Number Four: Fez
Platforms: Xbox 360
Reviews: Giant Bomb, Joystiq, Destuctoid, IGN, My Review
Fez is just about everything you could ask for in an independently produced video game in 2012. Its vastly overextended development time – nearly five years – is justified when you see just how deliberate this game is in everything that it does.
Warning: the following praise may spoil elements of the game. If you haven’t dug into Fez yet, take my word that it’s one of the best experiences you can have this year with a console game.
Top-level Fez design feels as though Phil Fish had a checklist sitting beside his keyboard; each element matching the popular elements in a wide variety of indie games. Classic pixel art assets, a chiptunes-esque ambient soundtrack (that is easily one of the best compilations of music to come out this year, period), and a new design twist on retro mechanics are what makes Fez seem all the more quiet, benign, and unremarkable; the same recipe was attached to the Jonathan Blow’s Braid. And to be honest, playing Fez is no revelatory experience either. The platforming is a basic and the game carries no fail state. But this is just the skin of the orange.
The gorgeous sights and sounds fill the periphery as you receive the necessary cube collectibles for the first ending. But it’s the second playthrough, and the discovery that everything means something if you take the time to take notes and are methodical in your information-seeking approach. Remembering the deliberate nature of Fez will bring you to the first of many ciphers scattered in this world. The hieroglyphics have been speaking to you this whole time.
Fez rarely missteps, only sometimes assuming too much of the player, which is oddly welcome in an age where Mario titles will finish a stage for you if you die too frequently. Fez will give you all the information you need most of the time, but some puzzles, such as the impenetrable security passcode, can be somewhat off-putting, especially if, like me, you spent a could of hours trying to crack the code. And the map is plain bad, and doesn’t highlight everything available in a particular stage.
But given that we live in a world where GameFAQs can be open on a mobile device in seconds makes Fez’s puzzles easier to deal with. I don’t recommend using a guide to help navigate Fez, but a player can only be stretched so far.
I bought Fez just several days after it had been released, and the Internet at large hadn’t figured out some of Fez’s more cryptic monoliths. Part of the game’s magic was being there while strangers were working all hours of the day to break into the depths of Phil Fish’s mind, and pull out whatever it was he intended us to see. Being there for those moments made conquering said puzzles all the more gratifying. The reality is that now you can enjoy Fez regardless of your affinity for puzzle-solving, and that is both to benefit and detriment to a title that dared to think players could handle more than holding the left trigger and pressing the right.
Fez satisfies at every stage, from its aesthetic appeal to its puzzles, but it will give you none of these feelings without a significant investment. And that is one of the best things to happen to gaming in a long time.