If you have even the slightest interest in indie games - the type that come from small teams of developers - you'll have been aware of Fez.
The game and its core mechanics - an 8-bit-style 2D platformer in which you could change the view with short camera pans to reveal a 3D world - was unveiled years ago, but it's been in development for so long (it was originally due for XBLA in 2010), a video documentary of its creation has been shot, produced, released and is already winning festival awards. Only now is the game finally getting its time in the limelight.
Even with imitators flooding the digital domain since that original tease, the retro 8-bit graphics means Fez still distinguishes itself and its originality remains secure; much in the way there's only one Minecraft phenomenon, or a masterpiece like Super Brothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.
The graphics impress, but the implementation of the studio's concept leads to a truly wonderful game. It's impossible to subtract separate elements from this singular vision; design and gameplay form one cohesive whole. Despite the megalomaniac statements of its creator about Japanese developers, Fez manages to stand in the oversized footsteps of those Nintendo creations masterminded by Shigeru Miyamoto.
From the game's central mechanic - 2D platformer with a 3D perspective shift - blooms a host of great ideas. While there's player-friendly respawns and peaceful wildlife abound, don't be fooled: the puzzles and riddles in Fez are incredibly demanding.
From the beginning the unusual game mechanics force the brain into higher gear. Treasure maps require you to closely study the outlines of hundreds of small, floating worlds as you search for various artefacts, and the 3D shift means even the smallest worlds suddenly quadruple in size.
Hard riddles and even well-hidden cryptic puzzles will likely drive some to succumb to the seductive lure of online FAQs. But to do so kills the unique gaming experience - for once it's enjoyable to live with more questions than answers.
Even experienced gamers will have problems with the open worlds of Fez, because bar a brief tutorial on the game mechanics you're left on your own - helps and hints are not forthcoming, and from the start you're free to travel anywhere you want.
In the first village we fight a desperate battle to keep track of locations and conduct a reasonably systematic search for artefacts. But after leaving the first world it becomes clear that any attempt to do so is virtually impossible, as each of the small worlds contain several doors that lead back to other branched floating islands. ItĹs just too much.
The map doesn't help. It shows remaining treasures, puzzles, cubes and fragments, but only loosely displays the connections of individual islands, never displaying actual routes.
The many doors always offer a sneak peek at the world behind them, but it's small help when there are still so many things to keep track of, even though the islands are often thematically different. In addition, a system of warp portals complicates things.
Yet this is not a real complaint as such. The labyrinth structure of Fez makes it the adventure that it is, but you better not be a control freak...
And the adventure that follows is a real video game event. An absolutely unique atmosphere, fantastic level design and challenging puzzles make Fez one of the best video games of recent years.
The 8-bit style is not just nostalgia, but inspires the world design in even the smallest details, nor does it limit the realisation of this place. From the one-liners of villagers, the expectant sound when turning the world from 2D to 3D, to the light effects on forest leaves: Fez is a visual wonder that comes with similarly wonderful gameplay attached.
- System:PC, XBLA, Xbox 360
- Genre:Platform, Puzzle
- Offline players:1
- Release date:13 April 2012
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