Fez Review: A Fresh New Perspective On An Old Genre

The universe is falling apart, and only you and your magical perspective shifting hat can save it all. Sound like a weird burrito induced dream? It’s actually the premise of Polytron’s debut game.

Available on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points, Fez is an open world 2D-ish puzzle platformer, where the titular Fez grants you the powers to solve puzzles throughout the various levels. We’ve given it a run through, and we’re ready to give you the lowdown.

Story? We don’t need no stinkin’ story! Well, that’s not 100% true. Fez does have a story. However, in the vein of most platformers, the story serves more as an excuse for the adventure than to drive it. So your character is given a magical fez in a dream, and set off to save the universe. Having lived in a 2D universe all his life, the Fez gives him the gift of 3D perception. Now it’s up to him to stop the universe from unraveling by collecting Cubes. What, you were expecting Shakespeare?

Visuals and Sound
Now this is an interesting topic for this game. The game is retro in style, so it is by no means visually impressive from a technical standpoint, except that it is. You see, the layout of the play areas are staggering in their design. Each room, each area is one or even several puzzles. Most of these dependent on precise geometrical placement to allow the perspective to dictate the reality of the world. It’s straight out of the mind of Escher.

Add to this a really well done soundtrack. In certain levels, gameplay actually coordinates with the sound, creating a great flow between the audio and visual. The tunes are simple enough, but certainly apt for each of the varied worlds, and there are plenty of environments to enjoy in the game, each with its own unique audio and visual quirks.

Now, where Fez really shines, is in its gameplay. If you enjoy a good brain teaser, Fez is the game for you. It starts out easily enough, and ramps up a bit as it progresses. Some of the later challenges are rather complex, and require a deep level of patience and investigation. Some gamers might find it too time consuming, so watch out. If you’re the kind of gamer who wants to 100% a game, then Fez will try your patience with some of its more cryptic puzzles.

That said, you can finish the main game fairly quickly. Anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on how quickly you catch on. The basics are simple enough though. LT and RT rotate the world, A to jump, Y for inventory, X is the action button, B is to talk and press Back for a Map. The first controls are the key part though, as you will need to tweak your perspective, rotating the world just right to solve most puzzles. You’d think it’d be mostly trial and error, but there’s a lot of spatial reasoning that goes on here.

However, there are a few issues. The smallest of which, is the lack of direction in the game. While it’s expected that an open world game would leave you largely to your own devices, it can become frustrating later in the game where you’ve found most of what needs finding, and you’re not sure where to go next. The Warp Gates and Map are initially also very befuddling, and can take some time to get used to. So you can expect to spend quite a bit of time lost. These are relatively minor issues however.

A slightly bigger issue, is the stability of the title. It tends to vary quite a bit. Issues can be minor, such as frame rate stutters. More annoying, like falling through the floor to your death. To frustrating, like being stuck in an endless checkpoint loop of death, or having the game crash. These issues aren’t constant enough to significantly detract from the game, but they are obvious, and need to be addresses. Luckily, it has been announced that Polytron is working on a patch.

Overall, Fez is a great game that completely lives up to the hype preceding its release. Not only does it have a charming world, but it has a truly imaginative and well executed gameplay mechanic. The puzzles are enjoyable to solve and get to be quite the challenge. It also has plenty of collectibles and content for those of you who wish to squeeze as much out of the game as you can, after you’re done with the main story. A truly magnificent experience, and easily worth the 800 MS Points.

Score: 9/10