Despite critical acclaim two years ago when released on XBLA and PC, Fez has taken its time to come to the PlayStation Platforms. Rather than a discount for its tardiness, the asking price of £7.99 gets you a cross-buy copy of the game that you can download to your PS4, PS3 and PS Vita complete with cloud-based cross-save functionality.
For those of you new to the world of Fez, allow me to catch you up. This is a puzzle platformer that opts for an 8-bit retro style. What’s decidedly not retro though (unless you count Echochrome and Crush as retro) is the rotating mechanic adding depth to the 2D platforming. With a tap of a shoulder button, the whole game world rotates 90 degrees. This begins simply enough when you’re just navigating a singular structure, you could even be forgiven for thinking it’s just a gimmick as it’s essentially a traditional flat 2D stage that you push forward with these ‘rotations.’
But then stages start to get more elaborate with extra platforms and multiple floating islands to navigate. Upon rotation, many of these areas see additional platforms moved into position allowing you to reach higher places. Hidden doors leading to new parts of the map are featured on the sides of buildings too.
The aim of the game is to find as many yellow cubes as possible. Generally, you’ll only find fragments that go towards full ones, but you may find the odd complete cube for particularly persistent exploration. Special doors to new realms only unlock when your cube total reaches certain milestones.
Fez’s platforming skills aren’t quite as sharp as they need to be for landing on some of the smaller platforms and there were a few annoying instances of him not reacting to button presses in time. Despite these minor technical quirks, the platforming didn’t become frustrating. Sure, you’ll die if you fall too far, but the restarts are quick and always only a jump or two from where you left off.
I found myself less forgiving of other elements though. The map screen is an ill-designed nightmare. A core part of the game is collecting all the cube fragments, meaning you’re going to visit many areas more than once. But keeping track of which door leads you to what section of the map is nigh on impossible. There are warp gates to certain areas, but you still usually have to jump through several hoops to get back to the central hub area. So much of the game looks the same too, giving you a sense of déjà vu and constantly making you worry you’re wasting time by retreading old ground. A map area is coloured in gold when you have collected everything , but that doesn’t make it any easier exploring the branching map areas in any sort of orderly fashion. I suppose allowing you to fast travel to any unlocked segments via the map screen would have been too mainstream though, right?
Adding to the pretentious nature of the game are numerous secret areas that attempt to add a degree of mystery to Fez’s world, but it’s so vague it barely warrants a nod despite the promise of more with anti cubes, QR codes and New Game + options. There’s such a feeling of the game not really caring if you play it. As it went on, I found it hard to play it for more than fifteen minutes at a time without becoming incredibly bored.
Graphically, I’m always at odds with the 8-bit style when 16-bit offers so much more with not much more effort. But in fairness, that probably harks from the days when I was playing constantly crashing titles on the Commodore 64 and then the Mega Drive came along and well, worked and looked amazing.
That’s not to say that Fez didn’t succeed in playing on my sense of nostalgia in parts. The night-time stage with neon signs took me back to the 90s and a certain stage in Revenge of Shinobi. Another took place in a graveyard (a 90s staple in any platformer) and had some neat touches like hidden platforms that could only be seen via a thunder flash or by spotting raindrops bouncing off them.
For those of you wondering how the game fares across platforms, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that visually it’s identical across all three Sony consoles. I started the game on PS4, which didn’t quite feel right as controlling the tiny character on a large TV often swallowed him up as a speck in the pixelated haze. Instead, I found the game to be a much better fit with the PS Vita handheld.
- Rotating the game world makes for great exploration
- Lots to find
- £7.99 gets you a copy for Vita, PS3 and PS4
- Confusing to navigate between areas
- Terrible map
- It’s a bit full of itself
The Short Version: Fez isn’t as fresh as it was two years ago and is purposefully frustrating by design at times with its pretentious refusal to adhere to a few sensible design decisions. There’s a lot of effort required to progress and the game offers little back in return. If it could talk, it would say,”Play me or don’t, I’m too cool to care.” So you may want to punch it right in its Michael Cera, but the forgiving attitude to failure and the admittedly neat world-rotating to explore every surface to find more cubes may pull you in. Try the demo first though.