Try This: Fez

I’ve been bouncing between three very different games the last couple of weeks—all of them refreshingly unique. This week I’ll share my impressions of these games, what makes them different, and why you should try them. Last time I talked about Trials Evolution. This time it’s Fez.

What is it?

Fez is a puzzle platformer with a mysterious secret. On your first run through, it’s a pleasing collect-a-thon with a retro art style and a neat rotation mechanic. But that’s only half the game. After completing the initial challenge, you get a peek into a vast web of secrets scattered all over the game world. Truly finishing the game requires cracking a cipher, understanding the game’s hidden language, scanning QR codes, and all kinds of other weird things.

What’s so special about it?

There’s some crazy stuff in Fez, and if you’re up for playing along with a notepad in hand, you’ll likely find it to be a rewarding experience. Games like this are few and far between. It hearkens back to a day before helpful tutorials and map screens. Back when you had to get out some graph paper and draw your own diagrams to solve puzzles. During the week of release, the online gaming community was buzzing with theories and possible answers for the game’s many mysteries. It was sort of like an intellectual scavenger hunt, a communal race to the game’s hidden finish line. If you missed that, no worries, you can still give it a go on your own, or read through FAQs for clues and prompts to help you find the answers.

Five reasons to try Fez

1. It looks great. The pixel art in this game is fantastic. Every rotation reveals another fantastic 2D scene. There are also a number of nice visual flourishes that pay homage to classic games from the 8 bit days.

2. Clever platforming. Jumping around the environment is never very difficult in Fez, but it’s still a joy to do. The way the level changes depending on rotation leads to a lot of little “ah ha” platforming moments.

3. Soothing sound design. There’s a zen-like quality to the sound and music in Fez. From the calming to the creepy, every sound draws you in with a soothing subtlety.

4. Fun for the whole family. Fez is broken into two pretty different games. Before you get to the mysterious stuff, it’s just a charming puzzle platformer. It’s not especially hard, and to be honest, not all that entertaining if you play it in long stretches, but it’s fun enough if you’re looking for a laid back game full of pixelated eye candy. Those that want to dig deeper can, and will be rewarded for it. Because of a change in basic maneuverability, your second time through the game is very different.

5. The great mystery of Fez. I’ll be honest, I didn’t do any of this stuff. I have a baby and a puppy, and a day job, plus ongoing freelance work. I just don’t have the time to sit down with a notepad and stare at a game for hours on end. But just because I can’t do that stuff, doesn’t mean I don’t respect that it’s there. I think it’s really cool that Fez has so many mysteries hidden inside, waiting for the diligent gamer to find. It’s like The Da Vinci Code in a game.

You might like Fez if…

There aren’t a ton of games like Fez, but there are games that have parts like Fez. If you liked the charming presentation and puzzle platforming of Ilo Milo, you might like Fez—though the early puzzles aren’t near as challenging as what you’d find in Ilo Milo. If you couldn’t get enough of the esoteric hidden puzzles in Assassin’s Creed 2, you might be interested in hunting down the solutions to the crazy puzzles in Fez after you beat the game once.

Fez is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for $10 or 800 Microsoft points. Try it! I’ll be back this weekend with the last game in this trio of impressions: The Witcher 2.