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The appeal inherent in Fez is one that I had almost forgotten. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game so dense, so jam-packed full of secrets and personality. In this way, Fez almost feels like the product of a generation past. The puzzles, the characters, and even the world itself are soaked in a sort of old school charm, one that has no problem with dangling the clues to a tough puzzle right in front of your face and watching you struggle with them for the better part of an hour. Because the game never firmly establishes any ground rules for just how out-there and meta some of the puzzle solutions can be, you will feel as if you are constantly discovering new aspects of Fez’s world. Despite it being a (sort of) 2D platformer drawn in highly pixilated style, this game feels more vibrant and alive than almost any big budget release I’ve seen over the course of this generation. Just like the best games of yesteryear, Fez will draw you in not with beautiful graphics and highly scripted events, but with promises of exploring its beautifully realized world to its fullest extent.
At first glance, Fez looks like just another indie platformer, albeit one bolstered by its unique plane-swapping mechanics. This is, to a small extent, the truth. Protagonist Gomez can run and jump with the best of them, although he’s not much of a fighter. Instead of jumping on enemies, this platformer focuses on rotating the 2D world around on its axis to create new vantage points. This is all thanks to Gomez’s red fez, which apparently holds some sort of mystical power. Swapping between planes is done with the shoulder buttons, and can be done at any time. . It can take a few minutes to become accustomed to switching between planes, but it’ll become second nature after an hour or so of gameplay. Careful use of this power will let you make platforms where there were none, or reveal hidden collectibles
It is during the beginning of your collectible hunt that you will likely realize the true extent of Fez’s depth. See, you will be tasked with collecting a bunch of cubes scattered around the world and reassembling them into a whole. This will stop the universe from imploding. But for every cube, there is an anticube, and these are much trickier to get. Collecting an anticube is the sort of thing that you are likely to stumble upon by accident for the first time, as the game makes little to no mention of them before you have the first one in your hands. It leaves the task of finding and deciphering the secrets of the anticubes almost entirely up to you, and this is a significant part of what makes the task so much fun.
That philosophy carries over to the rest of the game, as well. Little to no instruction is given to you after the tutorial, and although you will certainly be taught the basic mechanics and concepts, it will then be up to you to figure out how to manipulate them in any given situation afterwards. It’s a case of having been given just enough information to not find the game frustrating, but just little enough information to feel as if you are genuinely solving these puzzles using nothing but your raw wit. The fact that some of the puzzles employ such brain-bending, boundary-shattering logic makes solving them feel even more rewarding. I won’t spoil anything here, but suffice it to say you should expect far more out of Fez than what the promotional trailers and early media have been suggesting. Switching between planes in the game’s wonderfully-realized 2D world is only the first piece of the puzzle.
The feeling of genuine discovery, of walking into a totally unique world that nobody has ever seen before, is one so rarely felt in modern gaming. In a world of annualized sequels and low-risk development, Fez dared to be something far more. With an endlessly clever central mechanic that lends to some truly fantastic moments of puzzle solving and exploration, a charming and fully realized world, and a truly massive amount of content to discover, Fez is easily one of the best games available for the Xbox Live Arcade and one that you should under no circumstances ignore.