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FEZ review read-along:
Think of FEZ as a puppy: adorable, approachable, simple to get along with, makes cute noises, and you can easily have an enjoyable time with it because it is so small and simple and new to the world. Aww look, the puppy gave you a hat and now it will let you flip it over onto its back to rub its tummy! You can rub all the sides of the soft puppy if you'd like! Wait, what is this on your tummy hidden between the folds of puppy skin? What are these symbols? Who put them here and why are they here? I downloaded this puppy over my Xbox for $10, did the makers embellish this puppy without telling me on purpose? There are more markings behind the ears! In fact, if I pet it backwards a keyboard extends out of the puppy's mouth asking for the input code! What does any of this mean?
Now I as the participator am left with a few options. I can either enjoy my puppy as the puppy I paid $10 for, or I can figure out what the hell any of the mad gibberish that some being of intelligent design has brought to me.
FEZ is not a puppy. It is more like one of those AIBO robot dogs as designed by Mark Z. Danielewski. It looks like a normal puppy at first but then it spirals down into a schizophrenic yet thoroughly planned out cybernetic puzzle cube in the shape of a dog.
FEZ is the first production of French-Canadian indie game developers Polytron. It was in production for about six years, which is a very important detail as it defines the intense level of detail of the virtually hand-crafted game. It is obvious that each pixel was handcrafted, each tone in the soundscape selected, and most importantly each puzzle within a puzzle delivered by lead designer Phil Fish. Unlike other games, especially indie games, that are restrained by time and resources, this has six long and painful years of development underneath it. As it is referenced within Indie Game: The Movie where FEZ's designer Phil Fish is one of the focuses of the documentary, Fish says, "It is hard when you are looking at it like THIS CLOSE!" As he mimes a screen really close to his face, "You can't see anything else. You can't even see the mistakes." So this holds a very special place in gaming culture for many reasons, the biggest being the level of depth applied to the game.
FEZ is a classic platformer ala the original Donkey Kong. However, this simplicity is complicated by a fez which gives Gomez, the main character, the power to rotate the world like a cube revealing three other 'faces' to interact with within the realm of a platformer.
HOWEVER, this depth is complicated by understanding the relations in space where two platforms may line up in one perspective, but then once the world is flipped they line up in a different orientation altogether allowing access to brand new areas.
HOWEVER, this application is complicated by cryptic symbols stapled all over the faces of the walls and structures that make up the FEZ world that create messages that can only be understood by fully discovering the world around the player.
HOWEVER, this discovery is further complicated by developing the cryptic symbols into language, thus completing the communication between the game and the player which finally manifests itself into a solution to a secret puzzle awarding you a secret prize and maybe even an achievement.
However… to achieve a %100 completion of the game as defined by the game's in-game percentage, none of this is necessary, instead the player is allowed to jump and spin to their hearts content without noticing any of these secret puzzles hidden throughout the game.
The beauty of FEZ is how it accommodates the player. There is no pressure to solve every puzzle or do every part of the game, but if you get swept up in decoding secret messages and decide to develop that full rapport with the game, there is enough to fully satisfy any cryptologist and computer scientist out there looking for a challenge.
Here is the bottom line:
FEZ, Phil Fish, and Polytron are delivering a gaming parfait. a light, cheap, deep, and sweet delight that anyone can enjoy without judgment nor exception and it doesn't come with any of that icky regret that an ice cream sundae or any other metaphorical frozen treat may come with.