Giant Bomb Review

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Fez Review

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The weird, wonderful world of Fez operates on multiple levels, but only the people who are willing to dig all the way down to its core will come away satisfied.

You'll find this boiler room early, but how long will it take you to figure out what it all means?

With Fez, you get as much out of it as you're willing to put in. That is, the game works on multiple layers. On the surface, it's a breezy little platformer that you should be able to cruise through without much difficulty. After all, there are no real enemies, and very few spots along the main path through the game that require actual skill with a controller to complete. As a result, you're given a flashy little ending and the ability to go back into the world and find anything you may have missed. But if you just collect 32 cubes and "finish" the game, you're barely seeing what Fez actually has to offer. And the puzzles you must solve to get everything else are occasionally inventive, often maddening, and always interesting.

Fez is short on story and long on atmosphere. You wake up as Gomez, a 2D boy in a 2D world. After being granted a fez of your own, though, you gain the ability to rotate the world by 90-degrees, letting you use perspective shifts to see the world from four different angles. Typically, this means you'll climb as high as you can, see a platform that seems to be out of reach, and rotate the world until you find an orientation that closes the gap between where you are and where you want to go. It's stylish, but there isn't really anything too tricky about navigating the world. So if you're looking at Fez in hopes of finding a perspectively-minded puzzle game along the lines of Crush, you're probably going to be disappointed. It'll probably only take a few hours to rotate the world around and collect the minimum number of cubes required to complete the game that way.

It's the rest of Fez that makes it something special. As you dig beneath the faux-retro aesthetic, Fez reveals all sorts of hidden elements. It forces you to pay attention to everything, from the paintings in a room to the scribblings left behind on classroom chalk boards. It never comes right out and says what's what, but as you explore the world and start to recognize what you're actually seeing around you, it creates a set of magical moments. On the downside, once you've made this realization (or, more likely, once you've looked up the main secrets), the game quickly devolves into using your map to figure out which areas still have secrets in them, heading there, and quickly collecting yet another anti-cube, which is the game's main hidden item. Between regular cubes and anti-cubes, you'll find 64 cubes in the world of Fez. And to open the game's final door, you'll need them all. You'll also have to finish the game once to unlock an additional ability that's absolutely necessary if you're looking for secrets. While the uncovering of keys to the game's secrets and learning how to interpret the world around you leads to some astoundingly revelatory moments, the way the game boils down to doing the same sort of task over and over again to collect most of the hidden items is disappointing.

Warp gates help you hop around the world.

Exploring the world of Fez is a wonder on its own. Despite its deliberately simple look, the world has a collection of vastly different areas to explore, and I was continually surprised by the number of different-looking areas to uncover. What starts as a collection of villages in various states, each connected by a sort of core or hub quickly expands to reveal sewer systems that glow with the monochromatic flair of an original Game Boy, an observatory, an enormous bell tower, an equally huge clock, forests, caves, and plenty of even more surprising areas that play around with deliberate glitches and other great-looking effects. There are tons of things to simply see and study in Fez. They all warrant close inspection, too, both because they're worth examining for their artistic merit and because finding the hidden secrets that lie beneath Fez's outer layer requires you to go in with sharp eyes and an even sharper mind.

At times it seems like every single piece of Fez's world is deliberately placed in order to teach you something about the world. Picking up what Fez is putting down is something that many players may completely fail to do, and those players are likely to come away from the game feeling like it's an easy, dumb adventure with zero challenge. Consider this your chance to lord superiority over those people, whether you figure it all out on your own (which seems pretty unlikely for most folks) or consult message boards and FAQs in search of pointers in the right direction.

While parts of Fez deal in cute, deliberate video game glitches, these are undercut by several very real issues. On multiple occasions, I've had the game simply quit back to the Xbox 360 dashboard without warning. Thankfully, the game auto-saves quite regularly, so I never lost much progress. It sounds like some other players are experiencing more dramatic problems, such as loops that prevent their save game from loading, and so on. Additionally, the game's frame rate often bogs down when you first load into an area, causing stuttery transitions from one zone to another as well as slowdown once you get to where you're going. Some of these problems are more crippling than others, but it all combines to make Fez feel like a product in need of some further clean-up.

