WILL let you know that there is a secret to be found in a given area or room, but then no help, hint or clue is offered on how to find or interpret the clue. These hidden gems are largely optional or additional side quest type secrets, but it can be a little misleading at first.
As you get further into the game, more of this starts to make sense and you can go back to certain areas and get a better understanding – but there are still aspects to the game that would only seem apparent to you if you’d worked as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park.
That aside, Fez is an awesomely rewarding game to play and certainly isn’t hampered by having those complex hidden depths! If you’re looking for something new, or something nostalgic with a little bit of a twist, Fez comes very highly recommended!
Another aspect, that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked is that Fez is cross-buy and cross-save across the whole Playstation family. So you can fire it up at home on PS3 or PS4, then continue the fun on the move on your Vita.
It’s an original classic that is sure to be talked about and played for years. After a glowing reception from most quarters, we can only hope that the game’s designer, Phil Fish, comes out of retirement from the industry and allows the previously announced, then cancelled, Fez 2 to see the light of day!
Fez is available to buy from the Playstation Store right now for £7.99 (discount available for PS+), you can also try the demo for free!
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us and Olli Olli 2 are the finest games ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @TLOUFactionsMP or @VigilanteSanta and view his occasional twitch outbursts on twitch.tv/spooklebeans.