Platform: Xbox 360 XBLA
Price: 800 Microsoft Points (£6.85)
The star of a much-hyped video game movie and the lovechild of one of the indie gaming community’s most outspoken developers, can Fez ride the wave of expectation that’s greeted it at every blocky, 8-bit corner? Read on for our review of the puzzler/platformer hybrid to find out.
At first glance, Fez looks to be jumping onto the retro-revivalist bandwagon that has served the likes of Super Meat Boy and Sword and Sworcery EP so well. In some respects, that’s an apt observation; the game is indeed indebted to the 8-bit games of old, with its colourful pixel-pushing art style, chiptune soundtrack and side scrolling platforming action.
However, it doesn’t take long for Fez to burst beyond your initial preconceptions and bloom into something altogether more marvellous.
Fez puts you in control of Gomez, a fez-wearing little 8-bit dude who lives in a 2D world. It’s a charming, self-aware universe that oozes humour; it’s many inhabitants are set in their ways, totally disbelieving of the potential for a third dimensional plane. They’ll remark for instance on how wonderfully “flat” you’re looking today. But their comfortable little lives are shattered when a mysterious 3D cube appears and explodes, making the world 3D along with it. With everyone else in a blind panic (and Gomez the only person able to navigate this extra dimension) it’s up to the dapper little hero to explore the world and literally pick up the pieces of the shattered cube to set things straight and flat again.
This is when things get really interesting. Though a 2D side-scroller, Gomez has the ability to twist the world on its axis, letting him access previously inaccessible areas. It’s a slightly difficult concept to explain, but imagine each level being like a four-sided cube; turning the cube-world around may make what seemed to be a flat wall transform into a bridge across an impassable gap, or a single line of pixels reveal themselves to be a ladder letting you reach a higher platform. It’s a wildly inventive concept that the developers Polytron explore every avenue of, making your brain twist and turn just as much as the levels themselves.
What makes the game such a joy to play is the leisurely pace at which it rolls out in. There’s no timer, little to threaten Gomez and no real penalty for death. Instead, you’re free to explore Fez as you wish, letting you discover the intricate world as you please. Though you can rush through the game if you’re that way inclined, the real pleasure comes from eking out every hidden corner of the world. It gives a sense of achievement rarely felt in modern gaming.
In the same way that Fez plays with old-skool gaming conventions, it also pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved with modern-day innovations. These mostly come in the shape of Easter eggs for the most dedicated gamers. It’s hard to describe them without spoiling surprises, but taking a close look at the achievements list and having a QR code scanner handy can lead to some great discoveries. Not only does Fez invite you to to get lost in its intricate world, it also encroaches on the real-world in order to squeeze the maximum amount of enjoyment from you. It’s often a revelatory experience, and one we cant recommend highly enough.
From its deceptively simple visuals to its humour to its focus on exploration, Fez is a joy to play from start to finish. Beautifully executed, it’s another top-drawer Xbox Live Arcade offering and one that’ll wrestle with Braid and Shadow Complex for the title of the best downloadable game on the Xbox 360. Simply stunning.