Fez Roh Dah!

As you could tell by the title, I wanna shout about Fez for a bit, the new Xbox Live Arcade game by Phil Fish and the others at Polytron. Fez has been making all sorts of waves recently, given its storied, troubled background and the slightly, let’s say, incendiary comments Fish made on the creativity inherent in the current Japanese game development community, or apparent lack thereof.

It’d be all too easy for me to turn it around (so to speak) on Fez and talk about how puzzle platformers with a cutesy retro approach and at least one central gimmick is hardly a soapbox from which to deride the lack of creativity of others, but instead of doing that (or, I guess, concurrently with doing that), I’ll go on record to say that Fez is pretty great.

Protagonist Gomez, pre-hatwear.

One’s first playthrough of Fez is the sort of low-hassle Indie platformer we’ve all experienced a few times before, whether you’re a fan of Braid or PB Winterbottom or have spent any amount of time in Newgrounds‘ games section or Kongregate or Armor Games (all great time-waster sites, incidentally). The collectible cubes are lying around the topography waiting for you to figure out how to spin the world around in such a way to form a path to them. The universe is spread out as cuboid nodes on a map, so there’s some degree of Metroidvania-esque exploration to be done though the many branching areas. Otherwise, it’s a rather simple jaunt through a series of very pretty pixel worlds, which are filled with nice little graphical details such as cute pixel animals hopping around and a sky changing color as it slowly goes through a day/night cycle.

It’s the other half of the game where things start getting cerebral. The player will have encountered several rooms that, instead of presenting its golden prize from the offset, will require a puzzle of some sort to be solved beforehand. Doing so awards you “anti-cubes”, which are just as plentiful as their regular counterparts but far harder to find. These puzzles require you decrypt the in-game language, decipher the meaning behind oft-spotted glyphs formed of tetranimos (which are, as all gamers know, the shapes from Tetris) and occasionally go a little meta such as manipulating the console clock and using a QR code reader (though it’s purported that the QR puzzles have alternate solutions found elsewhere in-game for those without that technology).

The 2D worlds are actually 3D. But I won't tell if you don't!

Fez likes to envelop itself in mystery, possibly to prompt the sort of “what does this mean?” viral promotion that has, inevitably, surfaced from how vague some of the puzzle leads have been. A cynical viewpoint, perhaps, but it’s not hard to mistake intent given how successful it’s been in spreading awareness for the game.

So, ultimately, what am I saying about Fez? It’s a fine game, is what. It’s expansive for an Indie game, but not expensive. It’s colorful, cartoonish and bright, but also thoughtful, deep and subdued. It has the sort of metaphysical aspirations in puzzle design that the Myst games had prior (and Fool’s Errand prior to that), and given Fez’s predilection for gloriously rendered yet hauntingly lonely environs as well it’s clear Fish is a proponent of the Miller bros’ CD-ROM epic.

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It doesn’t feel like a brand new paradigm in gaming, but rather a layered homage to one man’s fondest game experiences. I’d say that’s perhaps more than enough reason for anyone to want to share the experience, especially for only 800 MS points. Buy some below, and maybe use the other half for something less cute? Like Doom 2 perhaps.

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