FEZ | Review | Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Polytron
  • Publisher: Trapdoor
  • Release Date: 14/04/21
  • Price: £12.59 / $14.99
  • Review code provided by Trapdoor

Introducing: FEZ Review

Rumours of a hypothetical Z axis had made it into the school curriculum.

It’s been a long time coming, but Fez is now available on the Nintendo Switch. Originally released on Xbox Live Arcade in April of 2012, Fez has received critical acclaim for its mind-bending new take on what constitutes a platform/puzzle game. There is very little guidance offered to players before they are thrown head-first into the game (which I found particularly refreshing) and you won’t encounter a single “bad-guy” that needs to be dispatched in order to progress. The only real challenge is to somehow wrap your head around the intricacies of moving your avatar around a three-dimensional world, by alternating your perspective between one of four two-dimensional planes. If you’ve played other games that have flirted with this concept before (e.g. Super Paper Mario) and not felt out of your depth, then this is the game for you! If however you’re looking for a lengthy and multifaceted platformer, with truly tight and responsive controls then Fez will fall a little flat.

2D or not 2D – That is the question!

A magical and stylish artefact beloved by pixelated protagonists and prominent 70’s comedians alike.

Meet Gomez. He’s one of several cute, pixelated inhabitants of a flat, two dimensional world. The concept of a third dimension is completely alien to Gomez until one fateful day when he is visited by an actual alien cube that introduces itself as The Hexahedron. The Hexahedron bestows upon Gomez a magical fez (yes the Turkish hat made famous by Tommy Cooper) that grants him the ability to literally change his perspective and move within the theoretical third-dimension. Shortly thereafter, the Hexahedron shatters and scatters its pieces throughout the land. It’s up to Gomez to recover the fragments of the hexahedron and reassemble it. To do this he must make use of his new found powers to manipulate the world around him and progress through the now three-dimensional landscape.

A dimension of pure chaos

Navi, I mean Dot, is a constant companion that provides the occasional helpful hint.

When the game begins, Fez feels very much like your average, run of the mill platformer. Jumping is handled using the B button. If I’m being completely honest the jumping felt a little floaty to me at first, but once I had gotten used to it, I could move quite comfortably without constantly plummeting to my death. While we’re on the subject – if you do happen to fall, then you are instantly returned to the last stable platform you stood upon before you made that ill-fated leap. The A button is used very occasionally to talk to villagers or read signs. Every so often you will come across an object you can pick up, for example a block or a bomb, which is mapped to the Y button. Once you acquire the titular fez, it becomes possible to rotate the world around the hypothetical Z axis using the ZL and ZR shoulder buttons. It is no exaggeration to say that this feature quite literally adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay. Suddenly, a two-dimensional platform game becomes a three-dimensional puzzle game – the object being to progress from stage to stage collecting tetrahedrons as you go. If a jump looks too far, or tower looks unscaleable, switching your perspective can reveal a stepping stone or a climbable vine that wasn’t previously accessible. This gimmick is the raw genius of Fez and is constantly played upon in new and intelligent ways throughout the rest of your adventure.

Another point of view

The map of the London Underground has got nothing on this.

As wonderful as that all sounds, jumping into the third dimension can be a little disorientating at first. I found it was very easy to get lost when moving through a series of seemingly endless doorway that had me jumping between stages. You do have access to a map, as well as a Navi looking assistant called Dot that will offer advice, as and when required. The map can be a little challenging to interpret initially, but using it to navigate the world does start to make more sense as you progress through the game. The map will helpfully let the player know when they have picked up everything in each room. I did get a little tired of backtracking through completed stages to return to unfinished rooms. I felt that the game could benefit immensely from a fast travel feature that would allow the player to warp at will to any stage they have already visited.

Every so often, black hole squares that must be avoided will appear when entering a stage to make progression more challenging. If however you don’t wish to navigate around these obstructions, they can be removed simply by exiting and re-entering the stage. Every time I did this, I did feel a little guilty, but there were times when I just wanted to get from A to B as fast as possible and the black holes just felt like an annoyance rather than a challenge I wanted to engage with.

Anti-cubes are awarded for some of the games more demanding challenges. They function in exactly the same way as regular cubes, but they are usually far more difficult to acquire. More often than not, the solution to an anti-cube puzzle will require the player to enter a specific button sequence that must be translated from a cryptic, encoded hint, hidden somewhere within the stage. Interpreting the Zu language (letters and numerals) as well as the Tetris inspired button codes requires a degree in advanced linguistics to decode and fully understand. A Rosetta Stone of sorts is tucked away in an easily missable room somewhere within the overworld. Consequently, if the player is unable to find it, or does not fully comprehend its significance, it is possible that a large part of the game could go unnoticed, which is unfortunate.

Now flat’s what I call music!

An unusual compliment yes, especially considering that from their perspective they look like one-dimensional line segments.

The soundtrack to this game is a thing of beauty. Many of the tracks have a wonderful chilled out vibe that kept me cool, calm and collected whilst contemplating some of the games more challenging puzzles. I was so taken with it in fact that I picked up a copy of the entire soundtrack with is available for purchase through the game’s official website. There is little to no other audio to be found in the game, aside from the occasional sound effect. All conversations are text based but this is kept to a minimum.

The graphics are completely pixelated, which gives the game a timeless charm and style – a good thing too considering it is now nine years old. A day/night cycle is constantly rotating that will switch up the look of every stage as pixelated sunsets give way to starry night skies replete with tetromino shaped constellations. Cube bits make a sound and give off a visual ping when the player gets close enough. This makes it much easier to spot them when not looking in the correct perspective.

Pixel perfect

A completely intentional game breaking bug adds a charming dose of nostalgia to the experience.

There were no intentional bugs or glitches that I encountered during my playthrough. I use the word intentional because the beginning of the game includes a rather charming sequence that appears to cause it to crash and subsequently reboot itself.

The only minor complaint I have is that, for most of the game, the camera perspective is zoomed out super far. This is no doubt intentional so that the player can view the majority of the level to plan the progression of Gomez. I found that this could make Gomez a little hard to spot when I was playing with my Switch docked and sat a good distance away from my TV. It would be nice if the game included a zoom in/out feature to mitigate this issue.

Conclusion: Putting things into perspective

I really enjoyed my time with Fez. The core concept is incredibly clever but by the end of the game I had, had my fill of it. There is some incentive to replay through the game a second time, in a new game plus mode that gives the player the ability to view the world from a first person perspective. This is particularly useful when scanning the rooms for some of the more well hidden tetromino button codes. Completionists can look forward to gathering every cube and collectible if they so wish, but this is not necessary to roll the credits. Some elements of the game were mildly frustrating, but I can safely recommend this game to anyone who is looking for something more than just your average platformer.

PROS

  • Unique, mind-bending concept that is exploited in ingenious ways.
  • Interesting plot that kept me engaged right to the end.
  • Brilliantly orchestrated, relaxing soundtrack

CONS

  • Backtracking through previously completed levels can get tedious.
  • Navigating the overworld can be tricky at first.
  • Some the game’s content can be missed by less astute players.

Verdict

FEZ is a clever and unique twist on the 2D platforming genre that is certainly not lacking in depth.

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