"Fez" Review: New pixelated puzzler will hurt your brain

Polytron

"Fez" Review: New pixelated puzzler will hurt your brain
Polytron

(CBS News) You probably haven't played a game like "Fez" before.

Developers Polytron and TrapDoor have created a charming 2D world ripped from an era ruled by the likes of Mega Man and Super Mario. This happy 2D world gets a taste of the future when it's invaded by the third dimension.

You must use your new found ability to control the third dimension to locate pieces of a shattered cube and restore the game world back to its natural happy two-dimensional state.

The metaphors here are pretty strong: 2D gaming was a happier era, 3D games have gotten stale relying on the same gameplay for every new game or that creativity has largely been passed up in favor of revenue raking blockbuster titles. Even the characters in Fez are upset about this new third dimension and want nothing more than to return to their old "flat" lives - a simpler existence. The irony here is of course that the entire game hinges on the player's use of the third dimension, so make of that what you will.

Rather than simply a means to display the world around you, the third dimension is instead used as a game device while the character moves along the 2D plane. Using the left and right triggers you can turn the game world on its axis, rotating it 90 degrees at a time.

It's hard to even describe, but the world you traverse doesn't understand the third dimension. Depth, foreground, background - these words are meaningless here. From one perspective a ledge may be too far to leap to, but rotate the camera and suddenly it lines up alongside another ledge. Despite being technically "behind" the ledge you are standing on, it occupies the same 2D space allowing you to simply walk right along. It's about as close to a video game by M.C. Escher as is possible.

This core gameplay mechanic is no gimmick either. Sure we've seen something similar in "Super Paper Mario Wii" with rotating perspectives, but "Fez" was designed from the ground up around the concept of intersecting 2D and 3D spaces.

Each level is a world twisting, mind-bending puzzle that will test your abilities of spatial comprehension. Much like learning to think with portals in Valve's "Portal," understanding the unique physics of "Fez's" world is key to successfully reaching the next area.

If that was all the game was it would be enough, but Fez doesn't stop there. The game world, its graphics and music are full of nostalgia with plenty of nods to other popular franchises - from your cube "fairy" to hidden treasure chests and even some familiar character dialogue.

Like many pre-millennium games, "Fez" is about exploring and understanding the rules of the game world. There's very little hand holding here. There's no quest arrow pointing the way and often not even a clear sense of which way is forwards, backwards or sideways on the game's map.

It's extremely rewarding as you figure out complex puzzles on your own or you may simply go mad as your brain starts to melt from seemingly unsolvable puzzles.

But like the old NES games, there are secrets to be discovered by those willing to look for them. Casual players simply enjoying the game world need not worry about finding every nook and cranny, though they do lend some replay ability to the game. Returning to past levels to find every collectible item will keep you hooked for hours.

It seems that much of the creativity in the modern gaming industry is to be found in downloadable titles these days - "Rez," "Limbo," "Journey," "Braid," "Spore," "Sword & Sworcery" and now "Fez." These games aren't afraid to step outside the norm and truly shine for it. "Fez" is a memorable and lasting title that delivers a deep experience rich with personality unlike any modern blockbuster title today.

Fez is available now for download on Xbox Live. It is rated E for Everyone by the ESRB.

  • Matthew Rodriguez

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