REVIEW: FEZ

Oct
25

REVIEW: FEZ

FEZ is an amazing puzzle game that’s perhaps too cryptic for most people to fully figure out and unravel. It’s certainly stumped me.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-Player
Genres: Puzzle Platformer
Developer: Polytron Corporation
Publisher: Trapdoor
Release date: 1 May, 2013

First Impressions

FEZ was talked about as an amazing game long before I got it, one where I’d have to unravel a complex puzzle in order to complete everything. Having to keep in mind how rotating the world 90 degrees changes everything’s perspective and what you’re capable of doing one screen to the next lent itself to a great-sounding game I wanted to try for myself. Upon doing so, I can’t say I’m surprised by how many layers there are to the puzzle elements, though I really am at a loss for what I could possibly do beyond what I’ve already figured out by this point.

What even is a man without a fez?

Gameplay

At its best, FEZ will perplex and baffle you for a while, but as you start understanding how the game functions and what you’re expected to do, you’ll begin solving puzzles and fall further down the rabbit hole. This elation is contrasted by the bewilderment and frustration from FEZ’s most perplexing and mind-stumping puzzles. On many of the late-game puzzles and secrets, I admit to having no idea where to even begin, and I mean that almost literally. The map showing all the areas gives an indication of whether you’ve cleared it or not, but even within an area where I know I’m missing something, I can be completely lost as to where I should be looking so I can even try figuring out the puzzle. Some of this is made worse by the fact that although there aren’t many moves or mechanics that open up late-game, there’s a crucial one that could be hiding an important clue. Additionally, I may have noticed a hint or solution somewhere else in the game, but have no idea where it’s supposed to be used.

He gets it.

Since FEZ has a unique style and approach to puzzles, with no prior work from the developer to understand his mindset, I don’t think all of his intentions were conveyed clearly to us as players. I’m aware there are guides for all the puzzles in the game, but I don’t know if anyone understands where all the solutions were in-game, what the clues were supposed to be that connects those dots. Making a hard puzzle isn’t difficult, as all you have to do is tell someone to enter in the correct 6 digit password with the answer hidden ‘somewhere,’ which should be doable even without the clues because there are only so many possible solutions. Whether they can brute force it and get the solution isn’t the issue, because a good puzzle has enough of a basis that a person can understand the problem, work through the clues, and provide the answer. At the very least, have a semblance of what’s going on if someone else solves it and offers an explanation. With FEZ, finding the puzzle can be a challenge in itself, let alone figuring out what elements in the game are distractions and which are clues.

Anybody can find a locked door, but how do you open it? Might I suggest interrogating the bird?

Controls

The controls in FEZ center around platforming and rotation, and you can do so with either the keyboard or controller. I never had any problems with the controls responding properly. Moving left and right is done with the ‘D-pad,’ or ‘L joystick’ while climbing up and down is done with the same. You’ll jump with the ‘A’ button, and rotating the perspective 90 degrees either direction is done with the ‘R and L triggers/bumpers.’ Rotation isn’t instantaneous, but you can hold it down if you need to turn it more than once. ‘Y’ bring up your inventory and ‘Select’ brings up the map screen. ‘Start’ goes to the main menu. Much later in the game, you can bring up a first-person perspective by pushing in on the ‘L joystick.’

A young adventurer needs his rest.

Story

You control Gomez, a young lad who goes to speak with the town’s elder, who winds up giving you a nice fez. This innocuous hat winds up opening a whole new dimension, and your task is to learn what’s going on with the world and help establish balance. Doing so introduces you to sentient cubes, who want you to collect smaller cubes. Some are found pretty easily, while others require you to backtrack and use what you learn or find in one area in other parts of the game. What will happen when you do as the cubes wish? That’s just another part of the mystery.

Now if only Gomez looked as enthused about the adventure as the old man does.

Graphics

Although the deep levels of puzzles are the most impressive part about FEZ, I’d say the graphics are a close second. The environments are whimsical, colorful, and when you look closely, are drawn well. As you find new areas and sub-sections, these areas will develop a theme and aesthetic that creates a different tone for these locations. For instance, I find the place with the owl statues somewhat grim and eerie. Additionally, for the puzzles to work, every background had to be considered from the perspective of rotating the screen 90 degrees, and each setting fits into the next screen cleanly.

Considering how this perspective is available in every area is pretty mind-blowing.

Sound Design

Aside from certain events, such as rotating the screen, there aren’t many sound effects in FEZ. This leaves plenty of quiet moments for the soundtrack to play out clearly. The music in FEZ is varied, to help fit the different settings you come across. Some have a laid back, calming aspect to them, while others have a slow build-up and almost sounds ominous. The soundtrack is certainly a positive element in FEZ. Going back to the sound effects briefly, when you do find a cube or solve a puzzle, it feels especially triumphant with the accompanying sounds that play. This is a nice emphasis that makes those moments stand out.

For those who know the game well, this should look familiar. But isn’t something a bit off about it?

Pros

  • This game’s version of a map gives enough information that it can help you determine where you should be going next or what areas need to be looked over again. For instance, when you fully clear an area, it’ll have a gold border.
  • Finding a new area you overlooked before and solving puzzles that confused you earlier provides great “Eureka” moments that make solving puzzles so enjoyable.
  • Although FEZ includes platforming, it’s basically window-dressing for a gigantic puzzle.

Cons

  • Our minds are hard-wired to find patterns and meaning where none exists, and since part of playing FEZ involves searching everywhere for such clues or answers, it’s hard to know what falls into that category or not. “Those blades of grass… they’re spaced out in such a way that I could enter this in as an answer somewhere.”
  • There’s no way to take notes or place reminders in-game, and with how labyrinthine FEZ can be, it’d be quite useful. As would being able to teleport from area to area, instead of having to trudge from one place to the next.

Tips

  • If you want to solve puzzles on your own instead of resorting to a guide, you’ll want to take clear, detailed notes. Taking pictures with a smart phone would be helpful too.
  • Take an occasional break from FEZ, as sometimes stepping away for a short while will let your mind rest, with the puzzle being easier to work out afterwards.

Final Thoughts

FEZ is an incredible puzzle game that shows how creative and interesting puzzle games can be, even for those who wouldn’t consider themselves fans of the genre. I’ve seen many puzzle games that are nothing but the puzzle mechanic, and though it has its place, it reminds me of buying a book of Sudoku, word finds, or crosswords. Why play the video game equivalent, with so much potential for more, if nothing interesting is done with it? FEZ wouldn’t have any significance if it were nothing but a series of block-turning puzzles, and I hope others will be inspired by what was done here. I recommend FEZ, as well as whatever guide you use to solve the areas where it becomes too cryptic.

This will become a key hub for you to base your explorations off of.

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