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Thursday, November 7, 2013


Someone accused me of writing my last post because I just wanted to write about FEZ. Not so! I'm writing this post because I just want to write about FEZ. Yes, I'm writing this pretty late, but it's decidedly worth checking out if you missed it, and even if you didn't I wanted to mention what I enjoyed about it.

Pictured: Only part of the picture.
The most basic premise of FEZ is that you control a 2d character who discovers one day that he is living in a 3d world. It plays like a 2d puzzle-platformer except that you can use the A and D keys to rotate the world to see it from 90 degrees to the left or right. This has some obvious effects, like letting you see doors or objects that aren't visible from a different angle, and non-obvious effects, like moving two platforms that were distant from one another closer together so that it's possible to jump between them.

Armed with this ability, you'll proceed through a maze of non-linear levels, collecting cubes that can be used to open doors to new areas. The cubes are usually either out of reach, requiring tricky rotating to access, or hidden by puzzles ranging in difficulty from "cute" to "absolutely diabolical." You'll be accompanied by a tesseract-shaped sprite who's a bit like Navi but less helpful and more annoying - it's part of the charm.

I'll get the "review" part out of the way quickly; it's well-written, well-scored, beautiful, clever, and an excellent use of your time if you're at all into puzzle games. Go play it.

So! Particulars. The two things I like best about the game are the incredible amount of emergent puzzles that appear out of its simple mechanics, and the open-world exploration mentioned in the previous post.

The ability to rotate the world is one of those mechanics that can make anyone with a trained eye for development drool. It's simple to use, its implications are subtle, and its uses continually unfold throughout the game in a series of incredibly satisfying discoveries. You might be climbing up a ladder, and rotate the screen so that your ladder segment lines up with a more distant one, allowing you to climb further - except that you rotate yourself into a glitch and die (which is a nuisance but not a major setback). You can grab hold of a lever and rotate the screen to rotate a piece of the level with you, relative to the rest of the screen. Some levels impose additional restrictions on you, or offer you a couple toys to play with, but the core of the mechanics never change - you just discover new ways to use them.
You can also just hang out by this lighthouse indefinitely. It's a pretty good lighthouse.
Which leads me to the open-world exploration I mentioned earlier. The fact that the world is open, varied, nonlinear, and easy to explore is great, but it's the effect it's put to that makes it worth mentioning. Despite having very little in common in terms of gameplay, FEZ actually reminded me quite a bit of Myst. The world you're exploring is not untouched; other people clearly existed here, but everything about them is mysterious. As you fill in your map, you'll also start painting a picture about the different places you're travelling to and what ties them together. As Myst showed a couple decades ago, exploring ruins is lonely work, and FEZ knows how to capture that atmosphere perfectly. The more observant you are, the more puzzles you'll notice that are outside the scope and scale of your more immediate tasks; without giving too much away, I'll say that hardcore puzzle fans will be thrilled at all the riddles and fun rewards secreted away in FEZ's many rooms. If you're dedicated, you'll be amazed at what you can unearth.

There's a lot of game here, and it's all fantastic.

The game can get a little frustrating in places, and if you're impatient it can definitely be tempting to throw up your hands at the more complicated puzzles. But push past it! If you miss being challenged by puzzles and love to explore and map out the secrets of a world, you'll get pulled in immediately - and it's a pretty great game to get pulled into.

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