Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Polytron Corporation
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Fez is an indie game created by a man named Phil Fish and is about a pixelated little fellow named Gomez who is bestowed a magical fez that allows him to change his two dimensional world in 90 degree rotations.
The game is a labour of passion, sweat and tears. I know this because Fish and his game are the subject of the excellent documentary Indie Game which chronicles some of Fish’s challenges in creating the game. I don’t know if it was ever publicized how much Fez went on to sell but creatively, I think Fish’s endeavour has been worth it. Fez is a more personal game than any other that I can recall playing in recent times. So many of the game’s traits could be applied to Phil Fish himself. The game is ecclectic, full of good ideas but also more than a little tempermental. Lets cut to the chase and get the bad part out of the way: the game, in its current state on Xbox Live, is broken. I reached a certain point in the game where my save file would no longer load and I was resigned to quitting after investing about several hours of playtime.
It was only after trawling some messageboards and trying out numerous suggestions that I was able to get the game to load once more. The solution was to clear my Xbox 360 system cache and load the game while not logged into Xbox Live. This is a less than ideal situation and unfortunately, I have read a statement from Phil Fish on his blog to say that the bug will not be fixed with a patch because it is too expensive.
If you are fortunate enough to not be affected by this bug or are lucky like me and are able to find a work around, then you’re in for a treat. Fez is one of those games that feels relaxing to play and is a cheerful callback to gaming experiences on 8-bit and 16-bit consoles. Although the pixel art graphical style is a saturated market today compared to when the game was first shown off in 2008, I still found it to be effective and pleasing to the eye. What particularly sets this game apart is its use of colour, which exude warmth and a sense of fun. The chilled out soundtrack and absense of any enemies in the game only add to the carefree atmosphere.
I approached Fez expecting a two dimensional platformer but really its more of a hybrid between an adventure and puzzle game. The game encourages you to explore an intricate series of interconnected levels, collecting cubes and finding keys to unlock doors to even more levels. After a bit of time wandering around, you’ll find that the world of Fez is a maze-like cacophony of chambers that look like an ants nest when you zoom out of the world map.
Over the course of Fez‘s lengthy development cycle, Phil Fish has managed to conjure up an astonishing number of different environments and puzzle mechanics. There are waterfalls hiding secrets, doors that only reveal themselves at certain times of day, monochromatic rooms, psychadelic epilepsy-inducing rooms, levels that are located in woodland habitats and levels that are encased in giant mechanical constructs. This is the indy game equivalent of Super Mario Galaxy. There are so many ideas and themes explored that it feels like Fish has gone for broke and used everything he could think of, just in case this is the only game he ever gets to make.
To complete the game in its most basic form, you must collect thirty two cubes. There are actually twice that many in the world. There are also artifacts, maps, hidden languages and plenty of other Easter Eggs that can be uncovered when you go back and play the unlocked New Game+ mode and if some hardcore fans are to be believed, there is also a New Game++. It would not surprise me if people were still uncovering secrets in this game many years after its release. Fez is that kind of game and Phil Fish seems to be that kind of guy.
For the more difficult puzzles in the game, I must admit, I gave up in defeat and looked at walkthroughs online. I’m glad I did. I would not have been able to work out the game’s secret language code based on tetris shapes. But I appreciate the sentiment behind making some of the puzzles so preposterously hard that you have to read a walkthrough to find out what to do. It fits with Fez‘s influences from late-Eighties/early-Nineties video gaming where you could refer to a copy of Game Players or EGM to read up on codes to unlock secret stages and items.
I like Fez a lot. It’s buggy, broken and towards the end ludicrously difficult, but its clearly a work by someone who is passionate about video games and in particular, someone who really loved Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda and other classics from gaming’s infancy. It sounds weird but some of the game’s quirks actually comprise part of its charm. The jaunty presentation, cheerful score and affectionate championing of a bygone gaming era is a wonderful tonic to a modern market that sometimes takes itself far too seriously.