The lights are on
Fez begins much like any other 2D platformer. The rules
governing the game world are made clear to the player, who in turn learns the
vocabulary quickly. One can only jump so far, green vines can be used to
traverse a single wall, and falling too far will result in a respawn on the
It is only when the protagonist Gomez dons the titular hat
that the rules of platforming are almost completely negated. Wearing the fez,
players can rotate the camera around an axis, revealing that the 2D world is
not exactly 2D after all. Platforms that were previously out of reach are now
connected to a nearby bridge. New doors and patrons are visible on the flip
side of the village, allowing the player to access other areas of the game
world. Gaining a new perspective on various situations in Fez opens up
solutions to platforming and puzzles alike.
I spent as much time as I could exploring the protagonist's
hometown, and every subtle nuance the new gameplay mechanic revealed. However,
once I traveled beyond the confines of this small map, it was clear just how
much fun there is to be had in Fez. From towering lighthouses to dank,
rat-infested sewers, every environment imparted a new sense of wonder and
adventure. The music itself differentiates each new branch of the map from the
others, and acts as a love letter to games like Zelda and Mario. Much of the
driving force behind the game comes from obtaining access to new areas, even if
it means constant backtracking.
Every new area holds cubes and anti-cubes, essentially keys
to unlocking unexplored dungeons and environments. While cube bits lying in
plain sight offer easy access to the yellow variety, some of the most devious
puzzles reward the player with anti-cubes. These dark
versions of the normal ones can be obtained through several different methods.
Whether it be deciphering the language of the ancients in order to read the
writing on the walls, or guiding an explosion around the perimeter of a tower,
changing perspective every time the fire has no place to go, the player's mind
will constantly be challenged. Some of the game's most captivating puzzles are
either too big or too obvious to recognize at first glance, but constant
learning and exploration will often times come to fruition. However, a handful
of the puzzles can be too enigmatic. I have no problem with turning to a friend
for advice on the last few cubes, but some of them almost demand that you
consult an online guide.
I touched lightly upon the backtracking element of the game,
and this is another area where developer Polytron could have streamlined a few
aspects. The world map is shown as a 3D web of interlocking worlds, and works
well with the idea of perspective, as you can rotate it any which way.
Unfortunately, the map does little to help with navigation seeing as how the
entrances and exits to areas aren't indicated clearly. This leads to trial and
error, when the player spends more time in transition than in the actual worlds
themselves. The nebulous map has a solid premise, but weak execution when it
comes to design. I wish that it hadn't, but the arduous process of traveling
sapped a little bit of the fun out of the engaging puzzle-solving.
For all of its frustration, Fez never ceased to amaze me as
I discovered new ways to tackle a puzzle. Three segments of a ladder rest on
separate walls when Gomez's back is to the player, but rotate the screen 90
degrees and they become one ladder on the side of a singular wall. After
deciphering a Rosetta Stone passed down by the ancients, the writing on the
wall instructs the player to rotate the screen in different directions until an
anti-cube appears. While there is little back-story in Fez, I had absolutely no
problem ignoring that fact. The origins of the hat's powers are unclear, but
the immediate possibilities are almost endless.
Fez is a game that takes a minute concept and expands it
into a fully realized project. Without the different vantage points, it is just
another simple 2D platformer. Add another three planes and a rotating camera,
and you have one of the most engrossing mechanics in any game to date. As the
journey with Gomez comes to an end, your perspective on his world will
inevitably change. The most astonishing fact is that it will affect your
perspective on video games in the same way.