Here's Gomez's place, complete with sick drum kit.

Fez really caught me by surprise. On my initial playthrough, the game was downright maddening because it was impossible to know if I should be paying attention to all the symbols and items around the world as I hunted around for enough cubes to finish the game. Then, as I started to figure out what it was actually asking me to do, I started dreading the idea of busting out graph paper and attempting to piece the mysteries together for myself. I ended up taking the coward's way out by visiting a message board or two to get me pointed in the right direction, but once I was over that initial hump, traversing the world and decoding the "real" world of Fez was intensely gratifying. And going to visit the puzzles that I allowed a message board to solve for me to see how the game's developers intend for you to discover this information is unlike anything you've seen in recent history. It's just the right mixture of charm and insanity. Even if you end up letting a collective of Internet sleuths guide you by the hand as you work your way through the game's cubes, anti-cubes, artifacts, and other items, Fez still somehow manages to be worth seeing, if only to marvel at how much weird work went into making what we all thought was just a retro-styled perspective-shifting puzzle game into something decidedly more mind-bending.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
82 Comments
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Posted by MassacreMonk

Cool!

Posted by Hef

I didn't think this would get 4 stars on the site.

Posted by Milkman

Very hesitate about this. It looks great but I don't think I'm willing to take notes or do any of the crazy stuff that would mean getting the most out of this. 

Online
Posted by MariachiMacabre

This game is fucking great.

Posted by Gnubberen

Is that a.... GIF!?

Posted by Scodiac

The thing about Fez is that the world is so enjoyable that spending extra time in it while racking my brain to figure things out isn't at all painful.

Posted by drowsap

Whats up with the wobble pic did you imbed a GIF?

Posted by bhhawks78

Take 5 years and then have massive glitches?

Glad I wasn't interested anyways, random puzzle platformers are a dime a dozen.

Posted by rmanthorp

I thought I would be really into this game and I played the demo and really didn't like it. I will maybe come back with a clear mind after the dust and hype has settled but right now there is too much BS surrounding it for me to be bothered with it.

Moderator
Posted by TadThuggish

OHHHH sick burn!

Posted by JacDG

@Milkman said:

Very hesitate about this. It looks great but I don't think I'm willing to take notes or do any of the crazy stuff that would mean getting the most out of this.

Even if you don't, the game is pretty fantastic in my opinion, I don't think I have the patience nor the brain cells to solve some of these crazy puzzles I keep reading about, which is quite frustrating, but even as a simple platformer it delivers big time, and the soundtrack is flipping fantastic.

Posted by Mr_Skeleton

That game is really really strange.

Posted by Cloneslayer

wont be picking this up. In my opinion if a puzzle game cant balance the difficulty of its puzzles then it fails, no matter how 'cleaver' the puzzle are. Ive been hearing how maddening this game is to figure out and that sounds like a shitty time.

Posted by Animasta

honestly you're almost making it sound that the only reason I wouldn't want to pick it up is because I'm not smart enough for it... I know that's probably not what you really think but it still kinda comes across that way.

Posted by andyboy

@Hef: I figured at least a 3 or 4 stars from Jeff on Fez from the way he talked about it. I would lean more towards 3 stars due to how you really have to want to delve deep into the mind-bending puzzles. I wasn't willing to invest a lot of time into the harder puzzles due to getting frustrated and on the verge of not having fun with it anymore. Still, Fez is worth playing just to see how well the 2-D style mixes with the 3-D gameplay.

Online
Posted by web966

This game is insane and i cant get enough of it.

Posted by Vitor

@JacDG said:

@Milkman said:

Very hesitate about this. It looks great but I don't think I'm willing to take notes or do any of the crazy stuff that would mean getting the most out of this.

Even if you don't, the game is pretty fantastic in my opinion, I don't think I have the patience nor the brain cells to solve some of these crazy puzzles I keep reading about, which is quite frustrating, but even as a simple platformer it delivers big time, and the soundtrack is flipping fantastic.

