(for the all singing and dancing thumbACTIVE version... http://www.thumbactive.co.uk/?p=5181
Beside me is one of my trusty notebooks. Its recent pages scrawled with quadrilateral glyph sequences, cryptic quotes and numerical alphabets. No it isn’t the result of some mathematics lecture, but it is in fact notes of the riddles I’ve been attempting to decipher from playing Polytron’s 2007 announced 2012 released Fez. And here I was expecting a floating platform bounce around…
There’s a lot more to this video game in what you’d first expect as a run and jump classic. To begin with though, it all starts with the very first playthrough.
You are Gomez a cheery albino drummer who inhabits a ‘2D’ world. You join this plucky fellow on a very special day indeed. A day in which causes your 2D platforming instincts to take quite an unexpected four-sided turn. This is all due to an unintelligible floating golden cube gifting you with a fez hat. Yes the very same head garment worn by those creepy tambourine monkey toys!
With this new ‘fez hat skill’ obtained the environment exploration plays similar to what Sideway: New York did recently with its side-scrolling perspective shifts. Essentially you’ll be platforming on four flat plains. The difference in being however is that you can flip your current level plain left or right to your heart’s content. And so, Fez’s puzzle valve for the first time loosens with this skewed approach to platform traversal. It won’t be long before you find this gameplay mechanic imprinting itself into your puzzle-solving noggin. Like the foot movements on a bustling dance floor; two twists right, chuck ‘da bomb’ then one twist to the left. Quite simply? It dances -ahem- plays wonderfully!
As for style Fez is fully lathered within a pixelated shower. Water cascades from a blocky showerhead onto chiptune shampoo foaming round the lugholes, down to the four-edged body lotion smothering its sprite work skin. It’s a graphical and audio decision very much bowing in homage to the 8-bit era, and I’m right there bowing with it! From the Tetriminos (who doesn’t love Tetris!?) sparkling in the night sky’s constellations to The Legend of Zelda-ish chest opening motif it’s chock full of influences. It’s not all gamey though as I swear I spotted a playful fox sprite teasing its hound counterpart.
Content wise the game spans out across an interconnecting cubic map labyrinth. At first it all seems rather daunting but warp pads and hidden shortcuts make light work of the inevitable backtracking. Each area has its own visual footprint. You’ll be bounding round seaside lighthouses, Game Boy themed sewers to even ‘broken’ trippy secret sections that are all neatly separated. Your main task is to seek out and collect cubes, treasure maps and keys that unlock the ever-expanding network that Gomez’s people live in. There is a classic video game quota to fill of course before the end credits will roll.
And then there’s New Game +…
After I wrapped up my three two hour sittings (yeah that’s right you do the math!) I decided to spring right back in knowing that I had plenty left to discover.
As for platforming Fez is truly forgiving. With hardly any real hair ripping frustration to speak of and there lack of any real menacing foes to hinder where was the challenge dwelling? That’s when I started paying attention to the pixel art backgrounds, and that’s when I also realised this game isn’t exactly a platformer. The puzzle valve fully loosens.
To be a true completionist of this 8-bit boggle there are rules to learn. Rules in which come in quantity and in an array of shapes and sizes. Yes Phil Fish and Renaud Bédard (the Polytron team) have interweaved an in-game language so deep that it actually trips you as a player back to when video games took years to beat! Code cracking, riddle solving, in-game cheating or collectable unlocking call it what you will. It’s been brought back, right back into fashion here. What at first glance looks like stylistic garble actually has its purpose. Even to find the pleasantly crafted day and night cycle play a part in the puzzle solving truly rewrites this game’s design. It’s a key within a key, within a key within er… a padlock?
Now do you understand why I needed a notebook? This game requires more than just a controller alone, so pen and paper at the ready! I beg of you don’t retreat to the internet walkthrough safety rings before you even get your toes wet!
Unfortunately for the joyously dreamy slush that Fez is it does come with its flaws. I’ve counted two palms worth of game breaking glitches that have spoiled my gaming momentum more than I would have liked. Entering doorways that have sent me back to the Xbox dashboard, getting stuck in a never-ending lava respawn to Gomez deciding to do nothing but just glide left. It has its fair share of bugs. Even the fame-rate suffers with its level transition loading stutters. Now I’m not sure if all of these were on purpose as granted the game does like to joke with its ‘game breaking’ moments. Nonetheless it’s a shame because they’re in there.
From a first playthrough standpoint Fez in all offers a very relaxing 8-bit treasure hunt with an intriguing perspective rotation. As for consecutive playthroughs however, it presents an incredibly in-depth labyrinth of puzzle solving. If you’re someone who relishes in the hidden code cracking romance of yesteryear games this one’s latter alter ego will definitely appeal. If it was a quick platforming fix you were after you may just get a little more than you bargained for!
Okay so it’s got its buggy hiccups but personally I love the fact that I still haven’t cracked everything Fez has to offer. I’m always going to shy away from the longevity sapping solutions of the internet, because now I have a complex little corker nestled in my XBLA collection that offers a decent year or so worth of an expiry date.