To begin with, Fez is a Cave Story-looking 2D platformer. Then, about 5 minutes in, a thing happens and suddenly everything is 3D. Sort of. It’s still 2D but with four 2D planes, each mapped to the sides of a cube which you can freely rotate.
Then it becomes a different sort of platform game, which is more puzzley (you have to figure out how to rotate the playfield to progress), and somewhat explorey as you search for cubes and bits of cubes which eventually open doors.
As you wander the game world, which is mostly lovely with bouncey-bright colours and blue skies and stuff, you take in the architecture. The markings on the walls. The pictures and posters in the rooms. Then you realise – they’re not just for show. They’re telling you things. Secret things.
In fact, there’s a whole alphabet to decipher, a counting system, and even a set of shapes that correspond to buttons on your controller. Figuring these all out, and what to do in certain rooms with these clues and others, is where the real game is. Getting 32 cubes and seeing the end? That’s just platforming. Exploring and getting 100% is a totally different game, with a different way of playing and even a different set of rules and ways of looking at things. Two games in one, pretty much.
It’s funny too, and filled with references to other games. One of the areas of the game is all original Gameboy monochrome too, and accessed via a pipe. The way your hypercubeic guide says “Hey, Listen!” in a homage to Navi was great as well.
Getting the first 32 cubes to complete the game, like I did today, is fun and mostly simple. There’s no real fear of death (you always respawn instantly on the last solid platform you were on), so you don’t have to worry about pixel-perfect jumps. There’s nothing especially tricky, and you don’t even hit many puzzles before the end sequence. After that, in New Game+ (where you restart the game, keeping everything already gained and with the map kept as “open” as before), the puzzles and real quirky stuff starts properly. I’ll certainly be trying to get 100% in this, as it’s fantastic.
Sadly, the game is tinged slightly with silly bugs and performance issues. It’s too easy to “fall out” of the world, especially inside rooms. Moving from area to area is often really jerky, and the sound frequently breaks up. It’s easy to get stuck in a “death loop” where you respawn in an area that instantly kills you, and at least twice I got killed by acid at the same time as being sucked into a black hole, which hangs the game. Still, you never lose more than a few seconds progress, so it’s just a bit disappointing when the rest of the game is so very, very good.