Fez hides mysteries within its puzzles that can provide hours of challenges
At first glance, Polytron’s long awaited XBLA title Fez might seem like just a puzzle platformer with a neat perspective swapping mechanic. And in some ways, that’s true. But upon further inspection, Fez is a whole lot more. It creates a world so full of secrets that it forces you to abandon the impulse to systematically and thoroughly explore areas before moving on to the next that modern games have imbued us with. Depending on who you are, that may be either its biggest strength or its greatest fault.
Put simply, Fez is unfairly obtuse. Unraveling its secrets is often an exercise in cryptography. The game literally has its own alphanumeric system, which is the key to solving some of its puzzles. Seemingly inconspicuous markings on the wall of one level might serve as the solution to a puzzle a few hours down the line. Fez is more than willing to tell you that a level contains a secret and allow you to agonize over it without letting you know if you even have the necessary knowledge or tools to uncover it.
There is certainly an intense sense of achievement when you eventually do discover what Fez is trying to tell you, but this reward is reserved for only the most patient and attentive of gamers. While some might find this obtuseness and lack of handholding to be an endearing throwback to the retro games they grew up with, I simply got the feeling that Fez had very little consideration for my time.
Luckily, discovering Fez’s mysteries is optional. You could avoid them entirely and focus on the game’s primary objective: To collect 32 golden cubes. Doing so would provide you with a puzzle game that is perfectly enjoyable, but lacking in any real challenge. This aspect of the game focuses on Fez’s level rotating mechanic. Pulling the left or right triggers rotates the world 90 degrees around its vertical axis. Perspective is reality, so if an object appears to be in a certain position from a given perspective, it is, and it can be used to reach previously inaccessible areas. While the likes of Crush and Echochrome have used similar perspective-bending puzzle mechanics, Fez is ceaselessly clever about implementation. Unfortunately, figuring those puzzles out rarely takes more than a couple minutes.
Although looking and sounding great has become more of a requirement than a feature in most downloadable games, it’s worth noting that Fez does indeed look and sound great. The charming pixel art is vivid and makes for plenty of diverse and distinct locales, while the chiptunes-inspired soundtrack is simply incredible. It feels like a refresh, rather than an imitative throwback of 1980s video game music.
This slick presentation is somewhat marred by Fez’s pervasive technical issues. Frame rate drops are frequent, especially during the transitions between levels. Occasional bugs and crashes also break the game’s pacing. Fez’s world map is a cluttered constellation of nodes, each representing a level. Navigating it is a chore, and finding the right door in a given level that goes to your desired location is often a matter of trial and error.
But despite some mechanical and technical blemishes, Fez is a charming and clever puzzle game. Although the puzzles struggle to avoid the extreme ends of the difficulty spectrum, there’s still fun to be had, even if you choose not to explore the mysteries of Fez’s colorful world.
Tested on 360
Review copy supplied
Follow Phil on Twitter: @philpee2