Fez Review
Fez Box Art
System: Xbox 360
Dev: Polytron
Pub: Polytron
Release: April 13, 2012
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Mild Fantasy Violence
Turn, Turn, Turn
by Josh Wirtanen

For a while there, we were getting a little concerned about Fez. You see, this indie platformer had been getting an absurd amount of attention—thanks to Indie Game: The Movie and a respectable pile of gaming awards—but it was starting to feel like it might never come out. It was announced way back in 2007, and has left us salivating ever since. Finally, on Friday the 13th, the gaming public was allowed to invite this quirky little gem of a game into their homes.

Let's just get this out of the way: Fez was worth the wait.

Now, for the uninitiated, Fez is a 2D platformer that wears its retro influences on its sleeve, yet takes them all into a 3D world. Comparisons have been drawn to the Paper Mario series here, but that doesn't really do it justice. Although Fez delights in playing the same type of visual tricks that Paper Mario does, Paper Mario lets you navigate a 3D space when in 3D mode. Fez, on the other hand, doesn't truly allow its protagonist to explore the third dimension. The player can use the trigger buttons to flip the world, and we get to briefly see the game world in 3D while it's rotating, but Gomez, the game's main character, is forced to navigate a 2D plain. In fact, it would be much more accurate to compare this game to Sideway: New York, but even then the comparison falls short. (Not to mention the fact that the reference is probably too obscure for most to catch.)

Fez Screenshot

While this may seem like it could be limiting, it's actually the opposite. By bringing a 3D world into the confines of a 2D space, the physics of the world can be exploited in some neat ways. For example, a platform that's way off in the distance at one angle might actually be much closer when viewed at a different angle. By flattening the world in on itself, Gomez is allowed to make jumps or instantly travel distances that would be impossible in a 3D space.

Even though Fez is an old school platformer, it doesn't delight in tormenting players with insanely fast-paced sections that require exquisite timing and exceptional reflexes they way titles like Super Meat Boy do. Instead, Fez is about exploration and puzzle-solving. While the mechanics feel more like, say, Mario, the environment has almost a Myst-like quality to it; it manages to be simultaneously serene and mysterious. It's a fascinating world that deserves to be explored at your own pace.

Fez Screenshot

Part of this is the audio backdrop. It's all low-fi, yet is extremely expressive. You'll practically feel the wind on your skin, or smell the salt of the ocean below. What music is present is minimal, yet catchy and hypnotic. The soundscape here ties the whole package together magnificently, paying homage to the 8-bit days of gaming without feeling outdated. In fact, I could probably say that about the game as a whole, and I feel almost obligated to use the term "neo-retro." Yes, it's an oxymoron, but, in some ways, Fez is paradoxical enough to deserve an oxymoronic descriptor.

And this retro vibe is carried by the quirky visual style. You'd be tempted to call this pixellated, until you see the world spin and transform into a 3D one before completing its ninety-degree rotation and returning to a 2D plain. Either way, it's certainly a throwback to the 8-bit era of gaming.

Fez Screenshot

But Fez doesn't ignore this fact; the game is actually quite self-aware. In fact, it constantly makes references to other games you should remember fondly if you grew up playing video games in the 80s or 90s. For example, whenever you open a chest, you will be serenaded with the chest-opening theme from Zelda. And when your prism-like companion and guide tells you to "Hey, listen," you'll flash back to wanting to slap Navi out of the air while playing Ocarina of Time. In fact, there's an entire section of the world that's done in a simple style that's instantly familiar to gamers who had a Gameboy before Nintendo released the color version.

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