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Fez (Xbox 360) artwork

Fez (Xbox 360) review

"Hats off!"

Fez (Xbox 360) image

Future generations likely won't comprehend the connection between video games and spiral notebooks. In the early '90s, I kept several of the latter on hand: one for passwords, a couple for clues buried within numerous adventure titles and RPGs, some for helpful hints that I had copied from Nintendo Power and the like, and even one for my earliest (and sloppiest) reviews. My recent jump into the combat-free "Metroidvania" title Fez revived the notion of keeping some scratch paper handy. Sure, I had Google and GameFAQs at my disposal for dealing with the game's myriad riddles, but that would have robbed me of the pure elation that comes with utilizing scrawled jottings to solve a tough puzzle.

Typically, puzzles manifest as anomalous runes inscribed on walls, monoliths, moveable blocks, or even the floor beneath you. At first glance, you might dismiss them as part of the game's lore, perhaps left by an ancient civilization. It's not until you examine posters and chalkboards found throughout the world that you discover that these symbols actually serve two purposes: as an alphanumeric system and as a means of conveying button combinations. One room, for instance, contains a collection of eight pieces of paper posted on the surrounding walls, each with a pair of characters on them pertaining to a number and a particular button. After some of your neurons fire, you might realize that the posters are telling you to press buttons in a certain order, thereby revealing one of the many collectible items required to conquer the campaign, that of a large cube.

Fez (Xbox 360) image

You see, Fez is not about linear advancement through the game's terrain in the hopes of reaching some vague goal. Its objective instead involves gathering massive golden cubes, tiny pieces called "cube shards" (which are one-eighth of a cube), and tricky-to-locate "anti-cubes." Uncovering the whereabouts of these items can be trying at times, because Fez is not your garden variety 2D platformer. Rather, the game features a unique ability that allows you to rotate its 2D environment ninety degrees, revealing a previously unseen plane. In this way, you can examine the sides of structures and land formations that would ordinarily be flat, take a gander at the walls in a chamber, or shift the position platforms in your vicinity, thereby changing their apparent placement.

Of course, the cubes aren't all lying in a neat pile awaiting your grubby little hands, but are instead hidden throughout Fez's odd world composed of rooms, corridors, and regions that are all interconnected by a series of doors. These, as you might have guessed, lead you to additional pathways, which in turn bear even more portals to leap through. Eventually you'll pass through enough doorways that you'll either end up at a dead end or a warp that sends you back to the beginning of a zone (usually with a few more collectibles in your possession).

If you're the kind of person who hates "getting lost simulators," then Fez is probably not your gig. If, however, you're like me and you enjoy crazy amounts of exploration, then you might find the game to be zen-like. I love entering a room and finding so many divergent paths and branches that I don't know what to do with myself. I sometimes long for the anticipation that comes with a newly discovered gateway and wondering what lies beyond it, almost as though I'm eying a present. Thanks to its rotation gimmick, Fez sports scores of doors, so you can tell where I stand in terms of the game's exploration factor.

Now, bear in mind that I'm not saying I instantly fell in love with the game's tremendous and convoluted world. As it turns out, there was one moment in which I pulled up the map and... well... this greeted me:

Fez (Xbox 360) image

To say that Fez's map "takes some getting used to" is an understatement. Personally, in my playthrough I thought I would fare better with one of my toddler's scribbles as a guide than I would with that confusing 3D jumble of boxes and lines. However, I didn't let the map screen's intimidation factor abate me. I pressed on and eventually became accustomed to using the map to get where I wanted to go.

Unfortunately, the map isn't entirely stable. I've had some issues with the game crashing as I summon the map, usually in busy regions. The area that was the most troublesome for me was a cemetery, complete with lightning flashes, flapping ravens, and steady rainfall. It seemed that processing all of these effects in addition to bringing up the map proved too much for the game, and it would thus freeze. Were it not for Fez's autosave feature, I probably would have rage quit at that point. Thankfully, this glitch didn't bother me too often, but it did occur consistently enough to demean the game's quality a tad.

Fez (Xbox 360) image

I guess I could gab about Fez's visuals, but I don't see the point. I'm not saying they're terrible or anything, but pixel art is so overdone these days that it would take a monumental feat to warrant any acclaim. If there's anything positive to say about the game's purposely antiquated graphics, it wouldn't be so much about the art design as their vibe. Fez visually nails the retro style, but doesn't force it in your face or present it as the main attraction. You don't see many borrowed sprites or overt homages to older games, and for that I'm thankful. Instead, Fez mostly stands on its own feet, inventing its own set of characters and environments.

If there's anything about Fez's vintage attitude I truly appreciate, though, it's the way the game brought back the concept of an adventure brimming with well buried secrets. I dug fishing out a spiral notebook and penning whatever leads I could spot, and it almost saddened me to return the pad back to its home at the bottom of my desk drawer. I also admire that the game eschewed both a long-winded narrative and a hand-holding campaign, similar to the adventure games I grew up with. If you're up for a semi-retro quest packed with difficult puzzles and oodles of exploration, then I say give Fez a try. Just don't expect any epic battles or easily readable maps.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (December 10, 2014)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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