Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: Fez

Fez is a very clever platformer game for XBLA with incredibly devious puzzles.  The twist on the platforming aspect, is literally that, a twist.  You can twist around the view to see your 2D world from a different perspective (so you can see the front, sides, and back of all objects only one face at a time).  I burned through the game in two days and loved most of my time with it until the end.  So, I think I'm suffering from the same thing when I played Super Mario 64: trying to get everything severely marred the experience.  So if you're not a Collector like me and can leave things incomplete and if you like to really exercise your brain, this game is for you.

One of the beautiful things about the game is that other than some basic interaction instructions, the game doesn't teach you anything.  Not only do you have to figure out how to solve puzzles, but in most cases, you have to figure out what exactly the puzzle is to solve.  This game did a very good job at teaching through experimentation.  There's an entire language and numbering system that you have to decode on your own and the game's Rosetta Stone is quite funny once you figure it out.  As long as you're observant, the clues aren't too hard to find and most of them are very subtly clever.

So where the game fell flat for me were four different game design flaws that severely marred my experience.  In one room, there is a clock with four different hands on it.  Each hand travels at a different rate and the puzzle is to be near the clock when each hand gets to a specific point.  Sounds like a clever puzzle, except two of the hands hit this point once a day or once every two days respectively.  So the two ways to solve this is to happen to be playing at the right time (which may be in the middle of the night) or set your system clock to the appropriate time.  Neither solution makes the player feel rewarded.  The former is boring and you're not really playing the game, the latter makes you feel like a cheater.

At three locations in the game are QR codes that offer solutions to puzzles if you scan them.  The problem with this is if you don't have a QR code scanner, finding the solutions are infinitely more difficult.  You have to find two halves of the clues in two different locations and somehow figure out how to piece the two halves together. This wouldn't be so bad if the QR codes gave you a similar puzzle to piece together, but they just give the solution, punishing players for not having a smartphone.

Sometimes when you enter a room, random black holes appear in the middle of the room making it more difficult to traverse an area you have already been to.  This would be interesting if it was persistent in a given room adding a permanent new puzzle to a room, but you can always make the black holes disappear by leaving the room and coming back.  So really, these black holes just make it even more annoying to backtrack through previous areas rather than more interesting.  Not to mention that the black holes have only the slimmest explanation why they are there.  And that explanation doesn't even fit in with the rest of the game...

Lastly, there are three puzzles not required to complete the game 100% that aren't so clever as they are just brute force solutions with the slimmest (or in one case, none at all) hints.  These puzzles are more puzzles for the Fez community than any individual player.  I like that idea a lot, so the problem with it comes in the fact that the rooms with these puzzles are marked with secrets the exact same way as normal rooms, so if you don't know about them, you'll waste your time trying to solve a puzzle you'll never be able to on your own because the room still claims there's a "secret" in it.

TL;DR Version


  • Clock puzzle that requires you to play the game at specific times of day
  • QR codes that give solutions to otherwise unclear puzzles
  • Pointless black holes that make backtracking even MORE annoying
  • Community puzzles that are marked in game exactly like other puzzles even though they aren't required to complete everything in the game


  • All the other puzzles in the game
  • The subtle clues for solving puzzles

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