Downloadable titles are stealing a lot of the limelight at the moment on both PS3 and Xbox. Journey was a standout game for the PlayStation and remains a highlight of the PS Store.
The Xbox has the likes of Trials Evolution inbound and now Fez, an innovative 8-bit style adventure that has had us hooked from the outset.
The first thing that grabs you about Fez is how it looks. It makes us think most of apps like Tiny Tower or Sword and Sworcery, but quite frankly outdoes the pair of them in looks almost instantly.
Fez is a bright and colourful world inhabited by characters capable of making all sorts of bizarre blips and beeps. Everything is either square or consists of a few single coloured polygons. But don’t let this simple approach to design trick you into thinking Fez looks samey. Throughout each one of the game’s levels is a hugely varied art style that, gameplay aside, makes you want to play on just to see what the game will throw at you.
We don’t want to spoil too much, but the end of the game’s opening sequence in particular is just brilliant. Your character, Gomez, gets a Fez placed on his head that allows you to shift the perspective of the world in different directions. Once you start doing it, the whole screen corrupts and creates an effect not unlike wobbling an old N64 cartridge. The game then appears to glitch and reboot, in a ZX Spectrum kind of way.
It’s retro style at its absolute best, with Fez setting the bar so astronomically high that we can’t see it being beaten.
So what’s the story behind Fez? In classic platformer style, it sets out a rough storyline and then lets you get on with the meat of the game: jumping around. Gomez is a small, white, blobby man who inhabits an entirely flat world. Beckoned to the top of your village by a character called Geezer, you are told it’s adventure time. The sky promptly turns dark and a big, gold square floats in. This then plants a fez on your head and grants you the ability to shift perspective in your flat world.
The square explodes, scattering 32 blocks around the world. Your job is to collect them and bring them back together to prevent impending doom. The adventure starts and you are given free reign of the game’s world map. All you need to do is collect.
It’s quite a beefy game, with plenty to get stuck in to in terms of actual play time. Gomez is cute enough for you to care about his fate, and the thought of any harm coming to such a beautiful 8-bit world spurs you on.
Fez was put together by a skeleton team. It is a hugely ambitious game that deserves every single award piled upon it. Being able to shift through in three directions means every object is rendered in 3D. This can, at times, result in a tiny bit of slowdown, but the detail on every element of the game and its watertight gameplay makes it totally forgivable.
You would expect that the three viewpoints would create a complex puzzle solver. It could very easily, but designer Phil Fish appears more interested in creating something that doesn’t frustrate. The result is a game that is a joy to play every minute.
You use the left and right triggers of the Xbox controller to govern from which angle you are looking at the world. This shift in perspective will transform the distance between jumps and height of different objects. It is all done seamlessly and allows you quickly to work out any tough jump related puzzles. This single gaming mechanic binds the whole experience together.
Not once is the idea of perspective change used cheaply, never does it feel unfair or overly complicated. Instead you get more and more used to it, so the game can keep throwing up increasingly complex situations. This results in a rewarding feeling whenever a puzzle is solved, but never a high enough difficulty to frustrate.
We really don’t want to say much more about Fez other than you should play it. It has been a long time coming, but the wait has been worth it. As a standard fully fledged Xbox title, it would be impressive enough, but for a project put together by just a few people to be this good earns this game extra praise.
Special mention goes to the music in Fez, which nails the 8-bit blips and bleeps so absolutely perfectly. Many games have tried to do what Fez does, but none has come close to this level of polish. We were convinced it couldn’t get better than Journey when it came to downloadable titles. It just did.