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Thursday
Apr192012

Fez - XBLA Review

I reviewed Warp a couple of weeks ago ago, a little XBLA puzzle game where you played as an alien trapped inside a nasty science facility. The game was fine, but at the end of that review I said that it didn't really measure up against the upper echelons of the XBLA Games that came before it, the Limbos of the world, the Super Meat Boys, the Geometry wars, in fact, very few games reach those near-legendary heights. But Fez does.

Gomez is a simple creature, but he knows how to wear a fez, I'll give him thatIn Fez you play as Gomez. It's his birthday and he receives a present off an old, eye-patched man who, well, I'm not entirely sure to be honest. To me, this old man is a mystical guide of sorts, who somehow makes Gomez aware that the world does not entirely take place on a 2D plane, as it first seems. The old man unlocks something in Gomez's mind and he is visited by some form of Hypercube, who bestows upon him the titular Fez, which grants him the power to see the world from 4 different 90 degree perspectives. The hypercube then implodes for some reason, leaving behind it various smaller cubes (and cubettes) strewn throughout the world, just waiting to be found by Gomez and his new found power.

The gameplay is fairly simple, even for a 2D platformer/puzzler, which are hardly the most complex games in the world. You can run and jump, and Gomez will grab onto ledges and can shimmy along them, and that's it. Switching the world perspective is done via the triggers or bumpers, and makes up the meat of the game's puzzles. You'll constantly be flicking the world from angle-to-angle, trying to find the way to the next area or bit of cube, gracefully shifting the world around you to try and spot something you couldn't see from the last angle. The world-rotating mechanic is simple and elegant, and works very well. Not once did I feel like I was failing at something because the controls and the tools I had at my disposal were sub-par, if I failed it was my own damn fault for being stupid, which I can live with.

Graphically the game is, frankly, beautiful. Seeing thousands-upon-thousands of polygon-pixels being pumped out in HD makes the game super gorgeous to look at. The animations are silky smooth, even on ambient creatures throughout the world. Everything animates in a deliberately jumpy way, to simulate the animation style of a SNES-era game, but somehow it still all looks fantastic, and oozes off the screen and into your eyeholes like warm maple syrup poured generously onto a stack of American-style pancakes. Even just thinking about looking at the game again gets me excited.

The game's music, inkeeping with everything else in the game,"ADVENTURE IS READY!"is also great. Predictably chiptuney, but surprisingly noninvasive. The game hums and gently bleeps at you with the kind of calming effect you'd expect from a stress-relieving "Sounds of the Ocean" CD in places, yet in others it crescendos to enhance moments of accomplishment, of mystery or even just of a new, spectacular piece of scenery. Even without a veil of nostalgia I think the soundtrack would be enough to warm even the twattiest of hearts, but if you do harbour a love for anything that reminds you of the games of your youth then the sounds of Fez will have you in somewhat of a joy coma. I would put it right up there with Super Meat Boy's soundtrack for sheer awesome "chiptuneyness", though outside of the context of the game it's not quite as lovable.

Story-wise there's not a whole lot to talk about with Fez: Cube gives you a fez, explodes, go rebuild cube. Hardly a Shakespearian epic (I'm not even particularly a fan of Shakespeare but the metaphor works a treat) but what the game lacks in story to tell, it makes up for in story-telling. The world is dotted with ancient monuments and remnants of civilizations past; unreadable languages pop up in unusual places you wouldn't expect; long-since anandoned buildings sit there, almost hauntingly empty as wildlife thrives all around them; the whole world just feels very lived in. It's one of the best thing about the game, is it's ability to constantly show you new and interesting places that you actually wantto explore and find out the secret of. You know what, that'll segway me nicely into kinda the most insane thing about Fez...

So, remember earlier, when I said it was a 2D platformer/puzzle game? Yeah, it totally isn't. Forget what all the trailers for the game showed, and what the developer said about the game before it's release, it's about as far from a 2D platformer/puzzle game as a game can get without also containing 2D plaforming/puzzles. What Fez actually is, is basically... an archaeology game. Sure, if you want to The game's environments are varied and beautiful"complete" the game you can just collect the 32 cubes the game tells you to and then never play it again, but if you actually want to PLAY Fez, you're gonna need a notepad, a good head on your shoulders and heaps of patience. Aswell as the regular 32 cubes you can collect, there are also "anti-cubes" which are harder to come by but still count towards your cube total (for example, I complete the game with about 26 regular cubes and 6 anti-cubes to make up the 32 needed). Anti-cubes are the real challenge. To earn an anti-cube you really have to work at it, granted, some are easier than others but some... well, you actually won't believe the lengths you have to go to unlock those bad boys. Coupled with all that great ambient story-telling in Fez I mentioned last paragraph, are actual puzzles that do not make themselves apparent to you until you either: A) Cheat and look at the internet, or B) Start putting the pieces of the world together yourself. It's not too much of a stretch for me to say I no longer feel comfortable calling it a platformer, or necessarily even a puzzle game, it kinda invents it's own genre. I don't know what it'd be called, but calling it an archaeology game is pretty darn close.

I don't really know how to convey Fez to people. Now that I've played it, and took a plunge down the rabbit hole (probably closer to just sticking a toe in the shallow end knowing the amount of depth in the game) all I know is what Fez means to me. To me, Fez is the kind of game somebody could write a book about, it's possibly the most complex game of all time, but at the same it eases you in so well it's also one of the most accessible. It hides it's ridiculous complexities behind a fantastic, beautiful veneer of retro presentation and scrumptious gameplay that'll keep you coming back just to re-experience what it feels like to move around as Gomez. It keeps you guessing, then when it answers one question, that question gives birth to hundreds more. Don't judge Fez by it's cover: It may look sweet and cuddly on the outside, but on the inside it's nefarious in ways my puny human mind could barely comprehend.

For 800 Microsoft Points you'd be a fool to miss out on it, and, not to be too presumptuous, but you'd have to be a fool not to love it aswell.

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Fez is out now exclusively for Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points (roughly £6)

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