Game #25: Fez (2012)

fez-ss01creator: Phil Fish
language: English
number of levels: 64
time it took me to complete: 9 and a half hours
finished on: 15 September 2013

Fez was one of the games featured in “Indie Game: The Movie”, and I think I noted at the time that it’d been out for Windows and Xbox for a while already, and that it was probably only a matter of time before it’d be featured in the Humble Bundle (and hence, for the Mac so that I can play it). It wasn’t even that long, in the end. Humble Bundle 9 came out last month, so I bought it and started playing Fez (and a couple of the others, but as with all the bundles, I’m usually only attracted to one or two games out of the bunch and this time it was this one).

Fez is very colourful and upbeat, for the most part. Its premise is fairly simple and yet unintuitive: you originally start out in a 2D platformer world, but that lasts for only one level before you gain the ability to turn the now-3D world on its axis. But when you do, it settles back into the shape of a 2D level (perspective doesn’t exist, apparently), and you can now, for instance, walk straight across gaps that were there before you swivelled 90°. The gameplay stays 2D, however.

The story isn’t dwelt upon much – you are given the power to turn the world by a giant cube, which takes the form of a fez on the main character’s head, but then the game “crashes” in a style reminiscent of level 256 of Pacman, and the cube shatters, spreading its fragments around the extended world, which is itself cool because it’s non-linear and you can play in any order. Then you’re accompanyed by a thing called “Dot”, which is actually a 4D tesseract (or hypercube) gently turning in a confusing manner. It gives you advice as you travel round, but it tended to be a bit useless, not remembering half of what it’s supposed to tell you. Still, its style is amusing in a simple way, and it tended to be worth reading it.

When in the 2D mode, the game harks back to the 8-bit era, as so many of its contemporary brethren also do, and it’s one of the most evocative uses of that style of graphics that I’ve seen in a while, especially combined with its soundtrack. It’s a very detailed world in general, and I really enjoyed playing the game, trying to find out all the little secrets.

A lot of the puzzles required you to put clues together, or make a logical leap of some kind. Many of these were fun, in their way, but equally many were simply frustrating. Most of the frustrating ones weren’t compulsory, as the prize was one of the “negative cubes”, although you need them for 100% completion and to get into the final level. The game includes a counting system and writing system, usually written in the Japanese vertical style, although it’s a cypher alphabet that consists of 24 letters (conflating K/Q and U/V) made of four shapes in four rotations. Many obelisks and pillars are strewn around with this kind of lettering. There is a place to learn the cyphers for each one – although I missed both of them and ended up looking them up online – the alphabet is taught through a pillar with a famous pangram on it, and I hadn’t noticed the fox or the dog nearby essentially telling you that’s what it said. There’s also a code which you use to input a key sequence with the game controls, which I managed to work out myself but didn’t get the other key to the code which was that you usually had to tilt your head to the side to use it.

Anyway, many of the higher difficulty levels in the game fall squarely in the “dick move” camp of game design. One level had four timers, one which would tick around once every minute, giving you a short window to grab a cube… but the others ticked around once every hour, day and week. The hour one is almost doable – it’s certainly not as bad as the star in Braid that required you to leave the game running for two hours – but I will be very surprised if anyone actually came back several days later to get the longest timer, instead of doing what I did, which was to temporarily reset my system clock. Another of the latest levels was originally solved by the online community by brute force – literally listing all the possible combinations and trying them until one worked. An obscure solution which made use of the release date was later found, but I just found that comical when I heard it. Basically no-one had any patience for it.

A review of Fez wouldn’t be complete without mentioning its developer, Phil Fish. He was featured in “Indie Game: The Movie”, although I didn’t mention him when I wrote my review of that movie. Fish, as he was portrayed in the movie, is an insufferable perfectionist, and doesn’t respond well to criticism. Recently, he’s famously called off the production of Fez 2 and left the video games industry, apparently because someone insulted him on Twitter (although it’s probably just the straw that broke the camel’s back, to be fair). He received a lot of flak because he was in development for so long… and this led to a lot of whining from both sides. I feel sorry for him, but I also thought he was intensely unlikable… so it goes both ways, I guess.

It’s a shame there’ll be no Fez 2, and no level editor for Fez 1 (although I imagine it would be very difficult to make), because my other criticism of Fez, although it is a very rich game, is that it could have happily gone on a lot longer. I definitely recommend it to any platform game fans.

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