Old meets new and combines to form a whole that celebrates the simple joy of exploration
I picked up Fez on PS Plus this week, I realise it’s been out for PS4 for a while but it’s a game I’ve just not got round to. Having seen Indie Game the movie, I’ve been curious to try Fez, but there are just so many indie pixel art platformers around and I’ve always tended to think that Fez falls into that band-wagon jumping cliche.
Getting into the game though, I’ve realised the praise showered on Fez is justified. Working outside of the common indie tenets of subverted genres, retro reaction-tests or head-messing mechanics, Fez carries more the sense of free-exploration (especially after you’ve got to the end for the first time) that you experience with games like Flower. The gameworld is complete within itself yet strange and beguiling, curiosity leads to you explore and as you do more of the world opens up.
There’s no monsters to avoid and very few characters, if you fall to your death in the game you pop back in quickly and movement through the world is simply controlled, intuitive and fluid.
Yet all this is achieved within what on face value appears to be a stayed and dusty old formula; the 2D platformer. The twist (quite literally) is the way you move your 2D plane through a 3D environment, flipping perspectives, revealing new paths and hints of a larger world beyond.
And the depth of the world you reveal begs you to explore it, losing yourself at times to find yourself arriving at unexpected destinations, never to be held up too long with taxing puzzles or exacting tests of skill.
Fez is littered with references to retro games. You share Fish’s childhood love of Nintendo and you get a feel for the awe and enjoyment that came from the Zeldas and Marios from back in the day. But this is conveyed in a way that acknowledges what the old games have become, less linear and more reactive to your actions, looser and more free-roaming.
All this is held together beautifully, the world is alive with little creatures, the pixel art style is fastidiously detailed and the glistening synth moods (courtesy of Rich Vreeland AKA Disasterpeace) are as strange and otherworldly as the setting.
I’ll admit I have a soft-spot for indie games in general, not just to get behind the underdog, but because every now and then interesting and unique ideas are thrown up that renew my faith in the fact games are still capable of doing original things. Honestly, and without seeking to align myself with the inner circles of indie games cool, Fez is one such game.