The resurgence of the platform genre can be attributed to the rise of the independent developer and the insatiable nostalgia of the modern gamer. “FEZ,” from the somewhat schizophrenic mind of Phil Fish, plays on both of those themes to construct an experience that is as mind-bending as it is accessible, even if its physics hold it back from greatness.
You play as Gomez, a marshmallow-looking protagonist. Our only clues to his existence are his two-dimensional build and his penchant for the drums. Early in the proceedings, you’re granted the titular “fez” by a nice old man who wants you to throw your entire world into a fit in order to save it. Once the fez is on your head, Gomez has the ability to shift the perspective, which the gamer accomplishes by hitting the trigger buttons of the controller. This causes the three-dimensional world to spin on its axis, revealing another two-dimensional plane that Gomez must then traverse in pursuit of yellow, phosphorescent cubes that will save the world from imploding.
That’s it. You now know what “FEZ” is all about.
But, like Texas Hold ’Em, “FEZ” will take you seconds to learn and much longer to master. Thankfully, trial and error is rewarded in the game, as falling off a ledge or a distance that Gomez can’t stomach – death in most platformers – simply ends in you respawning within seconds at the point where you launched on your last, unsuccessful jump.
The level design in “FEZ” is brilliant. You’ll never find yourself in the same atmosphere for very long, and well-placed “warp gates” that send you to hubs in the overworld keep things from devolving into monotonous back-tracking. In addition, “FEZ” is chock-full of secrets and collectibles that beg experimentation, rather than simply looking up the solutions online.
Where “FEZ” falls short is in perhaps the most important of platforming features, and that is in tight gameplay. Gomez’s momentum feels a tad off, and what he possesses in cuteness he lacks in responsiveness. Jumping takes a while to get used to, even to those who have wasted hours on Mario, Sonic and the like. “FEZ” falls well short of the other great puzzle-platformer of the past generation, “Splosion Man,” which features a protagonist that handles like an absolute dream.
Also lacking in “FEZ” is any sort of story whatsoever. You’ll complete the game and be treated to a trippy sequence that will cause your “Matrix” sense to tingle, but alas, there’s no all-important reveal to be had here (at least, not in your first playthrough). There’s a new game plus option, which is laudable. But without a platinum trophy, I really have no desire to go through the game’s seven hours again – even with the promise of puzzles that can only be solved the second time around.