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Fez review

Excellent

What if we turned our head to the left and looked at the blocks from this angle? What if we jumped every time there was a slanted line, and held the left trigger whenever there was a square? What if the secret to opening this door involves standing still for twenty minutes? Is this a glitch, or are we supposed to be able to fall out of the window? Is that a QR code on the wall? Should we talk to more owls? Yes, all of these are perfectly valid questions you'll be asking as you experience Polytron's Fez.

Fez is more about cryptography than it is platforming. Sure, there’s plenty of jumping around from object to object and climbing things, but that’s only surface-level stuff. It’s deeper – much deeper – than initially anticipated, proving to be an absolutely magical, albeit maddening experience.

It starts off as we expected, giving us control of Gomez, a 2D sprite living in a 2D world with 2D people and 2D things. Everything is flat, sprite-based and adorable, until Gomez is gifted the titular Fez that bumps everything into the third-dimension. This magical, mysterious hat lets the shoulder buttons break free of the second dimension, allowing Gomez to shift the four-sided world over. A giant block also happens to explode once he gets his fez (a tragic coincidence), and for the remainder of the game he needs to travel the world collecting small cubes that can be used to make larger blocks. Collecting blocks opens doors, which lead to other rooms with more doors and blocks and treasure maps and anti-cubes and artifacts.

His ability – to shift the world around on an axis – has plenty of practical uses. Gomez can rearrange the dimensions to line up objects that otherwise wouldn’t connect and reach platforms in previously inaccessible places. It becomes more complicated than that as the game goes on, adding in other interesting elements that play with the unique formula. If you’re signing up for Fez specifically to jump on things, you’re not going to be disappointed; it does that well. When it puts on its platformer hat, Fez has some of the smartest design we’ve seen in years, with mind-bending segments that require precision timing as well as a mastery of the game’s unique world-shifting mechanics.

But eventually, we ran out of places to go and doors to open, and were drastically short of the number of cubes we needed. We opened the map (which became more vital as the web of interconnecting doors became more wild) to see dozens of rooms we didn’t (or couldn’t) get to – some with question marks hovering above them, hinting that there are secrets to be found. This’ll happen after a few hours of play, causing the game to suddenly transform from cute, indie platformer to absurd, puzzle-cracking masterpiece.

Those doors and cubes we mentioned earlier? They’re important. Very important. A major part of Fez is finding out how to open doors that lead to different areas that include more cubes. These doors oftentimes have very specific button presses needed to open them. Usually, you’ll need to hit the right combination of buttons, as prompted by a nearby object, in order to pass through; then, and only then, will the door open. 

Sounds simple, right? Well, there’s a problem: although the code needed to open the door or access a cube is usually written in the room, it’s often hard to find – covered by an object, or hidden in a picture. What’s more, the codes aren’t written in English. Or Spanish. Or any actual recognizable language at all. They can be blocks, or squiggly lines, or shapes representing numbers.

That’s where things go from complicated to… well, a lot more complicated. There are several languages in Fez composed of strange shapes and blocks that need to be deciphered, and while we found an in-game machine that told us how to crack one of them, others were more elusive. Fez will throw hints at you from time to time, but they’re always cryptic, never revealing fully their meanings without a lot of work on your part in decoding them. There are artifacts that we think help you crack some codes, and signs that might help solve some others, but they end up being tough puzzles in and of themselves.

It’s unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in recent memory. Deciphering a code on a page of crumpled paper on our coffee table and inputting it to reveal a new door – which would often lead to a web of new, connected rooms – was enthralling. These new areas might look like the rooms we’d explored before, or they might be wildly different, with unique art styles or new sound effects. Diving in to discover a new language carved into stone totems was like stumbling onto an ancient ruins or the remains of an alien planet, and learning their language was the key to delving even deeper.

This was as ambitious as it was dangerous. Gameplay difficulty is on a sliding scale and crossing over into “too hard” territory can wreck a game if not handled flawlessly. Fez navigates the line between challenging and brainbusting perfectly, dripping just enough information and giving the right amount of clues needed to progress.

The fact that only half of the game’s 64 cubes are needed to finish the game helps balance out this difficulty, though we were still set back from time to time by occasional glitches that got in the way of figuring out some of the puzzles. Fez doesn’t shy away from breaking the fourth wall and requiring you to go outside the game to solve puzzles, and it’s also not above the occasional fake-out glitch or surprise. Because of how eccentric the design is, it’s sometimes hard to tell when the game is providing another deceptively meta moment and when it’s honestly breaking.

The best puzzle games have the ability to make the player feel inversely smart and stupid. Fez takes this further than any game we’ve ever played, giving us the feeling of being both cackling genius and babbling idiot within minutes of each other. It’s an absolute triumph in creating something new both in terms of its platforming and its puzzle solving; blending together genres in ways we’ve never seen. 

