GDC '08: Fez Hands-On

We stop by the Independent Games Festival Pavilion at GDC and get our hands on this 2D platformer with a 3D twist.

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SAN FRANCISCO--The IGF Pavilion at the Game Developers Conference has traditionally been a great place to find some of the most creative and unique games out there, and this year's is no different. Among the indie games on display is Fez, a charming platformer that quite literally turns 2D platforming on its side, and then some.

You play as Gomez, a fez-wearing two-dimensional critter that discovers--after some guidance from an eye-patch-adorned friend--that his world has a third dimension. With the newfound ability to rotate his 8-bit world, he sets off to explore it in search of more hats. After all, as a sign in the game points out, "Hats are great!"

Built with Microsoft's XNA development tools, Fez is designed to be played with an Xbox 360 controller, which makes navigating the world a snap. Using the triggers, you can rotate the camera to the left or the right, which drastically alters the two-dimensional playing field and lets you access areas that were previously inaccessible. This power can be used as many times as you like for as long as you like, though there are some restrictions. You can't rotate the world if you're in an enclosed space or would collide with an object, and if you rotate the world so that Gomez would not have any solid ground underneath him, he will yelp in surprise and force you to rotate back.

Meet Gomez. He likes hats.
Meet Gomez. He likes hats.

The single level playable on the floor is a massive vertical climb that begins with some floating, grassy platforms and culminates in a mountain-like tower. The progression from one platform to the next seemed almost puzzle-like in nature, considering that it often required experimentation with world rotation in order to figure out how to proceed. Gameplay was simple and laid-back, and with no enemies to avoid, the only hazard to fear was gravity itself, given that falling from any considerable height resulted in your demise. Upon collecting all the hats to be found and arriving at the top of the level, Gomez hops onto a mushroom and levitates on a rainbow out of the world, presumably to continue his hat-collecting adventure at another location.

The visuals of Fez are bright, colorful, and very retro, with an 8-bit pixel art style. Gomez himself is adorable and is surprisingly expressive, from the way he hangs from the side of a ledge to the way he reacts when smacked in the face by a wall when a rotation goes badly. The music is soothing, minimal, and suitably retro, as are the sound effects.

The version of Fez that was playable is the result of three months of hard work by a three-man team based out of Montreal, Canada and Tokyo, Japan, and is only the first step toward a final product. They did mention that there had been some discussion over distribution, but retaining their IP ultimately seemed to be their highest priority, and so nothing has been decided on. We'll bring you more information on Fez when it becomes available.

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