Game Reviews - Reviews

Fez (Sony, Cross Buy PS3/PS4/PS Vita)


If you have watched the fantastic documentary Indie Game: The Movie, and I heartily recommend that you do, then you will already be intimately familiar with the notorious Phil Fish. The Montreal-born designer has gained infamy – deservedly, some would say – for his fits of pique and bilious rants against the games industry and those who work within it. This, one could argue, is largely a product of frustration borne out of the unattainably high standards he imposes upon himself. In Indie Game, we see a man trapped within a prison of his own making, struggling to complete a puzzle-based platform game whose finish line continues to elude him. It is heartbreaking to see Fish miss deadline after deadline, all boggle-eyed with mounting bills, fallouts with his minimal team and constant berating by the online community who view his unfinished release to be one of the greatest follies of the twentieth century. However, it is equally saddening to watch Fish behaving like such a heel: his temper tantrums and wingdings on Twitter are certainly not the actions of a mature, functioning adult, and his endless revisions are reminiscent of Tolkien rewriting Lord Of The Ringslonghand over and over and over.

On a happier note, Fish finally grasped his holy grail. His white whale was eventually harpooned. Fez was released for multiple platforms in 2012 to critical acclaim and, after what seems like longer than it takes Guns N’ Roses to record an album, now ported to the PS3. Immediately after loading up, the gamer can clearly see why Fish plunged himself into the mouth of madness making the blessed thing. The graphics are gorgeous, colourful and bursting with attention to detail. The foreground, background and textures hide allusions to classic releases such as Super Mario and The Legend Of Zelda. The central character Gomez, a little marshmallow man with the titular tasseled hat jauntily perched upon his head, is in the same vein of cute as Meat Boy or Tim from Braid. However, the game’s USP is the ability to rotate the world left or right, turning a 2D world into a 3D one, to solve conundrums and reveal hidden doors. This simple mechanic, in part borrowed from Super Paper Mario (Nintendo, Wii) changes your perspective, both literally and metaphorically. An unreachable portal on the other side of the screen all of a sudden becomes reachable. A key, bomb or other essential quest item is brought to your feet with a couple of clicks of the joypad bumper.

As with the best titles, Fez builds and builds upon this core idea, twisting the world into more elaborate Escher-esque dimensions and locations: caverns, lighthouses, secret tunnels, underground lairs and so on. Some of the puzzles are truly brain-bending but perseverance pays dividends. At times it recalls golden oldies like Sabre Wulf (Ultimate, Multiformat) and Dizzy (Codemasters, Multi) – you may find yourself sketching maps, jotting down locations of objects and oblique hieroglyphics.

There is also a very welcome sense of humour. Dot, ostensibly a guide in the style of Navi from Ocarina Of Time (Nintendo, N64), will openly admit to being clueless as to where to go next, and often provides as much direction as a fudge compass. There is, of course, an old school philosophy at work here: Fez makes no concessions to the casual gamer, choosing instead to force them to rely upon their wits. And there is a wealth of things to do – Fez is absolutely loaded with secrets to uncover, mysteries to solve, chests to open and glowing cube fragments to collect.

Unfortunately, if recent missives are to be believed, Fish has turned his back on the games industry, abandoning work on a Fez sequel and tweeting the cause to be “the end of a long, bloody campaign”. It is demoralising, not only because of the idea of what wondersFez 2 could have held, but because the business needs more characters like Phil Fish, crazy behavior and all. It is in danger of becoming a moneymaking machine, where few publishers take risks on innovative and eccentric titles which bring the player into a world of wonder. Fez does just that. Ross Thompson