As I am playing FEZ, I think to myself “There is no way I’m going to make this jump.” I know how far I can jump, and I know how far the other platform is. I cannot make it, or at least I perceive I cannot make it. But this is FEZ, where perception is everything. Distance is an illusion that can be altered by looking at the world from a different perspective. If I rotate the world, look at things from a different perspective, suddenly the other platform is not an impossible goal. In fact now it takes but a mere hop to make it over there. This is the world of FEZ where changing your perspective changes everything.
FEZ is the story of a ghostly looking character named Gomez, an ordinary two-dimensional person living in his two-dimensional world. His perspective on life is changed one day when a great secret is revealed to him: the world actually exists in three dimensions. A cube appears above him. Not a square, but a cube in all its third dimensional glory. This mystical golden block bestows upon him a red fez, giving him a fantastical new power. Like the fez bearers before him, Gomez now has the ability to rotate his environment and see the world from a new perspective. The buildings in his village now have sides (and backs) with doorways never seen before. New worlds suddenly exist where they didn’t before.
But something went wrong. The hexahedron (a.k.a that fancy mystical cube) fragmented, and its bits were scattered all across the world. Now it is up to Gomez to collect the golden pieces and reassemble the cube or else “everything will collapse.”
FEZ starts out as a simple platformer. You jump, climb, and travel through different worlds searching for the 32 gold cubes. The interesting mechanic of being able to rotate the environment adds a layer to the platforming that turns simple levels into complex puzzles. Two platforms may be too far away in one perspective, but rotate things around and they’re suddenly right next to each other. It requires you to think in 3D while playing a game viewed in 2D. You might need to catch up on your Carl Sagan lectures in order to wrap your brain around it. Once you get it though, you’ll discover it’s not only challenging, but it’s a lot of fun.
Then the moment happens when this game goes from something fun into something amazing. You realize that some of those pictures and glyphs drawn on the walls aren’t just random symbols but are actually part of a code. They are the solutions to puzzles and riddles scattered throughout the world, most hidden in plain sight. That is when I suddenly found myself jotting down notes and drawing pictures in a notebook like a code-breaker searching for the cypher that would be the key to solving everything. Symbols from one room would be the key to solving a puzzle in the next world. The beauty to all this is the game never overtly calls your attention to it. It’s all very subtle. It allows you to explore and discover these mysteries on your own.
One aspect that is very noticeably absent from the game is any form of combat. You don’t kill anything. You don’t shoot anything. You don’t have to jump on the head of an enemy to make it vanish. You will find no boss battles here. And you don’t die. Little Gomez can fall to his death a hundred times and magically be brought back to safety. It’s very refreshing. FEZ is a game about exploration and puzzle solving. It’s about changing the way you view the world so that you can get from one point on the map to another, and death just has no place here.
FEZ was originally released in April 2012 on the XBOX 360. A year later it came to PCs. It now comes to the PlayStation consoles as a cross-buy, cross-save game on the PS Vita, PS3, and PS4. If you’ve played the game before you know what to expect and there is probably just one question you want to ask: How well does it play on the PS Vita? The short answer is that it plays great. I know when a game is released without early previews or gameplay footage there is always a fear that something is wrong (especially when it’s a port to a handheld). The fear is that it has horrible graphics or the frame rate is so low that the game is barely playable. I’m happy to say that the team at Blitworks did a phenomenal job of porting FEZ to all three systems with a cross-save feature that works flawlessly. The game runs as smooth, and looks as good, on the Vita as it does on the PS4.
The game’s controls work really well. While the jumps might be deemed too “floaty” by some, I felt they worked just fine and had a sense of inertia you don’t find in a lot of platformers. The shoulder buttons work really well to rotate the world, and you can also swipe the rear touchpad to accomplish the same task. Everything is very responsive and never frustrating. The only hiccup I ever experienced was occasionally when resuming the game from a suspended state, it would take a few seconds before the controls would register my input. This usually happened when the game was trying to reconnect to the PlayStation Network, and it never hampered the performance of the game.
The visuals in FEZ are a throw-back to the 8-bit era with its pixel art that looks gorgeous on the Vita’s five inch screen. The worlds, while simple, are beautiful and breathtaking. And it’s interesting to watch the procession of time as day turns to night and the once blue sky becomes littered with stars (and the patterns of those stars just might be a clue to a puzzle).
The soundtrack features music by Rich Vreeland which takes cues from the game’s 8-bit style but is more modern and much richer. For the most part, the music is very light and cheery which provides a nice sense of ambiance to the world. This makes it all the more unsettling for the times when things get dark and the music becomes very haunting. It all fits the game very well. The rest of the sounds in the game are the typical variety you’ve come to expect in a game of this art style. Jumps are complimented with the familiar 8-bit bleep that we’ve heard countless times over the years, and the use of harsh static noises during an electric rain storm is particularly well done.
FEZ is a magical game. It is a smart game that has fun platforming, challenging puzzles, and an interesting core game mechanic that unites all these elements into something special. Everything works together to create an experience that is unique and breathtaking. FEZ is a modern day classic which creates a world full of wonder and mystery that is right at home on the Vita.
It is, without a doubt, one of the greatest games I have ever played. If you have not already discovered the world of FEZ, I highly recommend you do.