It may sound clichéd, but every now and then an idea comes along in gaming that you look at and wonder, “How come nobody ever did this before?”
That’s the sense I had when I first saw Polytron Corporation’s Fez – which was about six months ago, when a friend streamed it from his Xbox 360. At first, I thought “primitive-looking 2-D platformer” and yawned. After the first five minutes, I was ready to look away.
Then my perspective changed.
A different view
Fez released on May 1 for PC via Steam, so I finally got the chance to try it for myself. I don’t think it’s too much of a crime to “spoil” Fez‘s signature mechanic, so here it is: After that brief opening level, you gain the ability to rotate your 2-D world in 90-degree increments, giving Gomez, the cute-as-a-creampuff lead character, the ability to manipulate space to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
It’s better viewed than explained, but I’ll try anyway. Imagine two platforms, with an impossible-to-jump gap between them. In Fez, you simply rotate your viewpoint so that the two are next to each other and simply walk or make a small jump across.
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself wondering just how the objects exist in the game world. Is it a 3-D world that gets continually mapped into a 2-D space? Is it a 2-D world that has 3-D elements? Oh, but for the ability to free move!
Fez is, at times, a throwback to traditional platforming. While streaming the game, one of my viewers said, “Someone played a lot of Mario back in the day.” You’ll still need precise timing for your jumps, and the shifting camera angle – an element sometimes not under your control – adds an extra degree of difficulty.
The jumps themselves can be a little tricky to control, and you’ll regularly send Gomez plummeting to his untimely death. Fortunately, there’s no real penalty, as you’ll instantly warp back to your last safe platform. Still, I recommend using a control pad rather than the keyboard if you’re playing on PC.
Fez seems to be just the right length, too. The novelty of the mechanics will hold your attention for a while, but it seems like a new twist is introduced at just the right times to keep the experience from getting stale.
My only real gameplay gripe was the black holes, squares of endless void that appear randomly in levels and suck Gomez into oblivion. If they’re located in a particularly inconvenient spot, you can simply leave and re-enter an area, hoping they’ll not be there the next time, making their intermittent existence even less necessary.
More to explore
Gomez’s task is to collect cubes – which are, of course, unheard of in the 2-D world where he starts his adventure. Doors and gateways in the world lead to different areas and separate rooms. Most are accessible as soon as you discover them, but a few require you to have obtained a certain number of cubes to access them.
The world itself is very open-ended and highly explorable. In the first hour of my friend’s livestream, he discovered an area that I didn’t find until about my fifth hour in the game. It’s easy to get lost, as the map screen – really just a representation of the different areas and how they’re linked – takes some getting used to.
And what would a platformer be without hidden areas and secrets? Fez has those, too. Some are more easily discovered with the help of clues found on treasure maps, which you can locate throughout the game. The maps can be difficult to understand, but when you do manage to decipher their meaning and unearth the hidden treasure, it’s a big moment.
Polytron did a great job of making the world feel mysterious and giving you a real sense of exploration as you wander the multitude of pathways. You’ll often feel like you’ve stumbled into ancient ruins, abandoned cities, and even a derelict back alley or two. Take some time to ponder the glyphs you come across, scrawled on the walls like ancient cave paintings, and see if you can’t piece a few stories of your own together.
Fun to the third power
Even though I’ve “finished” the game and seen the end credits, I still want to keep playing Fez to find all the cubes, anti-cubes, treasure maps, and other secrets. That’s a rarity, at least for me, because I’m really not a “100% completionist” type of person. In my mind, that’s a testament to Fez‘s low-key innovation and beautifully simplistic design.
I also feel like there are mysteries yet to be solved, and I’m so enthralled by Fez‘s mix of gameplay and subtle mystery that I feel compelled to unravel them. Can I figure out what the people in that one strange town are saying? What will happen if I collect all four artifacts? What’s the deal with that locked achievement, Cryptographer, which has the requirement “Break the Code”? Are they all part of the same overarching “mission”? My total time to “completion” was seven hours, but I get the feeling I’m not done yet, not by a long shot.
Fez is $10 well spent, despite the game’s relatively short length. If you like platforming, but are looking for something a little new, it’s a great choice, and being on Steam, it makes for a great gift.
Now, when do we get Gomez plushies?