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Thoughts on Fez

I recently completed a play-through (actually nearly two play-throughs) of Fez, so I thought I’d write a bit about my experience. I’m a big fan of platformer puzzle games in general, so I knew eventually I’d get around to playing this game, and I knew a bit of the history of its development after watching Indie Game: The Movie.

 

A "Blade-runner- esque" region of the Fez world.

A “Blade-runner- esque” region of the Fez world.

 

Opening bugs

First, I’ll start off with the poor “out of box experience” I had. Right off the bat the frame rate drops were extremely noticeable. Chug chug chug. And the first scene had several speech bubbles that keep re-laying themselves out, making it difficult to actually read the text. I can understand the occasional bug like this well within the game, but I have to admit it was pretty surprising seeing this as an opening experience. Usually you try to polish up that nicely.

 

Text re-laying itself out as it floats around the screen.

Text re-laying itself out as it floats around the screen.

 

I was playing the trial version, and when it expired it seemed to give me the option to continue my progress in the paid version. I purchased the game (as I had always planned to do), and any progress I’d made seemed to have been lost. However – later it seemed to me that the trial wasn’t actually identical to the beginning of the game, so I guess I can understand this. At the time though, it seemed like another bug.

I was a bit dismayed at all this. However, as I began to play the game, I didn’t notice too many other glaring bugs. I quickly got used to the frame-dropping so it wasn’t so noticeable.

And actually, having played through the game almost twice now, I haven’t hit any deal-breaking bugs. I’ve had the game freeze up the Xbox 3 times (required a hard reboot) – but I suppose over maybe 12 hours of game play that isn’t too bad.

Puzzles

I wasn’t really sure what to expect here. I knew the game was classified as a puzzle-platformer, and had a cool rotation mechanic. But I’d also heard people claim that Fez wasn’t really a game – just a relaxing environment to walk around in.

The truth is somewhere in between. While it isn’t Braid or Portal when it comes to mind-expanding puzzles, it is definitely its own unique “thing” that works.

The rotation mechanic around which the game… revolves… is neat at first. I had a number of “oh cool” moments. During the first hour or so of the game you are exploring this mechanic.

But after that… it fizzles a bit. There were a few spots later in the game where something sort of new happened. I remember a screen with ladders that took a few minutes to puzzle out. And another where you needed to perform a rotation while in mid-air. I had actually been waiting for that puzzle – it seemed like a natural progression (although I think this was on my second play-through, so it wasn’t necessary to complete the game). In general though, you are rarely left contemplating how to get to a particular place to grab a cube (or treasure, or whatever). Things are generally pretty obvious.

Instead, the game throws things at you that are thematically related to the mechanic, but only tangentially related in terms of puzzles. For instance, the platforms that rotate (essentially this just makes them get bigger or smaller). Or the twisty levers that raise and lower. Some are not related at all (platforms that rise and fall on their own). Some do offer some genuine new puzzles (particularly the twisty levers that rotate blocks and put them on a timer when they will rotate back). Some just test your precision timing, such as the platforms that rotate along the axis that goes into the screen.

Overall, the rotate mechanic seems a bit… thin. There isn’t enough depth in it (or else it wasn’t explored thoroughly enough) to fill a game. Luckily Fez “pads” it with enough other interesting content to make it all worth it.

Theme

Fez is held together with a strong theme. Cubes, and the 2d-3d transformations, are pervasive. This really helps tie the game together. The shape of the characters, the way the stars look, the 2nd/3rd level puzzles involving numbers and alphabets, the world map, the inventory screen. Everything just makes sense.

 

The inventory screen is cube-themed and uses the same rotation controls.

The inventory screen is cube-themed and uses the same rotation controls.

 

I think it’s really important for a game to do this. It helps cultivate a sense of “the world”.

The world

The world of Fez is fun to explore. I kept finding little hidden areas. “Missing” areas are generally marked on the world map. You know there is something there, but often you don’t have the skills necessary to successfully explore that particular section. Or you may know there is a room you have yet to explore – but you don’t know how many other rooms may yet branch off from that one. I missed the nearly the entire “water world” section in my first play-through.

 

Just a part of the Fez world map.

Just a part of the Fez world map.

 

Most regions are held together with common themes (common puzzle types) and common colors. This helps with navigation, though I still found myself having trouble identifying areas on the world map.

The game definitely encourages exploration, and it is quite big. There is a lot of stuff to uncover.

There are some very nice touches when moving between screens/rooms. I only realized this partway through the game, but when facing the doors you can usually see the place you’ll end up going in the background. You’ll see that screen/room floating hazily in the background, and it really helps give a sense of place (there is also a small preview in a bubble when you hover near a door, but these are often insufficient to identify a region).

 

That door will lead to the level that's floating in the background.

That door will lead to the level that’s floating in the background.

 

Second play-through

You can finish the game without really finishing it. That is, there is another set of puzzles and lore beyond the ones required to initially complete the game.

Unfortunately these puzzles are very different from the ones associated with the rotation mechanic. They are basically cipher puzzles, and it’s unlikely that most people will solve them without help from the internet (I certainly wasn’t able to). So they are not fun puzzles to solve. They are not puzzles that can be solved step by step. You either get/guess them or you don’t. It’s poor puzzle design, but I suppose its ok given that it’s really only necessary to accomplish new things in the second (or third) play-through.

It’s basically like an extra bonus game – but also something that helps piece together the lore of the world.

Conclusion

Overall, I really enjoyed the game. Evaluated based on its puzzles, I wouldn’t give it a great review – the puzzles were mostly either too easy, or too obscure. But the world the creator of Fez has created manages to fill out the game nicely and make it an enjoyable playing experience.

 

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