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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.