Game Review – FEZ

Since I managed to find time to make a lot of progress toward beating FEZ before the Humble Indie Bundle 9 finished, why not a review…

FEZ is an interesting mix of a game. On the upside, it’s a very pleasant puzzle platformer:

  • The art style is enjoyable and the intentional pixellation reminds me of a lighter, more whimsical-feeling Cave Story.
  • There’s a wide variety of environments. (Though a level editor would be appreciated.)
  • The concept is excellent and the levels tease some very clever 2D-3D rotation-platforming puzzles out of the game mechanics.
  • At times, it even gets touches on artsy.

However, on the downside, the creators don’t seem to have fully grasped the distinction between “puzzle platformer” and “platformer containing puzzles” so, if you want to complete the game rather than just get the ending which becomes available at 50% completion, it gets downright cryptic in a somewhat ill-fitted way:

The regular cubes are collected using the “interact with 2D projections of a 3D world you can rotate” mechanic (as is how it should  be in a puzzle platformer with this mechanic) and it works very nicely indeed but the anti-cube puzzles really have nothing to do with platforming. (They’re still fun if you’re the right kind of person –which I am– but they’re still an odd thing to see in a platformer.)

For example, out of the 32 anti-cubes, I’ve collected roughly half a dozen by recognizing that certain environmental elements form a substitution cipher, finding the primer in what you probably dismissed as greebling, and then keying in the decoded “message” wherever I see the cipher. (Thankfully, the map does give you a clear readout of where there are still things to find and what type.)

Another three are QR codes that, when scanned, give you a sequence to key in. (And if you don’t have a smartphone and don’t want to use a walkthrough, you’d better hope you know how to feed a screenshot into something like the demo app for libdecodeqr.)

The clues for the puzzles I haven’t yet solved are similarly cryptic, probably also involve pressing sequences of buttons that don’t necessarily move your character, and may require me to wander the world with a sketchpad in order to pull all the clues together enough to make sense of them.

As for the stuff which can fit naturally into a platformer, there are also a couple of flaws I’d like to point out:

First, the owl scavenger hunt, while not out-of-place for a platformer, is made much more annoying by the fact that owls only show up at night and you can’t fast-forward the day-night cycle, so you’re needlessly slowed in your quest to find all of them.

Second, I feel that it gave an inappropriate first impression since the introduction starts you off in a village where you can talk to the NPCs and have some light but effective characterization and storytelling but, once you get out into the game proper, that’s just dropped, giving you a pure platformer.

Still, for all its flaws, I obviously like the game, given how I’m still working my way toward 100% completion… I just wish they could have saved the clue-collecting, cipher-decoding puzzle action for something more along the lines of a later King’s Quest or a SCUMM game so they could’ve more fully explored the potential of the perspective rotation mechanic.

Also, the ending I got without 100% completion was a bit too demoscene for me to enjoy it when, moments ago, I’d been playing an interactive game with a bit of a narrative at the beginning… but whatever. I found the movie version of 2001: A Space Odyssey slow and boring too, so what do I know?

If you like puzzle platformers and can find it cheaply enough to take a risk (eg. by beating the average on the Humble Indie Bundle 9), definitely get it… just don’t expect to fully complete it without help unless, as a kid, you loved cryptic stuff like those Usborne Puzzle Adventure books or early computer adventure games.

Update: Having finished FEZ (admittedly, with a little help), I have two more things to say:

First, some of the puzzles were designed to use force feedback on the Xbox (and apparently don’t warn you if you have it turned off) and the compromise in the PC port is… flawed. They changed it to use sound instead but, even if you are playing with headphones, the stereo separation is so terrible that, even after I googled for instructions that told me to use headphones, I still couldn’t localize the sound enough to solve the puzzle myself… which was very dissatisfying since I love solving puzzles!

All in all, while I enjoyed both facets of FEZ and I admire their attempt to satisfy the kinds of minds who love classic hard games like Zork, it doesn’t work when it’s schizophrenically mashed together with a puzzle platformer because, when I’m in the mood for a platformer, I’m not in the mood for Zork and, when I’m in the mood for Zork, I’m not in the mood for a platformer. (Plus, I’m kind of surprised that they’d release something like FEZ on Xbox first, given the demographics involved.)

In summary, while fun, FEZ really should’ve been two separate games: A puzzle platformer based on rotating the world, and a Myst-like adventure game.

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2 Responses to Game Review – FEZ

  1. Lil Hopkins says:

    Hi Stephan,
    Thanks a bunch for this post about this game, reminded me a bit of Zelda for Minecraft, very very cute game. Thanks for such a full review, sound very interesting and screenshots that I saw are nice as well. So another great game in my to-play list:)

  2. Pingback: Game Review – Guacamelee! | Stephan Sokolow's Blog

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