You'll easily manage to get to NG+ without digging too deep and that's already a good few hours of gameplay. I'm half way through my second run through, with new abilities and solving puzzles and am considering giving up. As much as I love the game, I've got my final exams coming up and don't have the time or patience to devote to complex puzzle solving. That being said, I still feel like I got a lot out of the game although I totally understand where you're coming from.

Edited by Hardtarget

I really wish this was coming out for PC, I'd love to play the game but I'm not sure how I feel about the bogdown during the zoom/loading and if it came out on PC there would just be no issues like this. Such a shame.

Posted by Winternet

Great review Jeff. I think it explains the all thing about Fez very well.

Now, if only the bugs were to be fixed and the game released on the PC . .

Edited by Jumanji

I really didn't like Fez. The only challenge was trying to navigate the godawful map to find rooms that I hadn't already been in. The 3d stuff doesn't stop looking cool but it does not produce challenging/surprising puzzle platformer play...
 
Also, I think there should be a decade-long moratorium on cute indie platformers.

Posted by Scottish_Sin

Great review.

'And going to visit the puzzles that I allowed a message board to solve for me to see how the game's developers intend for you to discover this information is unlike anything you've seen in recent history.'

The last time I had that feeling of needing to scour message boards for pointers in the right direction or just straight up looking for the solution was for the game Limbo and the search for all of those secret eggs. I really love stuff like that and I really hope to see more of it from other games.

Posted by Mr_JPeps

I'm just sort of taking it easy and going at it, at my own pace. There have already been things that i cant seem to wrap my head around, and the art of taking notes for a game is a concept that doesn't sound appealing to me, and something I haven't done in years. I'm just going to get as far as i can on my own and if i want to go back for all the cubes and artifacts later, i might, but I've really been enjoying my time in the game so far.

For a $10 XBLA game, i'd say its worth all of that.

Edited by Weltal

AHHHH MOVING PICTURES!! The devil's work!

Edited by JacDG

@Vitor said:

@JacDG said:

@Milkman said:

Very hesitate about this. It looks great but I don't think I'm willing to take notes or do any of the crazy stuff that would mean getting the most out of this.

Even if you don't, the game is pretty fantastic in my opinion, I don't think I have the patience nor the brain cells to solve some of these crazy puzzles I keep reading about, which is quite frustrating, but even as a simple platformer it delivers big time, and the soundtrack is flipping fantastic.

You'll easily manage to get to NG+ without digging too deep and that's already a good few hours of gameplay. I'm half way through my second run through, with new abilities and solving puzzles and am considering giving up. As much as I love the game, I've got my final exams coming up and don't have the time or patience to devote to complex puzzle solving. That being said, I still feel like I got a lot out of the game although I totally understand where you're coming from.

I've spend quite some time already, and I haven't even moved past the first door yet (that would have to be the 4 cube door I guess) practically found everything you can without doing any of the really crazy stuff, a lot of cubes, an artifact and a handful of Anti-Cubes. My only problem with the game is myself, I'm OCD when it comes to games, and I love to find and see everything, and knowing I'm missing out on a lot of stuff that I'm realistically never, ever going to see outside a full runthrough of the game on YouTube, somewhat dampens my enjoyment of the game, and frustrates me to a certain degree, which is a shame.

Posted by Vitor

@JacDG said:

@Vitor said:

@JacDG said:

@Milkman said:

Very hesitate about this. It looks great but I don't think I'm willing to take notes or do any of the crazy stuff that would mean getting the most out of this.

Even if you don't, the game is pretty fantastic in my opinion, I don't think I have the patience nor the brain cells to solve some of these crazy puzzles I keep reading about, which is quite frustrating, but even as a simple platformer it delivers big time, and the soundtrack is flipping fantastic.

You'll easily manage to get to NG+ without digging too deep and that's already a good few hours of gameplay. I'm half way through my second run through, with new abilities and solving puzzles and am considering giving up. As much as I love the game, I've got my final exams coming up and don't have the time or patience to devote to complex puzzle solving. That being said, I still feel like I got a lot out of the game although I totally understand where you're coming from.

