In years to come, we may very well look back at the last decade or so as the golden age of indie games. Amongst the memories that will be shared about games such as Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition, Super Meat Boy, Braid and the Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, the magical tarboosh of a certain squishy little marshmallow-looking fella will undoubtedly be celebrated with them.
Nintendo Switch seems to grow stronger by the day as a vessel for nostalgia, as well as a portable convenience catering for missed opportunities. In this case, FEZ, which was recently shadow-dropped during the latest Indie World presentation, was one of those very examples of a game that I was well aware of at the time, but never managed to sit down to experience for myself.
In some cases, playing FEZ today still makes me feel like I have missed out on something special. The thing about FEZ is that, at face value, it presents itself as a rather simple game with an easy to learn game mechanic heading towards a common objective. However, it’s hard not to notice that once upon a time a whole community of players would gather together online and exchange their thoughts and research in uncovering the many mysteries and layers that FEZ has to offer.
Which is ironic really, considering that creator Phil Fish would explode into the public eye as a sort of “indie game celebrity” to eventually corner himself into a position where a whole army of online backlash would inevitably drive him to quit the gaming industry altogether. Whether it was deserved or not isn’t something I care to have an opinion on. However, what is clear is without the counterbalance of a positive community working together, the deeper mysteries of FEZ would be incredibly difficult to unearth.
You play as Gomez, an adorable cluster of pixels living it up in a 2D world. Gomez soon manages to stumble across a Tommy Cooper-like fez hat that contains the ability to laterally rotate the environments across the four planes of a cuboid. This leads to a whole new dimension of puzzle-platforming possibilities as our chirpy protagonist uses his new claimed power to transverse his way across a correlation of wonderfully pixelated landscapes.
His ultimate goal is to obtain little shards to make up 32 yellow cubes to open up doors and save the world he lives in. There is no end-level goal post to reach, very few new abilities to gain and a lack of enemy encounters steers away from any potential threat of danger. Manipulating the layout of the environment to seek and claim yellow cubes rarely ever becomes taxing and are often easy to solve. To narrow things down, the game is simply a sprawling easter egg hunt that provides a relaxed ambience of memorable busy work.
The thing is, as fun, clever and relaxing it can be to rotate worlds and collect yellow squares, it doesn’t take long to learn that this all plays as the McGuffin of a much more complex journey. By sticking with the obvious if ignorant mindset of working solely within the boundaries of the gameplay mechanics, there’s a good chance that you will see the end of the game, but completely miss out on a whole network of rabbit hole endeavours.
This is where an extra 32 blue and an almost unreachable three red cubes come into play. Obtaining such treasures often demands cracking codes and crunching numbers. Hieroglyphs and mysterious stone tablets litter the world with very little leads to work off. Sealed doors with strange scribings and Tetris blocks scribbled across walls hold the key to secrets that often require an archaeologist’s eye.
Everything seems to suddenly have a purpose, a reason for being there, and at a certain point, that moment in time. A pad and paper could potentially be your new form of inputting commands while the Joy-Con are merely tools to get the job done. It’s an aspect of the game that requires a much larger investment of research with a timeless form of problem-solving that becomes ever rarer as the years roll on.
While this element of gameplay will certainly be overwhelming for most players, including myself, it does put life back into the times where gamers would scratch down codes and clues in the notes section – commonly seen in the back of game manuals during the earlier years of video games. The original The Legend of Zelda game, for example, was popular amongst fans exchanging stories of discovery, with even a section in the manual showing the player how to make their own adventure map.
As someone who has played an unhealthy amount of games over the years, it’s rare to find a game like a FEZ that not only implements an ambitious structure of gameplay that should, by rights, turn players off unless they have a smarty pants master’s degree, to still providing a memorable gameplay experience based solely around its face-value mechanics. Pretty environments, fantastic sound, well-written dialogue and tight gameplay mechanics are often ten-a-penny these days. Despite pushing 10 years old, FEZ not only maintains these values in spades, but it also manages to do so by staying utterly unique without the fear of not being understood.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Polytron