Interesting, charming and magical, but sometimes too obtuse
Fez delivers a fresh, evocative take on puzzle-platforming. It's environments are varied and strangely beautiful despite the retro sprite-driven camp that pervades the entire game's image, and it carries a decent amount of content for it's budget 800msp asking price. However, Fez isn't my favourite XBLA game this year (in fact, as Trials Evolution is out tomorrow, it won't even be my favourite XBLA game this week), and it is every bit obtuse and frustrating as it is magical.
The basic concept of Fez is this: you're a guy who gets a fez, a fez that somehow gives the wearer the power to spin his previously 2D world on it's axis to see it from all four sides. Collect cubes. That's it. There's some vague motivation about how the universe will tear itself apart unless all the cubes are collected, but really it's just a way of giving the player a context in which to explore the world and collect the many treasures it has to offer. 64 cubes in total are scattered around the game world, and true to the Mario platformer blueprint some are harder to collect than others. There's nothing complex on the surface about Fez. Move the stick to run, press A to jump, shoulder buttons to rotate the world. Seems simple enough, right?
But there's a moment about half an hour into the game where you begin to realise this game's outward simplicity is a white lie. Fez then, over the course of the next few hours, slowly reveals it's true colours to the player - a devilishly tough and occasionally sinister puzzle game. If you're the sort of person that relies on game manuals, tutorials and tooltips, be prepared for a harrowing experience. Fez tells you nothing past "A to jump, get cube, mind the black hole", and without spoiling too much believe me when I say that this game goes so much deeper than you will expect.
It is absolutely important that I don't spoil anything for you, too. The middle few hours of Fez are comprised of an organic sequence of magical reveals, realisations and revelations that will occur at different points and by different logic for every player. Bit by bit, you figure out how the game works, what it wants you to do, and just how much stuff you missed earlier that you assumed was inconsequential. Exploring the world feels totally organic, too. The world map is a puzzle in itself, and perhaps a little irritating in design, but it's easy to see what areas you don't need to revisit and you'll end up meandering through the game, stumbling across new areas without intending it.
However, there's something of an elastic effect to Fez's deliberate coyness. It gets to a point where the puzzles are so difficult it's simply unreasonable for the game to continue being as tight-lipped as it is. Any purists that want all 64 cubes without help from the internet are going to be stuck long and hard on the last few cubes. It's an unfortunate side-effect of the game's very deliberate style, and one that Fez's developers probably decided to live with. At 800 points, though, a few infuriating moments are well worth the 8 hours of solid puzzling offered. It's a novel and interesting title that captured my attention much more than I thought would be possible for a game of it's stature. Now everyone switch it off and keep watch for Trials Evolution.
Written by Ashley Chittock. Read more http://ashleychittock.blogspot.co.uk