Small problems occasionally get in the way, but Fez has such intricate puzzles and enticing aesthetics that it's still an engaging journey.
- Inviting, charming visual design
- Varied and catchy soundtrack
- Challenging puzzles that require serious dedication to solve
- Novel screen-rotation mechanic.
- Convoluted map
- Unclear when you have enough knowledge to solve puzzles
- Performance issues.
First appearances can be mighty deceiving. Fez starts as a simple platformer in a brightly colored world. Within minutes, you don a magical hat that lets you rotate the world on its axis, revealing hidden doors and linking previously unconnected paths. A shift in perspective is just the beginning of Fez's quest to make you view the world in unexpected ways. There are mysteries buried within that only the dedicated will uncover. You may spend hours tromping through the inviting locales before it dawns on you that something greater lies below the surface, and once that thread becomes untangled, you find yourself exploring with a newfound purpose. It's this marriage of styles--of a pleasant platformer mixed with a cerebral puzzler--that transforms Fez into a captivating adventure.
The universe is tearing apart at the seams. It's a premise that could lead to a feeling of foreboding doom, but Fez shakes off this dour situation by infusing the world with a serene aesthetic that beckons you onward. You play as Gomez, a huggable creature with an oddly expressive face. He has a huge job handed to him: Repairing the bindings that hold the universe together. And he accomplishes this feat by traveling to a previously unheard-of place: the third dimension.
You can rotate the world in 90-degree increments. Ledges that were so distant you couldn't possibly leap from one to the other suddenly touch once you swing the world, and this basic concept is expanded upon as you go deeper into the adventure. Springing mushrooms rush under your feet, explosions tear at the weak points of a wall, and ladders magically fuse together. It's a marvel to explore the wealth of ideas this mechanic brings to life, but its appeal is short-lived. There's the underlying feeling that the main tool you use to manipulate the world is little more than a gimmick, a simple novelty, and this thought is cemented by the sheer ease of your adventuring. It takes only a bit of trial and error to clamber to new ground. So you peacefully climb ivy-covered walls and turn cranks, enjoying the sights without ever being fully engaged.
That's not to say the platforming elements are poor. The first few hours introduce so many concepts that you don't have time to think about how simple it all feels. It's when the new ideas become commonplace that doubt creeps into your mind. Thankfully, this black cloud is kept at bay by the pristine presentation. Fez is a world you want to exist in. It begins with a crystal-clear sky, green pastures, and peaceful inhabitants that make you grin from ear to ear, but Fez wastes little time before it changes moods. Thunder crashes in a rain-soaked cemetery, scaring you even though no enemies exist in the entire game. The music complements the visual style every step of the way. From charming to frightful and even melancholy, the excellent score pushes you through a wide range of emotions.
Charming aesthetics ensure there's always something going on in the background to demand your attention. In one stage, a turtle spins on his belly like a top, flashing the shiny shell that is the envy of the reptile kingdom. Birds perch on nearby trees only to fly away when you come close. An inchworm crawls along a small ledge halfway up a towering tree. There's an ecosystem in Fez that invites curiosity. You stare at the animals and wonder if they notice the galaxy crumbling around them or if they're just content viewing your silly antics.
There's more to the background than the quiet solitude of the animals. Enter a furnace room in town, and you see pages taped to the wall. There are shapes resembling Tetris pieces alongside squares with odd patterns in their centers. Why are these here? The same question pops unprompted into your head when you enter a nearby classroom. What do these esoteric drawings mean? Happen upon a neon-lit city, and a billboard of a creature that looks remarkably like Gomez has a giant speech bubble protruding from his lips. But the words are gibberish. Is he trying to communicate or is it just decoration?
These background images could be the key to revealing every secret that exists in this world, or they could be graffiti to keep your eyes occupied while you jump around. It's hard to say what meaning they hold, so you press on. Carvings on trees and in stone columns look familiar. You've definitely seen the ancient marking that circle a bell before, but where? And what does it all mean? There are secrets in Fez that take hours to decipher. Uncover a hidden map, and stare at its obtuse markings. Is it hinting at a treasure? Or just messing with your mind? And those artifacts, they must have a purpose, but what could they possibly do?