Fez (2012)

When looking for a nice and relaxing puzzle game to play over my spring break, Fez seemed to be the perfect fit. This indie puzzle-platformer has cutesy visuals, fairly simple platforming, and a unique perspective rotation aspect. What I did not know was that Fez is essentially two entirely different games. On the surface it is that adorable little platformer, but deeper inspection shows that Fez also contains insane cryptography and meta puzzles. The first playthrough of Fez is mostly simple platforming and exploration, but subsequent playthroughs reveal deeper secrets and hidden puzzles. Personally, I enjoyed the puzzle-platforming of Fez, but just could not get into the codebreaking and more “complex” facets of the game.

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The concept of Fez is that is a 2D platformer set in a 3D universe. You can rotate the screen to reveal different sides of each area, and this is necessary to make progress. This system is a little jarring at first, as it is difficult to wrap your brain around the 3D levels on a 2D scale. Additionally, things do not always work as they would seem to. Fez includes a lot of impossible geometry. Nothing here gets too complex, as most of the time you just rotate the screen to find the next platform to jump to. You never have to rotate the screen mid-jump or really have to think about the 3-Dimensional aspects. For the most part, progressing through Fez is a relaxing endeavor.

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The goal of Fez is to collect cubes, similarly to how a player would collect stars, shines, or moons in a Super Mario game. There is a total of 64 cubes in the game, 32 regular ones and 32 anti-cubes. Some of these cubes are split into little bits that you have to collect and put together. You only need 32 total cubes to reach the end of the game, and collecting the rest usually involves codebreaking and much more effort than simple platforming. Fez has a large world consisting of dozens of small areas that are accessed through doors between each other. The map is basically a giant spiderweb of interconnected areas. Finding your way between these areas and trying to locate any cubes that you missed is without a doubt the most difficult aspect of beating Fez. It’s easy to miss a door or forget how to get to a specific area. Some areas have ten or so doors, which all may lead to many more areas. Luckily the map details which areas you have fully explored, so you will know when you have missed something.

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While on the surface Fez is a cute little puzzle-platformer with some exploration and collectathon aspects, there are much deeper secrets to be found that unlock the anti-cubes. You can decipher secret alphabets and codes to open new doors and paths through the world. I messed around with these codes for a bit and honestly did not enjoy it that much. For the most part this aspect was just kind of tedious to me. You essentially have to go through the entire world again looking for any writing on the wall or any hidden secrets. Since you can only really do this with an item you get at the beginning of the second playthrough, you are forced to go through the game again just with a different perspective.

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If you enjoy really digging deep and searching for hidden clues, this may appeal to you. It’s just a fairly niche kind of puzzle that involves combing the map over and over. Keeping track of hints and codes on paper is something I usually enjoy, like when I played The Witness, but backtracking through hundreds of areas to track down hidden messages just is not my cup of tea. I’m sure many people will enjoy this method of replayability and secrets, but I definitely think that the codebreaking part of Fez is a more niche aspect. Nevertheless, I must commend Fez for facilitating such a unique style of puzzle solving and gameplay.

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Despite me not fully enjoying the deeper parts of Fez, the first playthrough was exactly what I was looking for. Fez delivers on 2 completely different experiences, both of which are well executed and will draw different audiences. The simple and relaxing platforming adventure was right up my alley, and the codebreaking parts of the game are sure to appeal to a niche audience. If either of these aspects entice you, then I definitely recommend giving Fez a try.

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