I've spend quite some time already, and I haven't even moved past the first door yet (that would have to be the 4 cube door I guess) practically found everything you can without doing any of the really crazy stuff, a lot of cubes, an artifact and a handful of Anti-Cubes. My only problem with the game is myself, I'm OCD when it comes to games, and I love to find and see everything, and knowing I'm missing out on a lot of stuff that I'm realistically never, ever going to see outside a full runthrough of the game on YouTube, somewhat dampens my enjoyment of the game, and frustrates me to a certain degree, which is a shame.

I know the feeling. I turned to the hint thread here and accidentally 'solved' the number riddle which, while helping me immensely, has somewhat cheapened my experience. Then again, I know full well that I likely wouldn't have been able to devote the time necessary to crack that code anyway so it's equally frustrating to know that I would have missed out on a lot of content (and arguably some of the game's best levels) had I not done so. It's why I could totally give this game a 5/5 for sheer ingenuity and workmanship but I can totally understand why Jeff and others would knock it down for being inaccessible for a large part of its audience.

Edited by Jumanji
@Milkman said:

Very hesitate about this. It looks great but I don't think I'm willing to take notes or do any of the crazy stuff that would mean getting the most out of this. 

It does NOT require notetaking... The biggest hassle is schlepping around looking for a door you've missed or some such.
Posted by Hobosunday

I want this game to come out on the PC so bad. It looks like a lot of fun. A good game to get your brain juices flowing in the morning or to wind down in the evening.

Posted by Bollard

I think you missed out on a lot by busting your way through with forums Jeff. Working out the language, and the button input puzzles, and the vibration puzzles with no outside help were some of the most satisfying things I've done in a game in quite a while. I was really annoyed too when the number system got blown for me when I was searching for hints out of frustration. The game is really quite clever.

Posted by JacDG

@Vitor said:

@JacDG said:

@Vitor said:

@JacDG said:

@Milkman said:

Very hesitate about this. It looks great but I don't think I'm willing to take notes or do any of the crazy stuff that would mean getting the most out of this.

Even if you don't, the game is pretty fantastic in my opinion, I don't think I have the patience nor the brain cells to solve some of these crazy puzzles I keep reading about, which is quite frustrating, but even as a simple platformer it delivers big time, and the soundtrack is flipping fantastic.

You'll easily manage to get to NG+ without digging too deep and that's already a good few hours of gameplay. I'm half way through my second run through, with new abilities and solving puzzles and am considering giving up. As much as I love the game, I've got my final exams coming up and don't have the time or patience to devote to complex puzzle solving. That being said, I still feel like I got a lot out of the game although I totally understand where you're coming from.

I've spend quite some time already, and I haven't even moved past the first door yet (that would have to be the 4 cube door I guess) practically found everything you can without doing any of the really crazy stuff, a lot of cubes, an artifact and a handful of Anti-Cubes. My only problem with the game is myself, I'm OCD when it comes to games, and I love to find and see everything, and knowing I'm missing out on a lot of stuff that I'm realistically never, ever going to see outside a full runthrough of the game on YouTube, somewhat dampens my enjoyment of the game, and frustrates me to a certain degree, which is a shame.

I know the feeling. I turned to the hint thread here and accidentally 'solved' the number riddle which, while helping me immensely, has somewhat cheapened my experience. Then again, I know full well that I likely wouldn't have been able to devote the time necessary to crack that code anyway so it's equally frustrating to know that I would have missed out on a lot of content (and arguably some of the game's best levels) had I not done so. It's why I could totally give this game a 5/5 for sheer ingenuity and workmanship but I can totally understand why Jeff and others would knock it down for being inaccessible for a large part of its audience.

I'm too stupid to solve the complex riddles (Really can't fathom how anyone could ever do discover the alphabet or the number stuff, which I accidentally stumbled upon as well, only glazed at it quickly though and can't remember any of it) and too stubborn to just "cheat" and look it all up, a delightfully shitty combination that can only lead to even more frustration, I think I'm starting to hate this game, lol.

Edited by project343

@andyboy said:

@Hef: I figured at least a 3 or 4 stars from Jeff on Fez from the way he talked about it. I would lean more towards 3 stars due to how you really have to want to delve deep into the mind-bending puzzles. I wasn't willing to invest a lot of time into the harder puzzles due to getting frustrated and on the verge of not having fun with it anymore. Still, Fez is worth playing just to see how well the 2-D style mixes with the 3-D gameplay.

