Fez, The Kotaku Review

The first thing that appealed to me about Fez, an independent puzzle platforming game developed by Polytron, was how adorable it was. If my childhood proved anything, it was that eight bits of detail can still make me squee with delight. I instantly knew that I would need a plushie version of Gomez, the main character that sports a cute little red fez atop his Pillsbury doughboy-like form.

But the pudgy protagonist and his sweet animations are actually the least cool thing about the game by comparison. Fez plays something like Super Paper Mario. You explore a 3D world, but in a 2D-at-a-time view. In order to navigate around platforms and objects, you turn the world on an axis, discovering new perspectives.

You have one main goal while jumping and climbing through each level: collect 32 total cubes, and/or build them through finding cube bits. A lost hexahedron is causing the universe to crumble, resulting in black holes that appear across the levels. It's up to Gomez to find these cubes to open locked doors that hold the mystery behind the imminent calamity. The fidgeting blocks of empty space that suck you in if you get too close appear when you enter and exit the same level repeatedly. Folding the world, your tesseract of a guide will tell you, creates an imbalance that results in these black holes.

The overall map in Fez is a lot larger than I had expected. There are dozens upon dozens of segments of the pixelated universe, within each of which are several levels. Each mini-world is small, and the piecemeal delivery suits the game well because it makes the puzzles manageable. Fez is a very well-designed game. Even the map itself is three-dimensional, and you can turn your view to get a 360 look at it.

If you've ever seen Fez in action, you might recognise the mossy-topped cubes and platforms under bright skies. Gomez can grab onto the grass to move around each level. But the platforming game soon becomes more complicated, as you discover new ledges and moveable ladders that redirect your movement. Things like pivoting platforms and rotating blocks of grass that connect when you change the perspective work in harmony with the game's main mechanic.

Fez, The Kotaku Review

WHY: Fez is more than just adorable. It's a world that makes you want to explore every corner, and solve every obscure puzzle.


Developer: Polytron Platforms: Xbox Arcade Released: April 13
Type of game: Puzzle/Platformer
What I played: 100% completion on the main game in roughly 7-10 hours. Dabbled with new game +.

My Two Favourite Things

  • The absolutely adorable main character, Gomez, and the pleasant sceneries he traverses.
  • Frustratingly obscure puzzles that somehow make the game even more fun.

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • The map can get confusing to explore, and backtracking is tedious even with warp gates.
  • A few glitchy corners and three crashes.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • "I've never been dizzier." -Tina Amini, Kotaku
  • "My cat is jealous of how much attention I give Gomez." -Tina Amini, Kotaku
  • "My neighbour has filed a noise complaint citing ‘incessant squeeing.'" -Tina Amini, Kotaku

Shifting the view creates new pathways to get to previously unattainable goals. Playing around with the perspective of the level makes the world feel like it's your playground. Even though they're all carefully constructed designs, you'll feel like you're the one shaping and moulding the world. You can effectively create a new wall or edge to jump off of if you're looking at the world in the right way.

What's most interesting about these features that I stumbled on as I got further in the game was that they felt less like obstacles to my goal, and more like an introduction of a new way to play. No part of Fez felt like it was fighting my progression. It felt more like it wanted me to be successful.

But I haven't even told you the best part of Fez. While you're searching for tiny golden cubes, you'll come upon levels that have secrets embedded in them. The level of obscurity of these secrets is another nod to nostalgia. They often comprise of Tetris-looking shapes, but other times you'll have to interact with hidden objects like telescopes and simultaneously cute and creepy owls. I love how utterly confusing some of these puzzles are, and I love that you generally will not get an ounce of help in solving them.

Because you're given the luxury of taking your time with Fez, I played around in secret levels for lengthy amounts of time, refusing to believe that I could be stumped. Fez is one of those rare games where frustration actually lends itself to the enjoyment of it.

After a while of playing and gathering cube after cube, I began to wonder what the golden blocks were for exactly. So far they'd only opened doors to more levels with more cubes. What was going to happen when I finally collected all 32? What was behind that mystery door? Would there be a pay-off anytime soon? The lack of communication between game and player provides only more motivation to find out what Gomez was working towards this entire time.

And Fez does not disappoint. Everything about this game is beautiful. Its visuals, catchy 8-bit soundtrack, and cute references and characters made it a pleasure to play through. Each level unfolds with a unique atmosphere and new obstacles that make exploration an adventure. Sometimes you want to shoot things in their faces, and other times you want to kick back with a relaxing game. Just because you're not racking up headshots doesn't mean that Fez won't keep you just as engrossed. Even after finishing the game, I hadn't had my fill, but new game + came to my rescue with features that I won't spoil for you. But I will tell you that those features inspired a sense of awe, made me laugh, and surprised me in the best of ways. There really is no reason you shouldn't play Fez.


    I simply cannot wait to play this game.

    Is it better than Japanese games, though?

      It's heavily inspired by Cave Story.
      A Japanese game.
      And probably a few little known Nintendo platformers.

    What is the Aussie release date for this? April 13th seems a strange date for XBLA title given Microsoft always seem to release XBLA games on Wednesday at 8:00PM here in Aus.

      yeah there has been few XBLA titles coming out on friday 's in US latley not sure what the deal is, i assume that means sometime saturday for us in australia , but i am hoping it goes up earlier nothing like getting home from drinking on friday night to some brain bending puzzles

        My thoughts exactly. The wife is going to a burlesque night, I'm going for a few drinks after work and want to come home and play this.

    The main character looks reminiscent of something from Cave Story, to be perfectly frank.

    Also, that perspective thing sounds like a Flash game I saw last year. Something about a Cloud Island?

    It was called Sky Island. Google it.

      Derp, apparently it was inspired by Fez.

        Derp, don't you love it when you think you have a point, and then don't research it enough and end up looking silly? Fez has been in development for, like, a long, long while...

        Ahem... cannot wait for this to be released.... it's now Friday the 13th in Aus, and no Fez... maybe tonight??? argh...

    Looks like nebulous

    I really wish that guy hadn't said those things about those games, coz now it's all I can think about as I read this review.

    Still, I'll probably buy it....after Trials. And SkullGirls. And after I finish Mass Effect 3. And Skyrim. And when it get's cheaper. Or free.

      I dont understand what the issue is with him saying the japanese game industry needs to take more chances when several other people came out and said the same thing that week. Is it just because they were japanese that it was ok?

    I don't like it for one reason: it won awards at the IGF in 2 different years.
    I wanted the Iconoclasts to win

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