The Small Red Hat Is Back
HIGH That unique feeling from flipping the 2D plane for the first time.
LOW Being stuck on the same puzzle since 2012.
WTF The knowledge there won’t ever be a Fez 2.
It’s weird to play Fez in 2021. Not because the staying power or sense of wonder in the content have diminished over the years — quite the contrary actually, as it still feels as fresh as the day it came out almost a decade ago. No, it feels strange because of everything that’s happened since its release in 2012, with the indie scene back then being quite small and intimate. Now, it’s an established and essential part of the industry.
Fez was one of the first indies announced as an Xbox 360 exclusive and it was, arguably, worth the hype that built up during its five-year development period. After release, developer Phil Fish was heavily featured in Indie Game: The Movie, and was almost seen as the ‘star’ of the independent dev scene. Soon after, Fish began antagonizing the gaming community at large before quitting the industry, apparently tired of the drama he was creating.
It’s been quite a few years since then, but still Fish still hasn’t returned and the announced sequel to Fez ended up lost in development limbo. So, it’s kind of a surprise to see Fez receive a Switch port after all this time, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless.
Polytron’s title is, at heart, a puzzle-platformer. The 2D world of protagonist Gomez is threatened by a mysterious force that has shattered reality, and now everything is unstable. In practice, this means that in addition to the standard jumping and climbing of the genre, our hero can rotate the 2D planes of his world — with the push of a shoulder button, a 2D level rotates and reveals that it has three other entirely new sides to explore for secrets, clues, or previously-out-of-sight paths to advance.
The main objective is to collect cube pieces scattered throughout the world, but this is easier said than done since the puzzles in Fez run the gamut from easy-peasy to overly-complicated and baroque, with one even featuring a QR code that has to be read to unlock further clues. This array of challenges is a big reason why Fez is still so fresh today, as its design is so carefully polished and balanced that it manages to be both approachable to newcomers and perfect for hardcore completists.
Another thing making Fez feel timeless? By using pixel graphics enhanced with plane-switching, it might easily pass as a modern release — it still looks as colorful and cute now as it did in 2012. It still also manages to feature many different worlds to explore, from naturalistic landscapes to almost-cyberpunk cities, so there’s always something new to see. Also, I would be at fault if I didn’t mention the fantastic soundtrack by Disasterpeace. Fez offers a whole electronica suite that’s also a perfect listen to inspire one while away from videogames.
Despite its age, Fez manages to feel as entertaining and relevant as it ever was — it’s a puzzle-platformer that expertly hides a deep level of difficulty behind a surface layer of relaxing action, beautiful music and attractive graphics. While there are no new features of note on this Switch port, what’s here is still as scrumptious and inviting as it ever was.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Polytron. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated E by the ESRB, with no warnings of any kind. There is not even a bit of graphic violence or any questionable content, though personally I would recommend that parents play with their kids given the difficulty of the puzzles.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue, nor are audio cues used in the puzzles, as far as I’ve seen. Text cannot be altered or resized. In my view, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: There is no controller diagram. Fez is controlled with a controller, using the shoulder buttons to rotate planes, the A button to jump and the X buttons to bring up the menu. It is not possible to remap the controls.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).
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