Every so often a game appears that tackles true creativity. Sometimes it is found by the mainstream, like Portal. Most of the time, like Fez, it remains somewhat a sleeper… or at least it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. I can’t say this game will change the way you look at games, or has an amazing story, but it is definitely a truly unique experience produced by creative minds at Polytron and Trapdoor.
Fez first appears as a cute 2D platformer. The main character, Gomez, is simply designed, quickly obtaining his signature fez hat. The environment is deceptively 8-bit. However, much like in the book Flatlands, the main character learns that the universe is much larger than he thought.
Perhaps a quick description of Flatlands will help explain here. In this book, half story, half mathematical theory, the main character is a square. Not a cube. A square who lives on a two-dimensional world. He perceives everything in his world on this plane so everything and everyone around him can only appear like lines. For instance, if you cut out a shape, place it on a piece of paper, and look at the paper from the edge of the table, you will see that shape as a line. Anyway, one day the square is visited by a sphere. Not a circle. A sphere who explains the greater dimension and brings him on a journey into the world above and below his plane… a third dimension.
Fez is not that.
In Fez, the main character, Gomez, does learn of new dimensions. But they are all new two-dimensional dimensions that normal people can’t see. Imagine this. Imagine you are looking at an 8-bit game. On the screen are two skinny poles next to each other, one red and one blue. They aren’t touching and are the same height and widths. Your character stands precipitously on top of the red pol. Now imagine you take your television screen and turn it 90 degrees to the side and there is another screen there. You also turn both poles so you can perceive the depth of each pole which you could not see before. Now lets say they have and extremely long depth, 100 times their widths. They now look more like the sides of buildings. The red building starts slightly more to the left with your character still on the roof. Therefore, the blue building overlaps most of the red building. But we are still in two dimensions so we must flatten that image making one long bi-colored building that your character can seamlessly walk over. There is no gap. This is the brilliance of Fez. Here’s the trailer as an example. Again, it looks like 3D but isn’t.
Fex is also not like Castle Crashers, a game that obtained a bit more fame, which is basically 2D in a 3D environment like so many classic side scrolling fighters we know and love (aka Final Fight). In these worlds, you interact left and right but still can move up and down into the environment. All interactions must be in the same plane as your character though. To avoid Krang’s laser blasts, Donatello simply had to move up a few millimeters.
Fez can take the laws of the two-dimensional world and create a new type of universe with laws that a three-dimensional mind has difficulty perceiving. These new rules allows the creators to make puzzles in a unique way. Most can be solved by turning the screen again and again until you see the trick. But some of the puzzles even require you go beyond the boundary of the game itself! What do I mean? I don’t want to give away anything but sometimes you have to break the 4th wall. I definitely didn’t find them all. Hell, I couldn’t even get to all the boards!
I loved the 8-bit style and music of Fez. The simplicity of these games requires pure talent from the creators to make it special. Also, limits breed art. For instance, before games could have orchestras or music ripped right from popular bands, they required an actual catchy tune to make it stand out. We all remember the great music from Mario Brothers but can you hum to the score from Assassin’s Creed?
I did find the story of Fez confusing though. There might be a great story here but I don’t think so. It is mostly a tour through a world of wonder. If a sequel is released, I’d like a bit more fleshing out of this point. In the meantime, I highly recommend checking Fez out. You can download it cheap from XBox live.