Still just a game....
There was all this talk about Fez like it was the second coming of indie-gaming's lord and savior. Announced way back in 2006, Fez endured a lengthy legal battle and delay after delay. Now that Polytron's perspective shifting platformer is on the Xbox 360 and in our hands, you can't help but wonder if it was all worth the wait... it is.
Fez is a fantastically imaginative title that melds 2D platforming with 3D perspective. Players control Gomez, a lovably pixelated protagonist who dons the titular fez and takes control of the world's perspective. Who would have thought that there was another side to everything?
Fez makes good on its promises with a permeating sense of discovery. Every nook, cranny, and alcove is devotedly animated and diminuitive, and oftentimes, exploring these corners of the world is a reward in its own right. More often than not, you'll also find items, keys, and other treasures nestled away in some corner.
Gomez is tasked with finding all of the cubes, the legendary artifacts that hold the world together. Without them, black holes start to open up and swallow the denizens of the world whole. More often than not, you'll find bits and pieces that form a whole cube, but sometimes you might stumble on an entire preassembled cube. The more you gather, the more doors open, freeing the living, breathing landscapes they imprisoned.
Fez is a truly beautiful game. The pixel art is colorful, vibrant, and flowing. There is an attention to detail that is so sorely missed in the age of super-textures.
Literally everything feels "pixel-perfect", whether you're climbing as high as you can on a tower of overgrowth or rotating a neon-soaked building finding a glowing bit in some back alley. Fez is an achievement in art design.
Using perspective to complete platforming challenges is an elegant way to explore each level, but there's something off in Polytron's execution. More often than not, I found myself getting lost in between worlds, turned around by an oddly mapped warp gate or visiting the same level over again because I didn't know which door led where.
There's a bird's nest of a map available at the touch of a button, but its perspective makes it a confusing manuscript to follow. This only serves to add to the frustration players might feel once they've backtracked their way to a dead end.
My time with the game also suffered several bugs and crashes, especially during rapid perspective-switching. These came across as extremely messy design elements considering the game goes through a purposeful crash sequence early in the journey.
Still, as a game there's a lot to love about Fez. Exploration and inventiveness abound and continue to reward the player until the very end. Obtaining everything hidden away in one of the many rooms and branching paths feels glorious, and I've never enjoyed checking things off on my way to a 100% completion percentage as much as I have in Fez.
Polytron has crafted an exceedingly gorgeous world, full of surprises, temples, and eye-melting cuteness. Switching perspectives holds up as a gameplay mechanic, deftly avoiding gimicky traps along the way. At around 7 hours for a completed game and only $10, you could do worse than Fez on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade.
Still, technical missteps and a confusing, unintuitive map system, confusing branches, and game crashes remind us that Fez isn't the indie hero we need right now, but the one we deserve.