It's a rare occurrence when there's this much hype being thrown behind a small, independently-developed title like Fez. Between the six years it's taken to develop the game, the awards it's won/been nominated for, and its spotlight in the critically acclaimed film, Indie Game: The Movie, there's a lot of hype and hyperbole being tossed around for Polytron's first title.
For anyone who doesn't know, Fez is a 2D platformer that takes a lot of inspiration from titles such as Super Mario 64, Metroid and Castlevania. At its core, Fez is a collectathon. You go around finding little golden cubes to assemble bigger cubes. You need 8 little cubes to make one big cube, and there are 32 big cubes in total scattered around Fez's gigantic world. Basically, it's like searching out stars in Super Mario 64, only in two dimensions.
Now where Fez gets interesting is with its unique perspective shifting mechanic. Every zone in Fez is rendered in three dimensions, yet you only see two of them at any given moment. With a flick of the left and right shoulder buttons, the world will rotate, allowing you access to areas you didn't see before or couldn't reach. Over the course of the title you'll constantly be switching up the game's perspective while platforming in order to find those coveted golden cubes.
If Fez is anything, it's a masterful achievement in level design. Every single zone, no matter how big or small, is breathtaking due to the game's visual style hearkening back to 8-bit classics and the game's shifting perspective mechanic.
Over the course of the game I never got tired of how cool/mind-blowing it was to rotate the game world and see its affect on land masses and platforming paths. This mechanic is definitely what keeps Fez feeling fresh from a design perspective.
Fez is also a much larger game than I had originally anticipated. It's not a straight-forward romp from one level to the next. Instead, Fez's world is a combination of a rabbit hole and a spider's web. You walk through one door and all of a sudden five new zones open up to you to explore. Therefore, you're going to be backtracking a lot over the course of this game as you try to find every last cube piece.
And this brings me to my first sizable complaint against Fez: the world map sucks. Because Fez features such a large and intricately laid out game world, developer Polytron gave players access to a map that updates constantly so you can keep track of where you've been and if you've found every collectible in any given zone (Again, think Metroid or Castlevania). The idea is a good one, but the implementation is overly confusing and a hassle to deal with. To be honest, it took me longer to figure out how the map works than it did to grasp the game's shifting perspective mechanic. This makes backtracking to previously explored areas more of a hassle than it should be.
While I'm focusing on negatives, Fez also suffers from some embarrassing technical issues. For starters, the game's audio constantly cuts out when you're transitioning from zone to zone (and even during play, too!). The game also crashed on me a few times, as well as threw me into an infinite death loop which forced me to restart in order to continue. Luckily, Fez saves often so I didn't have to replay much when this occurred.
Maybe one of the game's most shocking technical issues centers around how long you play. If you play for a few hours in one sitting, the load times in Fez get longer and longer. Transitioning from zone to zone is seamless when first starting to play, but then you start getting loading screens every time you walk through a door if you play for extended periods of time.
Technical issues aside, Fez is still an imaginative and worthwhile experience. Is it the second coming of the independently-developed video game? No. Maybe if a patch is released for the title that irons out its gaping flaws, then we can talk about how Fez is one of the best downloadable titles available on the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace. Until then, just take the game as something worth checking out to see its unique art style, hear its beautiful music and witness its impressive perspective shifting mechanic in action.
CraveOnline received one advanced copy of Fez for the Xbox 360 from Edelman on behalf of Microsoft. We were held to the embargo date of Wednesday, April 11, 2012, at 9am EST. Before starting our review, we collected 25 of the game's 32 golden cubes. Finding the last seven is going to be a pain in the ass thanks to the game's obnoxious map.