Over the last week I’ve been playing and greatly enjoying the retro-gasmic puzzle platformer named FEZ. Anyone with a nostalgia for 8-bit art really needs to check this one out. Until recently it was an xbox exclusive, but last week it came out on PC, so it’s acceessible to just about everyone now.
What’s great about this game? Visuals and sound. Atmosphere. The music–enchanting. At times it really took me back to a place from my childhood when videogames, despite the simplistic graphics, were straight-up magical portals into mystic lands. There’s been many points at which I had to stop and just take in the music. From a production standpoint it’s interesting too. Sometimes it’s clean synths; sines and square waves. Then they apply some bitrate reduction to that and it sounds like an Atari glitching up, in a good way. (The artist who produced it, Disasterpeace, is a well known chiptunes artist.) Sound effects are spot-on too. When you open a locked door there’s this noise that’s like holy crap, we are unlocking some real serious stuff here.
And dat art design! Wonderful, colorful pixelated graphics. The effect when you warp: super rad. Levels change between day and night. Little birds fly around. 8-bit inchworms. Waterfalls. Then the elephant in the room: you’re in a 3D world which can be viewed from 4 different 2D perspectives. You keep rotating until you can get where you want to go, a concept which is much easier seen than explained. This simple mechanic is the foundation of a fantastic platformer. At it’s root, this is a good GAME.
If I had one criticism, it’s that there isn’t enough dialog, aka there’s not much of a story. The worlds are mostly devoid of others to talk to, and your helpful hypercube companion only chimes in very occasionally. Some strangers telling tales or runes with ancient lore written on them would deepen this universe considerably. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP had that in spades, but with much more “casual” gameplay mechanics. As a friend of mine who loathed “Diablo” once said, “all you do is click on shit!”. FEZ has some challenging jumps–and thankfully if you die it just takes you back about 2 seconds. NICE. Somewhat reminiscent of the ‘rewind’ from Braid.
Level design is also pretty unique. There’s a 3D map which helps you keep track of where you’ve gone and how to get back to previous levels. So far I’ve been breezing through and collecting all the cubes has been a cinch. But I get the creeping sense that if you wanted to complete this game 100% it would be dastardly hard… indeed reviewers have confirmed as much. For every cube, there is also an “anti-cube” (colored blue instead of gold). So far I’ve found 18 cubes and 2 anti-cubes, which begs the question, where the heck are all the anti-cubes? Then another question, do I even want to know? There is a complex-looking system of hieroglyphs in the game which presumably must be decrypted to find out. We’ll see about that. There’s some kind of funky secret thing going on with the owls too.
One little detail I love is that the loading screen for this game is that of a rotating tesseract. Like the characters inside the game, who can only see in 2D, we are restricted to seeing in 3D. A tesseract is a 3-dimensional shadow of a 4-dimensional object, just as a square is a shadow of a cube. THAT gets your mind thinking.
Anyway, if you dig retro platformers, this thing is a slam dunk. On fire. Stop reading this and go buy it now, it’s like $9 on steam. You can thank me later. Enjoy!