To call Fez a ‘labour of love’ could be the understatement of the year. Perhaps the last five years. Officially announced back in July 2007 - and with a difficult gestation documented in the upcoming “Indie Game: The Movie” – Fez was finally released on a Friday 13th.
The pangs of a protracted birth have been clear for all to see. Its creator, Phil Fish, has certainly endured a rough ride throughout, most recently attracting negative online attention in retaliation to some ill-advised comments.
Fez, however, remains a triumph of indie development; a testament to a dogged determination that has seen Fish stay true to his original vision despite so many setbacks.
The attention to detail in this title is astonishing. With its retro visuals and fuzzy soundtrack, gamers will instantly feel at home in this pixelated world. Scattered throughout the screens are homages to Sonic, Mario, Zelda and Tetris, but in terms of gameplay Fez has embraced a new way of thinking and cast off the shackles of its spiritual predecessors.
For starters, it is essentially free roam. There is no visible timer. There is no health bar or life counter to speak of. There is no inherent danger. Gamers who cut their teeth in the 16-bit era will immediately start trying to pulverise the myriad flora and fauna to no avail. When our protagonist, Gomez, does eventually meet his end, he will be instantly restored to the platform from which he fell.
At its heart, Fez is a 2D platformer evolving through the mechanics and technology of a 3D age. In a world made entirely of squares – and where cubes have not previously existed – you have to fundamentally redefine your perceptions when Gomez receives his magic fez, and thereby the ability to move between dimensions. When that blocky landscape first spins on its axis, it is certainly a novel experience.
Building upon that rewritten logic is the underlying principle of exploration and discovery. Suddenly the game world has increased fourfold. Previously inaccessible platforms can be brought closer with a pull of the left/right trigger. Progression can be realised when viewed from a different angle. Unseen parts of the screen appear and objectives suddenly become clear.
Whilst not overly taxing, most of the puzzles are satisfyingly technical. Day/night transitions across the levels are interspersed with some rather novel weather effects (which actively aid your advancement in the game). You can also move back and forth between levels swiftly and smoothly.
Ultimately, Fez is an enjoyable outing that should appeal to a wide audience. Younger gamers will be drawn to its retro chic; older gamers can revel in some much needed nostalgia without the stress and disappointment of actually revisiting titles from the 16-bit generation. Thanks to its complete lack of immediacy, this is a pick-up-and-play affair that will attract casual gamers and completionists alike.
Although, as with most indie titles, Fez is not without imperfections. I experienced several crashes and other players have complained of game-breaking bugs, but Polytron has reached out to the community and promised a patch to remediate these issues. Overall, the game does a good job of saving regularly, mitigating any risk of losing your progress.
“Reality is perception; perception is subjective.” - So says a character from Fez’s introductory screen. In many ways, this could be Phil Fish’s mantra. As an indie developer who for five years cited himself as ‘Guy Making Fez’, there have no doubt been many periods of self-doubt when he has questioned the reality of such an undertaking.
The fact that Fez is now on general release is evidence of his ability to hit the left/right triggers in his own life, thereby bringing his personal goals that bit closer.