GAME REVIEW: Fez
Fez is a platform jumper with an interdimensional twist, released by Polytron in 2012. In Fez, you are a marshmallow-looking fellow happily living in his little town of similar marshmallow-looking people until you meet a divine being known as the Hypercube which gives you a magical hat (the titular fez) which gives you the ability to venture into… dun dun DUN… the third dimension. Or, well, kind of the third dimension–more accurately a two-dimensional orthogonal projection of a rotatable view of the third dimension. Yes, yes, I know that’s confusing unless you happen to have a computer graphics background. It takes a little work to wrap your head around it, but once you understand it is a neat idea that lends the game most of its novelty.
Most of the controls are pretty straightforward platform-jumper, arrow keys to move, a button to jump, a button to pick up and throw items. Where it gets novel is the “rotate view” keys, one which rotates your view of the three-dimensional scene clockwise, the other widdershins (that’s counterclockwise for those who prefer less awesome synonyms). The view rotates by a quarter turn each press of the button. So each level basically has four different versions, the way you can see it from the four cardinal directions, and you’ll typically have to flip through all of them to do anything of value.
Okay, so far so good, this is where it gets a little confusing, a little bit weird, and what really makes this game worth playing–that thing I originally said about “orthogonal projection”. What that means is that when you are moving around the scene, you are not actually moving around in three dimensions. It’s as if the world, when viewed from this direction, loses all of its depth and smashes down flat into paper-thin width. The world doesn’t just LOOK flat in a particular view it IS flat for all intents and purposes.
This screenshot is the same room as the last one, and the player character hasn’t moved at all, just rotated the scene by one-quarter turn. Notice how in the first shot, the platform with the post is an easy jump from the platform with the tree? In the second shot it’s clear that the two are separated by too far of a distance to make in a jump. But the magic of the orthogonal projection is that you can make that jump if you look at it right. There might be various jumps that you need to rotate the view to try navigate through a level, often in a way that would be impossible if you had to navigate in strictly 3D.
Your quest in the game is to collect cubes which will help you unlock new areas in the exciting new broad world. You can find cubes and “cube bits” which are smaller cubes–eight of which form one of the larger cubes. The reason you’re doing this… I’m not totally sure. The Hypercube seems to be giving you a mission at the beginning when it gives you the magic hat, but it speaks in a weird cubic language that I haven’t figured out how to decipher. In any case, I expect it’s probably not anything too profound–the game is fun enough without needing an engaging storyline.
There aren’t any enemies in the game, and the primary danger comes from falling off bottomless pits or from too high a height. If you do die, there’s no real penalty for it, you’re just returned to the last solid ground you were standing on before you died so you can try to do better this time.
I like the look. Hardly state of the art, but considering the premise that the characters live in two dimensions it seemed kind of like a “period” game set in the pixelart era where there is a wider world out there but the ordinary characters can only exist in two.
Moderately challenging, trying to figure out the way to manipulate each level to work your way through it. Nothing pulse-pounding, but fun.
Light on story, but that’s not the focus.
Easy to play, basic movement controls, one button to flip counterclockwise one widdershins, one button to pick up or throw objects. You can save at any time, which makes it easy to pick up and set down at any time–when you load the game again you start at the entrance to the room but in most rooms that’s not a huge deal.
There are secrets to be found, including a full complementary set of anti-cubes, and I’ve seen hints at other secrets like translations of a cubish language that I was never able to decipher. The anti-cubes are much harder to find because they flash in and out of existence and they’re not marked on your map, so if you were interested in hunting them down I expect you could get quite a bit of extra play out of it.
Very fun idea, of the like I hadn’t seen.
I played for about 6 hours to get enough cubes to get to the ending–there’s more stuff to be found.
The game sells for $10 on Steam, which isn’t a bad price, especially if you think you might be inclined to seek out all the anti-cubes and other secrets. I got it on sale for a quarter of that, which was a very good price.
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