It’s about opening doors, exploring, deciphering languages, and dipping your toe into the well of insanity just enough to hopefully come out with the knowledge needed to open one more door, to get one more cube. We’re sure some will be turned off by the dense, unorthodox style – it’s absolutely not for everyone – but we’re in love, and expect to spend many more hours unraveling the game’s secrets. 

More Info

Release date: Apr 13 2012 - Xbox 360
May 01 2013 - PC
Mar 25 2014 - PS4, PS3, PS Vita (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC, PS4, PS3, PS Vita
Genre: Puzzle
Developed by: Polytron
ESRB Rating:
Everyone: Mild Fantasy Violence

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41 comments

  • FemJesse - April 13, 2012 1:14 p.m.

    I don't understand the anger about the developer making a public statement on the state of games coming out of Japan. Many of the "BIG" developers have a lot of "opinionated" people in charge and no one ever uses that as an excuse not to buy their games. I think people are just looking for an excuse to not play this game. How sad.
  • The_Boz - April 17, 2012 9 a.m.

    Why would you need an excuse not to play a game? Not everybody has time to play every single release. I choose not to buy games like Call of Duty because I am terrible at those games, I may admire them, I may dislike them, but I wouldn't need to justify to somebody why I wouldn't want to purchase a game especially if I give a reason why which some would like to make out as an "excuse". I don't like Angry Birds as I find it too simple, but yet there are millions that love it. Is that an excuse for me not to pay for Angry Birds or a reason? This is a blog FemJesse, and believe it or not, every single preview or review on here will have people that will like it or dislike it. Because somebody has a different opinion or taste to you doesn't make them sad. To me, this game has nothing to offer me, and I know for a fact "Fez" will disappear without a trace and not to be heard of again in a few months time. I have seen many a good game come and go, commercial and freeware.
  • Mortis - April 13, 2012 8:25 a.m.

    this makes me think of Dave Jaffe. on the one hand the man is an asshole. he constantly swears (yes i see the irony of these two sentences) and i'm cool with swearing. proper swearing is an art form, but Jaffe would swear in any form of interview. i believe if you're representing your highly anticipated game you should do so with a bit of class. on the other hand i respect him for his bluntness. his shortcoming of public relations aside, Jaffe is as blunt and straightforward as a battering ram, according to the people who worked with him. they said (as well as Jaffe himself) that so many meetings would turn into heated arguments. someone would storm out and after cooling off, decisions would be reached. that shows a passion for the creation and that in the end, people are people and the kindred passion for their creation brings them a better understanding of said people. on the third hand (what, you don't have one?) the dude is the creator of Kratos...no other series of adventure/hack-n-slash has consistently progressed in game play, scope, presentation and overall fun like God of War. that is just my opinion, but seriously. just my thoughts. Bastion was a beautiful game and lots o' fun. i have a 360. if Fish wants to just release Fez for 360 then i guess that is his prerogative.
  • minimaxi - April 13, 2012 12:28 a.m.

    You know what kills me? Having a genuine interest over a game made by a douche. Yeah, this looks really interesting, at least the review made it seem so :/
  • BladedFalcon - April 13, 2012 2:02 p.m.

    You're interested in the game, not the douche. Why does it kill you?
  • darron13 - April 12, 2012 10:51 p.m.

    Oh my God this game is SO. CUTE.
  • Jbo87 - April 12, 2012 6:06 p.m.

    Godwin's Law FTW.
  • Claymore65 - April 12, 2012 6:01 p.m.

    This game sure seems interesting, but I cannot get it unless it comes to either PSN or Steam. I guess I haven't done the research or anything, but is there any reason it hasn't been released on steam yet? Indie games tend to get greater revenue on Steam than XBLA (MS points seirously hurt revenue, games also do better on PSN due to ease of use). If he really doesn't want to release it on PC (which unless programming it is too hard/expensive, I don't see a good excuse) he should at least release it on PSN. If he is so adamant about using a controller, gamepads funciton on PC as well. I want to try this game, but I don't own a 360 and don't plan on buying one.
  • The_Boz - April 12, 2012 4:31 p.m.

    No disrespect to the developer, but people pay for this? It doesn't look any different to free online games or abandonware, and looks inferior in many cases. I am sorry, but I could not part with money for a game that wouldn't have looked out of place 20 years ago irrespective how good or bad it played.
  • Burdmayn - April 13, 2012 5:11 a.m.

    You must miss out on quite a lot of games if your only concern is TEH MOST GRAPHICS.
  • The_Boz - April 17, 2012 8:51 a.m.

