Review: FEZ (XBLA)
|Release Date:||April 13, 2012|
|ESRB Rating:||E for Everyone|
Three long years ago I saw a trailer for a game that blew my mind. It was unlike anything I’d seen at the time: a return to side-scrolling pixel platforming. On the day we recorded our very first episode (June 28, 2008) I showed the guys a random clip/trailer I’d found online and right away we were all in awe of what we’d hoped FEZ was going to be.
Fast forward to April 13, 2012 and FEZ has come out on XBox Live Arcade. Costing 800 Microsoft fantasy bucks, FEZ is as easy on the wallet as it is on the eyes (altho if 800pts is too much for you, there is a free demo available for download). You guide a small pixel gent named Gomez through a world that’s been turned upside down (well, right and left anyway) as a torch passes from a grizzled marshmallow dude to this new, younger one. Prior to getting his fez, Gomez and his brethren lived in a simple world, one that was 2D, flat, and peaceful. Things were simple, straightforward, and easy. Once said chapeau arrives on the scene things are set in motion that may be impossible to stop or repair.
Fez is an indie platformer and it really feels that way. I’m not sure why but indie platform games tend to feature characters who have very touchy jump controls who need to land on tiny platforms. Gomez can jump, climb on vines/ivy, and latch onto the edges of platforms and pull himself up. I found the controls touchy, particularly when trying to drop down and catch the corners of ledges, and I was always worried when I was rotating the world while clinging to vines.
That said, in another game where you’re maybe constantly beset by enemies, the controls might cause some gamers to stress out. In Fez tho, it’s easy to come to grips with them. There are no enemies per se – no bullet-dodging exercises. Missing a jump isn’t a big deal because the game picks you up and sets you back on the right path again.
This is the point in the review when I have to break out my thesaurus so that I won’t reuse the world “awesome” over and over.
Those three years in the lurch were well worth it from a graphics standpoint. Not only does the game have knockout pixel artwork but the attention to detail is incredible. What’s interesting about FEZ is that areas display one plane at once, but all sides of a room need to be decorated due to the rotation mechanic. And it’s not just decoration either: some rooms contain hidden petroglyphs that tell more about the world and Gomez’s people’s ancient past. Rooms that look like simple areas with columns and pillars rotate to reveal posters, signs, etchings, and even QR codes that translate into secret messages.
The details are outstanding too: tiny bits of water bounce off of invisible platforms in rainy graveyards and birds, snails, and bullfrogs inhabit areas in ways that seem completely natural. Rotating owl and skull statues, black holes and transdimensional tears, hidden doors, and fountains all make up a really interesting world that I wanted to take my time and absorb as I passed through.
Corey and I recently went to see Indie Game: The Movie (which is excellent and you should see it) and there was a section where Phil Fish (the creator of FEZ) talks about the experience of creating the visuals. As time went on, his ability to design with pixels improved and part of the reason the game took so long to come out was because he’d completely scrap the visuals and start them over again.
The audio in FEZ is excellent. There is excellent ambient sounds for the flora and fauna as well as the wind and weather effects. The music is really well done and doesn’t seem out of place or tacked onto the gameplay. In fact, if you’re a big fan of the music, Polytron Corporation is making the soundtrack (by DISASTERPEACE) available for purchase. And in the interim they’re releasing free samples.
If you’re a fan of indie games, FEZ is for you. It’s well-made, well-designed (by Canadians, no less!), and well thought out. The amount of gameplay in FEZ will keep you messing around with it for hours and that’s just to see the end (and to figure out what that bell does). If you’re like me, you’ll want to spend a lot of time just slowly going through the world and admiring all the little touches that make up the FEZ experience. It’s an excellent platform/puzzle game and it’s the type of game that is a shining example of how indies can contribute perhaps more meaningful gaming experiences to the landscape than some of the heavy hitting companies.
Buy it, you should.