Hot. Damn. You guys, did I ever love this game. When I first started playing it (a little over a week ago), and tried to explain to people what I liked about it, basically just sounds of joy and buzz words poured forth from my babbling maw. So, I needed to give myself a cool down period, to hopefully translate all that loquaciousness into something coherent.
The quickest, best description I’ve heard of the game is that it’s a “2D game set in a 3D world.” How I like to think of it is this: the whole world is a cube, but you can only see one side of the cube at a time. You switch between the sides of a cube in order to access the entirety of the world. Sounds simplistic? Well, Fez is designed so well that it almost seems like there are more than 4 sides of the world’s cube for you to explore. This isn’t a perfect description, but it will do until you decide you want to go pick up the game yourself.
Your protagonist is Gomez. He is white and blobby and wears… a fez. Yes.
Hey little guy! Anyway, it’s Gomez’s job to collect little bits of cubes and make big cubes, which then enable him to open several doors to other worlds. Sounds easy? Well, there are other things called anti-cubes, one for each cube, which Gomez can also find, along with the cubes. Now, it’s not a requirement by any means to find the anti-cubes at all, though there are some that you kind of can’t help but find. It’s also *fairly* difficult to just collect the 32 regular cubes. If you do, you can open the last level door, which will allow you to beat the game, so no anti-cubes necessary! A player who just wants to do that will find the game is somewhat challenging, but somewhat simple, very pretty, and quite a unique experience, as video games go. There are also no enemies, per se, in Fez, just puzzles to be solved and obstacles to be overcome.
Here is the part where I tell you that, if you haven’t yet played this game, you should definitely not go any farther. Even the very light spoilers I am about to give you are enough that would ruin the game for some people (at least I think).
Now, what about this anti-cube business? Well, there are an incredible, twisted up, complex load of puzzles, codes, and secrets for you to first find and then figure out. One of the most frustrating, and one of the coolest, parts of Fez is that finding puzzle parts and secrets is often just as challenging as solving the puzzles once you find them. Halfway through the game I started relying heavily on the game map to find anything and to figure out how to get back to places where I had missed something. Anyway, I’ll tell you some of my favorites.
I will say, before that, that there are two huge, elaborate codes in the game that, once you figure them out, essentially make everything accessible, assuming you can find it. Since I was not looking to tear out my fingernails with frustration in order to figure out this code, I looked up the way to crack the code. I am SO GLAD I did, you guys. Sometimes I do things like that to myself, out of laziness, and am disappointed that I didn’t just think a little harder. In this case, however… I’m smart, but I think it would have taken me a few weeks to figure out the code. Maybe I would have never figured it out. It’s rough times, and brilliant. Really, it in no way diminished my experience of the game to look up these codes. My personal policy is: if I’m getting legitimately frustrated at a game, I either clock down the difficulty or look up a solution. Video games are not something I’m looking to “get good” at, so games, for me, need to be just challenging enough to keep my interest, but not so challenging that I get angry. Nobody likes me when I’m angry (wahhn wahhhhn). Anyway, back to those secrets. Let’s reveal some.
There is something going on with these owls. The point where I started to be aware of them is when my little cube/tutorial buddy asked me something about one of the owls I needed to find, then said “Remember, owls only come out at night.” Daytime cube-land is filled with birds of various sorts, but as day cycles into night on a regular schedule, sometimes an owl will come out and perch on one of the little cubic trees. Four times to be exact. Why four times? Well, check out the above picture. If you can use your imagination to see all four sides at once, you’ll see there are four trees. Four trees, four owls, and as you find them all (they say some terrible creepy stuff to you along the way… including “The thirteen circles. The 64-bit name of God.” Ahhhhh!) they each fly to one of those four trees. Encounter all four owls amongst all the levels, then go to the owl temple – which is what I’m calling it – and bam! You get an anti-cube. The clue you get to this, which doesn’t make sense until you find the owl temple room, is, again, from your cube buddy. He says to you at one point: “Hear the owls. See their effigy. Assemble the parliament.” You have to 1) talk to each of the owls, 2) find the owl temple room, and 3) once you’ve done 1 & 2, wait for them all to appear at the owl temple. Just, buh.
Have you seen Twin Peaks? I think the creators of Fez might have… Watch this clip, and if you manage to watch it in broad daylight without immediately wanting to find a large dude to hide behind, well, you’re cooler than I am, I guess.
Most of us are probably familiar with the structure of an X-Box controller. It has two sticks, a controller pad, four buttons, with two triggers and two buttons on top. Every once in awhile, you’ll encounter a room in Fez that utilizes the rumble pack in the most unique way I’ve ever seen. Usually, a rumble pack just gives a little shake when you shoot a gun or get hit with something in a game, right? In Fez, these special rooms, which are topped off with a big tuning fork to mark them out, vibrate with a set pattern, sometimes on the right, sometimes on the left. A rumble pack has two separate vibrations on each side of the controller. So, in one of these rooms, the controller will vibrate on the left, then the right, then left, left again, right, left, etc. and then will start over again after a brief pause. All you have to do is notice the pattern, click the triggers in time with the vibrations, and an anti-cube will appear! Cool, right?
Nothing too complicated here. Every once in awhile, you’ll happen upon a QR Code in the game. If you have a smart phone with a QR code scanner (there are a ton of free apps that will do it for ya, on iPhone and Android), just scan the code right from your TV screen, and a secret message will pop up. In one case, I actually found the way to decode one of the major game codes – after I had looked it up, of course – which was incredibly useful.
There are more and more. The clock, the warp pipe levels, the “hell” level, the observatory… Endless stuff! If anyone ever printed a Fez guide, it would probably be about 100 pages long, small type. And the denouement of the whole thing is pretty strange. The game just short of ends, and the “beating the game” segment is almost ceremonial in a way. The real challenge of the game is finding the cubes and being able to open the doors, so the end is just a big pat on the back for having found enough cubes to open the last door. Congrats, you win!
Whew, that was lots of words. But Fez deserves it, seriously, this is one of the most fun and most well-designed games out there right now, especially if you’ve been playing games for a long time and have played a lot of the classics. 8-Bit stuff is coming back into style in a big way, and Fez is definitely a contributor. Plus, as an added bonus, it only took me about 10 hours to play through the entire thing, less if you don’t care about the anti-cubes. Get out there, get a game, and have a bit of fun, should the weather turn on us again! Otherwise, sunscreen and outdoor-land, people!