Fez is superbly cool – A fact that creator Phil Fish is well aware of. Playing like a cross between Super Metroid and Braid by way of M.C. Escher, Fez somehow mangages to make good on the overwhelming hype that has followed it since winning its first IGF award for Best Visual Design in 2008.

At its core, Fez is a game obsessed with spatial reasoning. In a world that is distinctly cube shaped as opposed to the spherical one which we inhabit, Gomez (the player character) is endowed by his titular piece of headgear with the power to freely manipulate the rotation of the world. Traversal through the numerous stages may seem impossible at first glance, but after a few rotations of the world and a few astute observations, the path usually makes itself apparent. Beyond simple tutorializing at the outset, Fez removes the training wheels almost immediately and throws you to the wolves.

Acting as Phil Fish’s commentary on an industry that has begun to cater exclusively to the lowest common denominator, the attitude accompanying the creation of Fez’s sink or swim game scenario harkens back to the design mentality of the late 80s and early 90s. With no real direction besides a few gated areas that you become aware of, aimless wandering throughout the beautifully geometric world becomes the top priority. Ok, so maybe I lied – Your main priority actually consists of collecting items place conspicuously throughout the numerous areas. Besides acting as a metric towards the completion of the game, these core collectibles are primarily used as a basis to further the player knowledge of the core game mechanic.

Beating Fez is easy, but truly completing it is another story. An almost requisite foray into the new game + is needed in order to unlock a vast majority of Fez’s content, with the additional puzzles becoming oddly disassociated with the ideas and techniques learned earlier in the game. Although it is hard to guess as to why Fish chose to abandon the spatial reasoning element of its puzzle solving, it seems likely the protracted development of the game could have something to do with it. Without this second meta-game, Fez would have been entertaining, but ultimately shallow. Instead of furthering the depth of the core mechanic either through more complex level design or additional gameplay elements, Fish chose to fall back on an almost adventure game level of puzzle design that makes the game feel incredibly disjointed.

Opposing the idea that depth is created through the introduction of radically different gameplay mechanics is another titan of the indie world, Braid. I can’t say that I found all the secrets in Braid, but instead of relying on esoteric clues spread throughout the game world, designer Jonathan Blow chose to make them all tied in someway to the core mechanic of time manipulation that the rest of the game is based upon. There is nothing wrong with Fish’s approach, but the bait and switch might be annoying for gamers expecting a straight forward puzzle-platformer.

I haven’t been able to crack the code of the last few of Fez’s puzzles, but I feel content in writing that they are interesting in design, yet flawed in execution. Whether it is due to the horrible map system, or the inane amount of backtracking, Fez does little to make you feel smart upon the completion of a particularily develish puzzle. The progression feels logical, but I can’t imagine that most gamers are going to give the same amount of time commitment to Fez as is needed to see the game to its true completion. Games have changed over the past 30 years, yet not all of those changes have been bad. Over tutorializing can certainly be seen as a soiling of “classic” game design, but it is hard to find fault with the player when a game does little to make a majority of its content readily apparent.

Despite having a somewhat less enthusiastic outlook on the game while well into my second play through (especially when slowdown, and loading problems persist), Fez is the kind of game that makes me proud to take such an interest in games. With the popular image of video games being fueled by games of the lowest common denominator, it is cathartic to be reminded of just how cool this medium can be.

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