How did you feel about Braid?

In many respects, it's a lot of the same design principles. Some aspects of Braid are maddening. If you want the 'simple, easy adventure,' both games suffice with minimal sense of reward; but if you're willing to invest your brain and time into the world, you get something so, so much more. Few games cater to that obsessive-compulsive gamer (beyond worthless collectibles), and I think the game should be commended for convincing me that Phil Fish is probably insane.

@Jumanji said:

I really didn't like Fez. The only challenge was trying to navigate the godawful map to find rooms that I hadn't already been in. The 3d stuff doesn't stop looking cool but it does not produce challenging/surprising puzzle platformer play... Also, I think there should be a decade-long moratorium on cute indie platformers.

If you think that there's no challenge, you have only played the game at surface-level. It's time for you to grab ahold of your inner Joseph Gordon-Levitt and go deeper. Bwong.

Posted by NorseDudeTR

I'm sometimes astounded at Jeff's reviews. They're SO concise, and seem to cut right through any bullshit you might expect from a "regular" review. The upshot is that I now want to play this game a little bit more than a couple of days ago, when I was kind of lukewarm on it. And although I'm not able to explain how that's a good thing, it really is.

Posted by Bollard

@Vitor said:

@JacDG said:

@Milkman said:

Very hesitate about this. It looks great but I don't think I'm willing to take notes or do any of the crazy stuff that would mean getting the most out of this.

Even if you don't, the game is pretty fantastic in my opinion, I don't think I have the patience nor the brain cells to solve some of these crazy puzzles I keep reading about, which is quite frustrating, but even as a simple platformer it delivers big time, and the soundtrack is flipping fantastic.

You'll easily manage to get to NG+ without digging too deep and that's already a good few hours of gameplay. I'm half way through my second run through, with new abilities and solving puzzles and am considering giving up. As much as I love the game, I've got my final exams coming up and don't have the time or patience to devote to complex puzzle solving. That being said, I still feel like I got a lot out of the game although I totally understand where you're coming from.

Please say on NG+ you keep all your collected cubes and artefacts right? Right? I have 31 cubes and 22 anticubes, all treasure maps and 3 artefacts (plus some other... things) and I would hate to have to collect that all again. I'm trying to get as much as I can in the first run, and if this "special ability" (please don't spoil!) means also getting everything I already had again I'd be super sad, cause I'm loving this game so far!

Posted by TheMasterDS

Was hoping for a 5/5 because it feels like a GOTY contender to me.... Well I guess Saints Row the Third got a 4/5 as well.

Posted by brehonia

@Chavtheworld said:

I think you missed out on a lot by busting your way through with forums Jeff. Working out the language, and the button input puzzles, and the vibration puzzles with no outside help were some of the most satisfying things I've done in a game in quite a while. I was really annoyed too when the number system got blown for me when I was searching for hints out of frustration. The game is really quite clever.

Couldn't agree more. I'm usually straight to gamefaqs too.

It's hard, but it's not the kind of bullshit-hard people associate with puzzle games these days. I reckon most people could get really far in this with a little patience and some basic up-front hints like "bring a pen" and "take the 32 cube door asap". There are plenty of easy cubes to get by until you have some idea of what's going on.

Posted by dbene

Has a graphical style similar to Minecraft or something. Strange looking little 8-bit style game.

Posted by Bollard

@brehonia said:

@Chavtheworld said:

I think you missed out on a lot by busting your way through with forums Jeff. Working out the language, and the button input puzzles, and the vibration puzzles with no outside help were some of the most satisfying things I've done in a game in quite a while. I was really annoyed too when the number system got blown for me when I was searching for hints out of frustration. The game is really quite clever.

Couldn't agree more. I'm usually straight to gamefaqs too.

It's hard, but it's not the kind of bullshit-hard people associate with puzzle games these days. I reckon most people could get really far in this with a little patience and some basic up-front hints like "bring a pen" and "take the 32 cube door asap". There are plenty of easy cubes to get by until you have some idea of what's going on.

