Fez review for XBLA

Platform: Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Polytron
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: Leaderboards

I?ve been looking forward to playing Fez for quite a while now, like I suspect a lot of people have been, and I?m happy to see that the wait has paid off. It?s an excellent title that easily secures a high ranking in my personal short list of awesome XBLA titles. It has a few technical hiccups that keep it from securing the top spot, but what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for it through incredible design, with its delightful world, fantastic controls, beautiful sound, and brutal puzzles.

Fez keeps its overall plot simple, in true 8-bit fashion. You play as Gomez, a white humanoid of some sort whose current existence up to this point has been as a creature in a 2D world. A small turn of events reveals to Gomez that he actually lives in a 3D space, and the player is granted the ability to rotate Gomez?s world on its X-axis. Obviously this comes into play when solving puzzles in the world of Fez, and your end goal is to explore new areas, uncover secrets, and collect cubes in order to unlock new worlds to explore.

The game feels pretty laid back at first, with calm music, lush green scenery, and a pace that allows you to do pretty much whatever you?d like. Fez is devoid of combat, which is actually nice for a change. You?re battling against the world and its puzzles, and I honestly didn?t miss having an opportunity to stomp on something or someone.

That said Fez can turn into a nightmare of a game, but in the best way possible. If you opt to seek out the optional puzzles, you?ll be twisting your brain in ways you didn?t think imaginable. Fez has some underlying elements that are easily missed by a casual eye, in fact, you can ?finish? the game without ever needing to tackle the hardest elements found here. That?s a great choice though, as it keeps the game accessible and friendly to people that just enjoy the look and feel of the game, but don?t care for any extreme challenge.

But if you do decide to go down that dark path of trying to see everything the game can throw at you, be prepared to polish off that pen and notebook sitting next to your desk, because you?re going to need it. I don?t want to spoil anything here, but I feel like these hard puzzle segments are where the game really starts to blow your mind, there?s so much hidden in the world that doesn?t immediately jump out at you, that you?ll literally find yourself saying ?Wow? on every other stage you uncover. You can tell that the designer, Phil Fish, had an immense amount of love for this project, because it just oozes out of every moment in the game. And the end pays off in spades with an interesting New Game Plus concept.

Still, as I mentioned above, there are some minor flaws currently holding the game back a bit. One involves a constant stuttering effect, which seems to get worse and worse the more you play the game. I?m at a point now where moving from one stage to the next is like watching a slideshow of that stage load in. And when the game decides to checkpoint, which is frequent, there?s a noticeable pause that occurs. This causes me to miss some jumps, and can be pretty annoying. But the checkpoint issue also means I never really lose any progress, and if you happen to die or fall in Fez you literally just restart on the platform you were last standing on.

I did have a really early issue just a few minutes into the game where it locked up my console and forced me to reset the system from the power button. This only occurred once, but happened in a segment that actually masked the problem in a way that I thought it was intentional, until I realized I couldn?t access the menu from the guide button on my controller. Thankfully a full system freeze only occurred once for me, but I?ve seen it mentioned by a few people now where it happened in the exact same place for them, so it?s worth bringing up.

Hopefully some of the technical issues can be addressed via a patch, because other than those problems Fez is downright excellent. If you?re a 360 owner, you definitely owe it to yourself to check this one out. It?s worth the price of admission if you just plan to play through to the ending, but its value goes above and beyond if you really dig into what Fez has to offer. Even though the wait has been pretty long, I find myself incredibly pleased with the final result.

Grade: A-