The first thing I thought when I started playing Fez was: “Hey, I feel like I’ve played a game like this before…”
While most people would immediately spin off and think of Paper Mario, which I’ve read follows a similar mechanic and style as Fez, the game I was actually thinking of was Knytt, a freeware exploration game developed by Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren.
Like Knytt, Fez is all about exploration – journeying across different landscapes and settings, seeking out items and experiencing retro visuals that are as charming as they are amazing.
Unlike Knytt though, Fez takes these 2D retro stylings to a different level, and a new dimension – literally.
What’s in a hat?
Fez follows the story of Gomez, a being who looks entirely comprised of pixellated marshmallows, who lives in a very 2D world. One day, while scaling the heights of his village, he suddenly makes the startling discovery that there’s more to life than being flat.
Gomez attains the titular fez – the hat Abu wore in Aladdin! – which grants him the ability to shift his world around 90 degrees in 3D, giving him, and us, a new perspective on life.
The aim of Gomez’ journey is to venture into the world to seek out cube fragments that build up the golden hexahedron – which is as geometric as it sounds – to save his world from getting sucked into a looming void brought about by the sudden shift in dimensions.
Fez isn’t an action game by any measure – there are no enemies to battle and lives to be lost; the core focus of the game is platform exploration and a healthy portion of puzzle solving (mild, not spicy).
So you don’t get to kill anything, and there’s nothing alarming pushing you forward along the way – sounds pretty boring right?
Exploring new worlds
Well, you’d be wrong. What Fez manages to do extremely well is create a beautiful world for you to explore, where each shift in perspective reveals something new and delightful to see.
Rotating the world is endlessly fun, and opens up the game’s many hidden secrets. The world, while presented as 3D when rotating, is actually strictly 2D in exploration.
This means that while your spatial reasoning tells you a platform is actually far in the background, the 2D flattening of the scene means it’s exactly where it seems it is. Depth is not a factor.
Sometimes this 2D-3D-2D juxtaposition can be a little disorientating – something you may read as “Escher-esque” – as what was on the left is now on the right and vice versa, but it reveals more and more of the wonderfully-crafted world.
Among many of the things you will discover are doors leading to new locations, and where they lead to – who knows? The entire game feels like Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole, with each new location bringing something new.
From a waterfall paradise, to tree-top tumbling and haunted castles – you never know where you’re going next.
The game’s retro visuals are definitely its main strength. The overall presentation of the game is what keeps you glued to the adventure and implores you to push ahead.
That, and collecting things. Man, how we love to collect things. Hidden across the branching world are 32 cubes to find, as well as treasure maps and artefacts – and when you’ve gone and completed it all – you get to do it all again, with tougher challenges and riddles in the New Game+ mode.
Fez is just one of those games – and I hate to use this expression – that needs to be “experienced” more than played.
There’s nothing here that it expressly challenging or daunting – but at the same time, it’s probably more memorable that the countless shooters out there.
The looks, the sounds and the world you’re set to explore – like with the little Knytt I mentioned at the start of this review – will likely resonate through the years until, one day, you’ll come across another gem of an adventure and say: “Hey, I feel like I’ve played this kind of game before…”