Available on: Xbox LIVE Arcade Only
We take a lot of things for granted in life. Being able to get up and pour ourselves a glass of clean water from the tap in the morning, easy access to the internet and the many useful resources therein, the luxury of sitting down and playing an excellently crafted platform game. Let’s think about the latter for a moment. In more innocent times, when there wasn’t enough power in computers and consoles to create immersive 3D worlds, platform games were ten a penny.
These days they are a rarer beast, and developers have to produce something truly special to make gamers sit up and pay attention. In recent years, we have had the pleasure of working our way through some truly memorable, extremely well-put together examples of the genre. The malevolent, monochrome beauty of Limbo, or the clever, time-bending Braid, the magnificent homage to days of yore that was the 3DS Cave Story remake, the surprisingly deep hack and slash titles Bloodrayne: Betrayal and Dishwasher Vampire Smile; and of course the old school charms of Super Meat Boy.
Sundance and SXSW film festival hit Indie Game: The Movie gave audiences a heart-rending insight into just how much we take things for granted, and how much hard work goes in to designing the best and most playable game humanly possible. It chronicles the efforts of the likes of Ed McMillen, just prior to the release of his widely praised Super Meat Boy, and Jonathan Blow, as he considers producing a follow up to Braid. It also finds Phil Fish just about to unveil his long awaited new project at the PAX Game Expo.
First hinted at all the way back in 2007, Fez has intrigued many a video-game expo in the past, even scooping individual awards for design over the years, and has had the likes of our very own Adam Cook salivating in anticipation. Sometimes, games with a lengthy gestation period can disappoint bitterly; such as recent busted flush Duke Nukem Forever. After this particular five year build up, I am thrilled to report that all of the work Fish has so obviously put in has been worth every second. This is a game that can sit proudly alongside those I have mentioned earlier.
Fez places you in the shoes of a lovably retro-looking wee chap called Gomez, who is one day inexplicably swept up and warped into a strange dimension, that he can only negotiate his way out of using a mysterious hat – the titular fez, that iconic red hat so beloved by Tommy Cooper, and of course the Ottoman Empire.
Ostensibly a 2D platformer, Fez has no conventional enemies to speak of, Gomez can perish if he falls into a pit or from a great height, and there are other environmental hazards to contend with. Die, and you are instantly transported back to the last solid surface you were perched upon. So far, so conventional, right? But the killer mechanic that sets this game apart from the crowd is a real show-stopper, that alters the way you explore your environments to seek out the golden cubes and cube pieces that allow you to progress. A pull on one of the triggers on your controller will flip things, and rotate the entire gaming world on its axis, making this more of a puzzle-oriented platformer.
Using the shift function can open up new paths, reveal hidden doors, and make previously inaccessible areas traversable. Later on, with standard platforming leaps and climbing up rope-like vines negotiated, new and more formidable obstacles present themselves to Gomez. Hidden platforms and secret rooms are one thing, and there are some utterly stunning inclusions such as QR Codes tucked away in the scenery. That’s right, there are codes you can scan with your phone, which give passwords needed to progress in the game. At times there are brilliant intentional glitches; where the game will actually reset itself. Touches like these are what makes Fez truly magical. Best of all, for me, was the wonderful sense of exploration and mystery. There is a basic plot, and a NPC chappie called Dot who banters away with Gomez throughout the game, however, you are never really sure why you are going after these mysterious collectable cubes, or just what is going to show itself behind the next door. You can find yourself in situations where you move through several layers of the multi-layered scenery, travelling as much as eight doorways-deep into the dense tapestry of levels. There is so much variation, such a variety of locales, every single one of them accompanied by its own quirky chiptune ditty, that you will invariably end up getting lost from time to time. There are only four ways you can rotate the scenery, and eventually the solution to every situation will come out in the wash. Besides which, getting lost in the beautiful, 8-bit style worlds of Fez is nothing but a pleasure; the stunning visuals need to be seen to be believed.
VERDICT: Lazy comparisons are going to be made with other titles that use similar mechanisms, Super Paper Mario has a vastly scaled down 2D to 3D switchover element, and we have seen some super dimension-shifting puzzle games recently with Crush3d, but this is no rip-off, it is a wildly inventive original IP that delights and rewards you at every turn. It demands to be played within an inch of its life – there are many hours of fun to be had from the main quest, and a New Game+ option once you have done so, which offers yet more twists and additions to the package. This is just 800 MS points, folks. Mr Fish has poured a little bit of his soul into creating this game, and dedicated five years of his life to get it onto our downloadable marketplace. It was worth the wait, and then some.