    Nope, there are 1000s of games of this quality for free online. Many fun games on sites such as Fetchfido for example, and there are hundreds of commercial games for the PC, C64 and Amiga not to mention other formats that are now for free downloads known as abandonware some of which look superior to this game. That is why I would not entertain in parting with money for something that I can get something for free which I may enjoy more. With the price of games and what I forked out for the PC and Xbox, I think I am entitled to opt for something that will show off the hardware that I bought.
  • FemJesse - April 13, 2012 1:11 p.m.

    Can't tell if trolling or stupid.
  • christian-shaffer - April 12, 2012 2:44 p.m.

    Can't wait to get it. One of the best games I played last year was Bastion and I've been trying to save up enough cash to get a few other Indie games. i still owe about $30 on my Witcher 2 pre-order, but this will be the next game I purchase after that. I had interest in this game ever since I saw it a few months ago and your game reviews tend to make or break my decision, a lot of the time, of a purchase, so thank you for making my decision clear!
  • ChristopherDalley - April 12, 2012 2:30 p.m.

    You know, I'm sure very few of you complaining about putting money in the pockets of, say, EA, or Activision, or Bioware, or Rockstar. All these companies have public figures who are either complete arse-holes or relatively conceited. Yes including Bioware: I read an article on IGN (yes I go on *that* site. Sorry) on the development of narrative in games or some such. It featured various developers talking about the state of story in games, their personal favourite game stories etc. You know what Bioware did? They used the article to plug Mass Effect 2 and blabber on about how great it was. They picked Mass Effect 2 as their favourite game narrative. Now some people call that faith in your own product. I call it being a dick. I would link the article but I can't find it. Anyway I'm getting massively off topic. My point is you have no qualms shilling out cash to these sodding pecksniffs, but you can't find it within yourself to pay for a game by a guy who probably relies on sales to pay his bills. I don't *know* if he relies on it to pay the bills, which is why I said 'probably'. It's just... People are people, and some people are dicks. I've kind of lost what I was trying say here. Work it out for yourself. Just... Whatever. Be complete twatwaffles if it pleases you. I don't care.
  • FOZ - April 12, 2012 3:25 p.m.

    None of those companies refused to put a game on a certain system out of sheer pretentiousness. I don't even have a 360 8 months of the year. If this guy wants to cut out an audience for no reason other than that he's an ignorant, pretentious jackass, why the flying hell should I give a damn about his game? And aside from that, yeah, Casey Hudson's asinine comments regarding Mass Effect 3's ending certainly did turn me off from buying Mass Effect 3. Nor did I pay attention to Robert Bowling's nonsense regarding MW3. Haven't bought anything CoD-related in a a couple years. And I use a PC, so what do I care about Rockstar? So yeah, I certainly do have qualms handing out money to those people. Fez also has the good fortune to come out after Bastion, which is not only spectacular, but made by a great guy (Greg Kasavin) who I've respected for quite a while.
  • ChristopherDalley - April 12, 2012 4:20 p.m.

    It's nice that you stick to your guns. That much I can appreciate. I also agree that Greg Kasavin is a ledge, and I'm glad he's getting critical and commercial attention (do you know he's working on Spec Ops: The Line? I don't know in what capacity, but he's definitely involved. That game looks like some good shit). I just can't see why a strong opinion would turn people off that much. I mean, we're all human, aren't we? We all have personality hang-ups. He apologised, didn't he? Does that even mean anything anymore? It wasn't just a half-arsed apology either: he apologised directly and profusely. Put it this way: I hate Liam Gallagher. He's an utter cretin. I hate it when he speaks about anything because it is inevitably going to be really benign, whiny and moronic: he's a gigantic penis with a stupid haircut. He also never apologises. But, the thing is, I can still enjoy the hell out of Oasis' first two albums*. The only I don't like the rest is 'cause they're shite. Not because I hate Liam Gallagher. It's based entirely on the quality of the work, not his person. I guess that's just me. I can completely understand your stance. In fact, I used to be the same. Just not anymore. I think that was a good summary of how I feel. I know I wasn't exactly clear in my former comment so... yeah... there it is: My Opinion: complete and unabridged.
  • Risonhighmer - April 13, 2012 2 p.m.

    It's refreshing seeing a properly formulated argument amongst the sea of self-righteous fanboy drivel. Sure he said Japan's games suck. Games are a matter of taste, if he doesn't like them that doesn't mean they are bad, it means they don't cater to his gaming wants.
  • ChiChiRocket - April 13, 2012 8:07 p.m.

    Hurray for civil discourse.
  • Risonhighmer - April 13, 2012 2:01 p.m.

    Do you even know what pretentious means?
  • LEGOMatrix - April 12, 2012 1:53 p.m.

    I have been looking forward to this game more than any other in the last few years. With the exception of portal 2 perhaps. I can't wait til tomorrow!

Showing 1-20 of 41 comments

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