(Fez is out now on Xbox Live Arcade at 800 MS-points)
Old school, retro, classic, timeless what do these words mean to you and do you sometimes miss the way older games did things? Maybe Fez here can help fix that. Made by Polytron (well mostly by one man named Phil Fish), this Xbox Live Arcade game isn’t for everyone – but – for those who miss/loved those non-linear platforming games from the days of yore like Kid Icarus and Blaster Master or even new age versions like Cave Story and Outland you should really consider checking this title out.
With its retro 16-bit look (which it pulls off very well) and the old school platforming Fez has a nice new trick that old games never had; which is the fact that you can shift the cameras perspective between different angles in 3D, although the game always remains in 2D. Now this idea has been done before somewhat in a few other games like Super Paper Mario (Wii), Echochrome (PSN) and a little known game called Crush from the PSP, the only thing I say Fez does better than those titles is the feeling of being a lot more developed in terms of this idea and additional old school exploration gameplay. This manipulating the world between different 2D views using a 3D effect is not a gimmick, the whole game has been designed around this idea.
You not only use this shifting to reach locations and items that where once unreachable from a previous different viewpoint, it is also used as a key element in Fez’s story. Seems our little protagonists who goes by the name Gomez (and looks like one of those big-headed-grey-skinned aliens that are always seeming to be abducting peoples in the Midwest) is the only one in his world who can seem to move through the world in this way and its pretty much up to him to save his dimension by using this skill to do things like collecting power cubes in order to keep his (2D) reality in check. But now this 2D/3D shifting mechanic is only a part of Fez’s greatness. In a somewhat more important respect, Fez plays like a love letter to all of us that miss and want two things out of our gaming today that has been lost; gameplay autonomy and otherworldliness.
The first (gameplay autonomy) is present in the fact that there is no real hand holding or “how to” tutorial here; the game pretty much assumes that you’re a gamer and that you’ve played a few 2D platforming games before. Now at first you’ll see the occasional pop-up telling you which buttons do what action, but that’s not what I’m really talking about. What I mean is the fact of how outside of those first few steps at the outset and once your told how the gameplay works your left to your own devices so to speak. It’s up to you (and slick level design built to guide you along – at first) to figure out how to navigate the world and find new areas as well as items. Most games now-a-days either do not want or can’t seem to do this at all. In most modern games the player is treated like a simpleton; being pushed along from one point to the next all the while having to deal with endless pop-ups telling you things you should already know like how to walk/run or how to press start.
The second great thing Fez does which a lot of modern games seem to have lost is have lots of good otherworldliness in its world and themes. The extraterrestrial like ambience is something that was present in almost every game up until the modern era or having almost every game trying to be another Need for Speed or Call of Duty. When you look back on the history of gaming you can notice that every big name and beloved game from gaming past is set amiss a back drop of a world which is almost nothing like our own. Think about it … Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Metroid. Part of the allure in these games was learning about as well as exploring the oddities in these worlds. Today this is partially one of the reasons why some titles that still offer this experience like Bioshock and Skyrim are so popular. Well guess what, it seems Fez here is one of those few modern games trying keep this idea alive. The idea that not everything in a game you play has to be ripped from the real world; that there is still room for almost child-like (in a good way) imagination and wonder in your gaming life.
So Overall I’d say if you want/miss all these things in a game or at least want a small vacation from all the big budget over-the-top titles, then at least download the demo of Fez and check it out. Yyou might just find something you really like.
[Special note about the Fez demo: The game's start is not exactly like the one shown in the demo. The demo somewhat fast forwards you to another early part of the game so you can get a better feel for the overall gameplay. It also simplifies the story immensely so you can take it in much quicker.]
Written by: Nemesis Legion