After years of availability on other platforms, FEZ has finally made its debut on the PlayStation Network – boasting cross-buy and cross-play functionality, mind you. I had previously heard nothing but positive remarks and interesting anecdotes upon FEZ’s inaugural release on Xbox Live Arcade nearly two years ago, and had always hoped for a PlayStation release. Perspective based puzzles and 2D platforming are a favourite combination of mine, and FEZ was apparently the pinnacle of this concept. As it turns out, what I’d heard was right on the money.
You play as a creature by the name of Gomez; a little white being with limbs, eyes, a mouth, and not much else. That is until he’s given a magical fez. Where Gomez and the other inhabitants of his small floating village could only perceive two dimensions of their three dimensional world, the fez allows Gomez to see everything. By alternating between the four possible perspectives, the environment can be traversed and interacted with in ways otherwise impossible. Armed with his new magical/stylish tool/fashion statement, Gomez begins a search for golden cubes. Why? Because they open doors. Doors to what? More cubes, of course. It is a video game, after all.
Though there’s an inarguable lack of traditional narrative in FEZ, there is an interesting sense of mystery and discovery throughout. Markings on walls and ancient structures offer insight and understanding, but do so in an unknown language. Your floating geometrical companion points out the significance of certain things and ambiguously comments on Gomez’s surroundings. All of this builds an intrigue that is unrelentingly engaging. This mystery is never really accounted for, but it constructs an interesting world that was already inherently curious nonetheless. There’s little about FEZ’s story and environment that is meant to be “understood” by all, but with enough research and deciphering, I’m sure that there are still more interesting details to be figured out.
Rotating your way around this peculiar place starts off simple enough; you’ll find the side of a structure with a climbable path, rotate the world such that separate platforms form a staircase before you, and things of this nature. As soon as you get the hang of this though, you’ll come across more intricate mechanics. Rotating platforms to continue a chain of explosions caused by a bomb or going through a hole in a wall to exit one perfectly aligned with it on a distant floating island, for example, start to feel simple, despite how intimidating they are initially. This is one of the greatest strengths of FEZ’s design; the player is taught through experience rather than dialogue or instruction, and as a result, the natural understanding of the mechanics that is eventually achieved is rewarding and satisfying. FEZ is a “challenging” game, but I wouldn’t call it a “difficult” one. It challenges the player to think and learn the mechanics while giving them everything they need to conquer all they encounter.
If you do find a particular puzzle or platforming segment you can’t finish, though, you can always avoid it and come back later. FEZ is completely open to exploration; for better, and for worse. Returning to levels to find new paths made me aware of how much I’d improved since I last explored the area, but after a certain amount of exploring, the map starts to feel convoluted. The world isn’t laid out in any orderly way. In fact, it’s quite noticeably disorganised. There are five doors separating the levels in a hub-like room, but the great majority (I’d say 80% plus) of levels are accessed through one of these doors. It’s like having a massive street with a few scattered buildings on either side, then dozens of houses all squeezed together at one end. It doesn’t really make sense.
What makes this worse, however, is that you can only reach levels by specific paths. If you don’t remember the way to where you want to return, it’s a matter of trial and error. Going through every door until you stumble across the right one gets the job done, but it can also make travelling tiresome and uninteresting. As fun as it is to come across a new area, it was almost disappointing to see the map grow even further away from the easily accessible starting points. There are shortcuts in the form of teleporters and magic doors, but these rely just as heavily on your memory of where they take you, which, for me at least, devolves once again into the tedium of trial and error.
Looking past the unnecessary back-tracking, though, FEZ is a lot of fun to play. It controls accurately, runs smoothly, and each level is interesting and clever. The joy of viewing a previously unvisited area from all four perspectives and piecing together the paths you’ll take to traverse it doesn’t grow tiresome. The novelty of moving along different perspectives is ever-enjoyable, and even simple platforming segments remain entertaining. No mechanics are overused (outside of the various backtracking), and new mechanics are regularly added to ensure nothing grows stale. The quality of gameplay is consistent throughout, and the pace of the levels is near perfect.
FEZ is an admirably presented game, as well. The pixel-art style doesn’t stand out as original at first glance, but as soon as the world rotates, and the third dimension comes into view, it’s hard not to be impressed. It’s not especially beautiful or epic, but at the very least, I’d say it’s really cool. Though 3D is standard in modern graphics, the contrast to 2D means it has a significant impact. It’s almost as if you’re playing an SNES game that suddenly comes to life. The sounds of jumping around, bombs exploding, birds flapping their wings and doors opening are distinctly ‘old school’, even if it is artificially, and the soundtrack is suitable and enjoyable throughout.
It’s also worth noting the cross-play features of FEZ on the PlayStation Network. Several games have used this system before, but the implementation in FEZ is very commendable, and by far the best I’ve seen. If you’re signed into the PlayStation Network, you can be right in the middle of a level on your Vita, turn it off, and pick up right where you were on PS4. No syncing, no uploading, no specific saving methods. It just works, and it works instantly.
FEZ keeps classic platforming fresh with a modern twist. Each of the levels are thoughtfully crafted and well presented, giving players everything they need to learn and improve without telling them what to do. Exploring the open structure of FEZ is a lot of fun, but the amount of backtracking and guess work necessary to find your path can be considerably frustrating at times. However, with that said, anyone who enjoys 2D platforming is sure to be entertained by FEZ, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys thoughtful or intricate gameplay.