Fez (Xbox 360)

The amorphous blob with eyes has got his hat on, hip hip hip hooray….

Fez is the latest in a series of high-profile indie games to make it big. A labour of love from controversial developer Phil Fish, it has taken years to get here but has finally been released on Xbox Live Arcade. You’re a funny little white blob in a hat, and you set off on a surprisingly peaceful adventure to go find some cubes. Sound like your cup of tea?

I was a little bit unsure of what to expect with Fez. All I knew about it was that it was an indie platformer and it had attracted it a lot of attention. Shortly before release I read that the game featured no enemies. As a primary school kid I remember playing PC games round a friends’ and asking him if you could die in Monkey Island (yes the original, I’m showing my age) and being pleased when he said you couldn’t. I’ve always seen games as little achievement-machines, even before Microsoft’s system of awards. You do something fairly simple, and it says well done, you’ve achieved something. That’s what I look for and the whole dying thing just tends to get in the way. In games where you can’t die, or death is unimportant, you only have the drive forward. It’s not to say games can’t be challenging, Grim Fandango (one of the best games of all time) featured no death (or lots of death, depending on how you look at it) but was still a tricky game. The cartoonish Prince of Persia had some challenging puzzles but no way to really die. There’s lots of ways to make games interesting without threatening your virtual life. As soon as I read that Fez was one of these games, I knew I had to buy it.

The game was only 800 MS points (I don’t know the maths but I think that’s around £6?) and is a tiny download. I had it up and running within ten minutes of seeing it on the Marketplace. The game eases you in gently, with some story and some simple puzzles, and then lets you loose into its unusual world.

The game presents itself as 2d with a charming pixellated look, but the catch is that you can rotate the view in 90 degree increments. Then whatever you see from your new perspective is flattened back into a two-dimensional play area. This means by changing your point of view, you can line platforms up, uncover hidden doors, and see whole new aspects in the environment. It’s a simple mechanic, using the triggers, and is really the only ‘extra’ control. Everything else using the control stick/d-pad, ‘A’ t jump, and ‘X’ to activate chests and things. You quickly get told you have to find thirty-two cubes, and you can go explore to find them.

At first the cubes are easy, many are out in the open, but quickly you’ll realise the game is trickier than it appears. There’s very few difficult jumps, but there are some fiendish puzzles. At the time of writing I don’t think all of them have been solved yet, one in particular is becoming a bit of an internet phenomenon. I finished the game with my thirty two cubes, but in reality there are sixty four, and to get them all requires some unusual code-cracking and lateral thinking. The game is fairly easy to finish, but deep enough to let you invest some serious hours into should you be inclined. Personally, I think I’ll leave it now I’ve got through the story of the game, but I’ll be reading up on what people find when they solve the last few stubborn puzzles, the complexity is captivating.

The game is generally charming, there are animals minding their own business, a few characters to interact with, and a gorgeous soundtrack providing the backdrop for your adventure. Little touches like a day/night cycle and references to background story hidden in pctures and notes inside buildings. You can pick up artifacts and maps that you can explore and interact with, without spoiling anything, the game tries new things very successfully.

But as with most games, there are problems. The performance is pretty poor for a simple-looking game. Even on my fairly new Xbox 250GB S, the game slows down fairly regularly, particularly in swooping introductions to levels. The controls at times can feel imprecise and frustrating. Some might say the puzzles are too difficult and obscure, while the platforming is simplistic and relatively dull. It’s not for everybody.

If you want a charming little puzzle game to while away the odd half an hour here and there, this game is for you. If you want a serious puzzle challenge, and to participate with a community trying to figure it out, this game is for you if you move fast before all the puzzles are solved. If you want to support the indie scene, this game is for you. If you want some fast-paced platforming action, maybe go give Sonic Generations a try instead.

Verdict: 8/10

+Charming pixel art
+Compelling world
+Something new
+Wonderful music
+Fiendish puzzles
-Imprecise controls
-Limited Platforming
-Some of the puzzles are perhaps too hard
Fez is 800 points on the Xbox Live Marketplace

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