Ah man, I did not follow your second hint at all... I'm still on my first playthrough, will I lose all the progress I'm making? (as spoiler free as possible please :) )

Posted by WMWA
@Chavtheworld Yes you keep it all and your map still shows where youve been. =)
Posted by skrutop

Fortunately, I haven't run into any bugs or crippling issues. The only thing I've seen is the framerate stuttering on larger levels.

I really like Fez; the developers really thought outside of the box for a lot of the puzzles, and figuring out what to do is very gratifying. I must've spent three hours trying to figure out the bell tower before giving up. Later, when I realized what the symbols meant, it felt great to solve the puzzle after all of that time. Since then I've looked up some clues online to get me headed in the right direction, but I've been deliberately trying to piece everything together myself.

Posted by BitterAlmond

Great review. If I had a 360, I'd pick this one up. Fingers crossed for a Steam release.

Posted by PrivateIronTFU

@Animasta said:

honestly you're almost making it sound that the only reason I wouldn't want to pick it up is because I'm not smart enough for it... I know that's probably not what you really think but it still kinda comes across that way.

You probably aren't smart enough for it. For a few of the puzzles at least. I know I'm sure as hell not. But I'm still enjoying it immensely.

Posted by shiro11

@project343 said:

@andyboy said:

@Hef: I figured at least a 3 or 4 stars from Jeff on Fez from the way he talked about it. I would lean more towards 3 stars due to how you really have to want to delve deep into the mind-bending puzzles. I wasn't willing to invest a lot of time into the harder puzzles due to getting frustrated and on the verge of not having fun with it anymore. Still, Fez is worth playing just to see how well the 2-D style mixes with the 3-D gameplay.

How did you feel about Braid?

In many respects, it's a lot of the same design principles. Some aspects of Braid are maddening. If you want the 'simple, easy adventure,' both games suffice with minimal sense of reward; but if you're willing to invest your brain and time into the world, you get something so, so much more. Few games cater to that obsessive-compulsive gamer (beyond worthless collectibles), and I think the game should be commended for convincing me that Phil Fish is probably insane.

@Jumanji said:

I really didn't like Fez. The only challenge was trying to navigate the godawful map to find rooms that I hadn't already been in. The 3d stuff doesn't stop looking cool but it does not produce challenging/surprising puzzle platformer play... Also, I think there should be a decade-long moratorium on cute indie platformers.

If you think that there's no challenge, you have only played the game at surface-level. It's time for you to grab ahold of your inner Joseph Gordon-Levitt and go deeper. Bwong.

I loved Braid and didn't have to go to message boards at all.

But in Fez when you are at 31 cubes and the decoding stuff and the QR codes are staring you in the face I just get extremely frustrated. Also the map and the incessant backtracking didn't help.

Posted by laserbolts

Will wait until they fix the issues then hopefully get it through a sale.

Posted by NegativeCero

I've barely put 20 minutes into this, but now that I know what to expect, I'm going to try for the Braid style avoid solutions at all costs approach to secrets.

Posted by Brodehouse

I'm really not enjoying my time with Fez. I also didn't like Braid. I did enjoy most of Limbo, before it got obnoxious in the last half hour or so. When the puzzles became obvious as puzzles without meaningful context.

Maybe I'm just a big durr durr, my favorite downloadable games are still Bastion, Super Meat Boy and Shadow Complex.

Posted by 1p

Great review. This game really did turn out to be quite different from what I had expected it to be, and way cooler.

Posted by thebigJ_A

SPOILER:

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Posted by The_Hiro_Abides

I'm enjoying this game quite a bit but yeah the real meat of the game doesn't hit you until new game +. A lot of the harder puzzles require logic and being aware of symbols. After that it's just a matter of looking around for the right set.

Well, other than that black monolith. Still stuck on that.

Posted by BBQBram

I for one, am loving it so far but I'm a bit daunted by the cryptic stuff coming up. Bring it on Fez!

Posted by Fozimuth
@Hobosunday: Not happening any time soon, if ever, and not because of a real reason like "We spent forever on this game and don't feel like doing a PC port."  Phil Fish just said some pretentious bullshit about it being a console game and left it at that.
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