Wow! When games seemingly take forever to be released, to the point where you actually forget about the title, they often end up falling short of expectations – Duke Nukem Forever is the best, most recent example of this. When a game is a creation of love and is made by an extremely small team, however, you know that every moment spent making this game is done with care. The result: something rather beautiful!
Fez from indie developer Polytron is the best, most recent example of this.
Gomez is a little two dimensional guy living in a two dimensional world, but when he comes into possession of a magical fez (those funny red hats with a tassel on top) everything changes. The world can now be spun around in 90 degree increments, but while this is possible, poor little Gomez is stuck in 2D. Soon enough, it’s up to him to restore order to the world he knows.
The ability to rotate the world opens up a world of possibilities. It is difficult enough to get your head around what exactly is going on while playing the game, so trying to describe it is even more difficult, but here goes: Gomez only sees the world as a two dimensional world similar to other platform games and simply lacks the third perspective that gives everything depth.
So if you turn the world through ninety degrees, a platform that is actually far in the background can end up being right next to Gomez since he sees no depth. This is the magic that makes Fez stand head and shoulders above pretty much every other game I have played in a very long time!
Rather than just turning the game into an endless barrage of levels with increasing difficulty, you actually have a mission. You need to collect little yellow cubes that combine to make bigger cubes. Enough of these cubes will allow you to open certain doors that lead to new levels.
I would think that this game mechanic of twisting the word around could get tired pretty quickly, but the Fez is not the only magical item here – the level design is simply magical! Mind-bending puzzles abound in a world created with a ton of detail. Little birds, lizards and frogs are found all throughout the world, and the other characters you meet along the way are equally colourful.
Traversing the levels in Fez requires you to enter doors and portals to other stages. Finding these doors is one thing, but getting to them can be an equally daunting task. Now add all these little levels together and the map of the game world becomes a spider web of links and passages. Thankfully it’s easy to see what discoverable items are still left in a specific part of the map – if the map glows gold you know you have all that is to be discovered. The game will also list the items in that part of the map so you know what to look for early on.
Some levels in Fez require you to not turn the world around, but rather parts of the world. In other sections, the map turns by itself at set intervals, or just a few platforms turn on their own. Keeping focused can be difficult. Now add bombs that destroy certain parts of the world, depending on which way the world is turned, moving platforms that require certain turns and even teleporting, and you get an idea of how complicated this simple little game really is.
It’s amazing that the game gets away with such a rich world when it’s essentially created in an old pixelated style. Everything is blocky and square but the game never feels old – not for a second. The sounds and music also has a distinctive 8-bit feel to it, but again it never feels outdated. How Polytron did it is a mystery to me!
Along the way Gomez will fall off high ledges, drown and even sometimes make a move that could kill anyone else, but Fez is not out to punish players. Gomez will not die. There is also not a single act of violence in the game. When you play Fez you will feel relaxed, tranquil and totally serene. Until the puzzles start to get really difficult, that is. It just goes to show that games can calm you as much as anything else.
Fez is one of those little gems that only comes along every so often – the kind of game that can sweep you off your feet and carry you to far off magical places. It’s totally unique and has charm dripping from every corner. If more games are made with the same amount of detail, care and love, then the world would be a better place because of it. The trippy story coupled with the weird and crazy world simply adds to the experience. I just cannot fault Fez anywhere, and I’m not used to that!
The Good: Weird and trippy world; Totally unique and interesting gameplay; Pretty to look and relaxing to play
The Bad: Seriously? Uhm… I don’t have a magical fez and that’s bad.
The Ugly: I still don’t get some of the puzzles and how they tie together, but by dumb luck I got them!