This review has been a long time coming. Originally released on the Xbox 360 many moons ago, Fez is one of an increasingly large group of indie games that have managed to crack the collective consciousness. However, for all its critical acclaim, the retro inspired romp is only now making its way onto Sony systems. But was this indie effort worth the long wait, or is it just old hat?
The game's main gameplay hook is its unique take on 2D platforming. Or more appropriately, its unique take on 3D platforming. All of the title’s levels actually exist in three-dimensional space, but can only be viewed from a flat two-dimensional perspective. Quite early on in the game, you gain the power to flip between four different angles through which to view this world. Switching between these views can make platforms that originally seemed out of reach miraculously appear right in front of you. Similarly, ladders and scalable vines can be connected and climbed by making cunning use of these mind-bending mechanics.
As with its gameplay, the title's minimalistic plot is satisfyingly shrouded in mystery. Our hero, Gomez, thinks he lives in a 2D world, but a ceremony performed by an older resident violently tears apart not only his own conceptions, but also the very fabric of reality itself. The ritual leaves his hometown in disarray, with strange portals and other glitchy goings-on terrorising the otherwise serene setting. An ethereal entity informs him that the only way to proceed is by collecting a series of cubes that should quell these metaphysical machinations. And so you're tasked with trudging back and forth between different areas collecting geometrical keys by solving puzzles and performing feats of platforming prowess.
However, to describe Fez as a platformer would be disingenuous, as it really doesn’t contain very much tricky jumping. Indeed, the game is much more akin to Myst than Mario, with its toughest challenges exercising your mind not your reflexes. What's more, if you do ever miss a jump or fall off a precarious ledge, you'll quickly be transported back to the last piece of solid ground that you stood on. This means that the vast majority of your time is neatly divided between exploration and puzzle solving, resulting in an overall sense of flow comparable to that of a Metroidvania game.
The previously mentioned puzzles can range from relatively simple to alarmingly obtuse. Some require you to quickly switch back and forth between perspectives, while others will force you to interact with the game in much more unique and surprising ways. To explain any further would be to ruin the fun, but needless to say, several of the title's more perplexing mysteries would not be out of place in a Hideo Kojima production. This is a game that unashamedly doesn't care if you don't know what's going on. But rather than being frustrating, this lack of direction feels elegant and rewarding.
It's not all sunshine and pixels, though, as the game's map, while stylistically appropriate, is a muddled and confusing mess that can make the otherwise satisfying exploration feel frustrating. Furthermore, while efforts have been made to smooth over the process, travelling from one edge of the large open world to another can get a bit tiresome. This is compounded by the fact that some levels require spurts of tricky traversal, which means that finding the door isn’t always a simple task.
Thankfully, you’ll have plenty to gaze at while on your travels, as Fez is an achingly gorgeous game. It would be easy to dismiss its retro inspired style as a cynical attempt to cash in on nostalgia, but that would be doing the game a great disservice. Its pixelated panoramas crackle and fizz with life, their every cranny brimming with colour and invention. From rain soaked cities to sandy beaches, this is truly a visual master class, and presents a world that is an absolute joy to explore.
What’s more, the title’s soundtrack perfectly complements this presentation. Haunting chip tune melodies hover over ambient synth swells to create soundscapes that inspire both awe and a profound sense of loneliness. All of this verbose description probably sounds a bit pretentious, but these are honestly the sorts of rambling thoughts the game conjures. The experience feels incredibly reflective, which is particularly impressive for what is essentially a puzzle game.
And if you’ve a mind to partake in a little philosophical puzzle solving while on the go, you’ll be glad to hear that it is both cross-buy and cross-save. Obviously the home console versions look and sound the best, but the title’s clean visual aesthetic transfers nicely onto the Vita’s smaller screen, and you’d be hard pressed to find any performance issues in the portable port. Moreover, the ability to seamlessly switch between platforms means that you never have to lose your sense of continuity.
Fez is one of the most meticulously crafted games in recent memory. Its puzzles are a perfect blend of ingenious trickery and mind boggling mayhem, while its gorgeous visuals and sublime music are absolutely dripping with atmosphere. The result is a lush world that is both awe inspiring and completely intoxicating. While the map is an unmitigated mess, and traversal can sometimes be a pain, this transcendental trip is definitely deserving of your time.