It’s worth talking about indie platformer Fez, released on Xbox LIVE Arcade a few weeks ago, if for no other reason than that it won awards at the Independent Games Festival in two separate years. But Fez, even after almost five years of development, looks like it has lived up to the hype as well as it could have.
In the game you take control of Gomez, an adorable 2D creature of some sort living in a typical 2D world. One day a mysterious polyhedron appears and gives him the titular fez hat, which magically allows him to perceive a third dimension and shift perspectives in his 2D world. Fez looks like other 2D platformers (Super Mario Bros., Wario Land, Cave Story), only with the added mechanic of rotating the view 90 degrees along the y-axis, like turning a cube but only seeing a single side at a given time.
Fez gets a lot of things right. The visuals are charming and vivid, combining retro pixel graphics with some more advanced lighting and animation. Sound fits right in, with a nice chiptune soundtrack. There’s a surprising amount of content for a game of this scale — running through the main story only scratches the surface.
What’s fascinating about Fez is its ability to reconfigure a player’s vision. We’re obviously accustomed to seeing three dimensions, and we’re surprisingly good at adapting to sight on a two-dimensional plane. Fez is challenging because it requires players to consider the properties of a 2D and 3D space simultaneously. It combines all of the conventions we know from 2D and 3D games, while breaking them at the same time. After failing to climb across a moving wall in time, you realize shifting the perspective gets you across instantly. Disjointed ladder sections align in the right view.
Some people, I imagine, are better at adapting to Fez’s perspective shifts than others, like how some people can easily switch the direction of Nobuyuki Kayahara’s Spinning Dancer graphic illusion. There were times when the shift between perspectives completely baffled me. At points, I didn’t get the hang of the game space, and arbitrarily switched views until something worked out (like how most people try to solve a Rubik’s Cube).
Luckily, exploring the lush variety of maps is as fun as solving each puzzle, which makes Fez ultimately more appealing than similar previous titles like Echochrome. The game’s authors wanted to create a “pleasant place to spend time in.” The story almost didn’t live up to that place. I dreaded the hokey ending sequence that would destroy the charm built up by the game’s ambience.
But, well, the ending is downright lovely, too. (I even went over to YouTube and, for you, my readers, spoiled the completionist ending for myself to make sure it’s good as well. It was.) Other than framing the gameplay and characters, Fez leaves players to make what they will of its beautiful, bizarre world, 2D or 3D.
Fez is available on the Xbox LIVE Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points (about $10).