In some rare cases, the tremulous history about how and who made a video-game is almost more interesting than the game itself. Fez is one these rare games. Canadian development studio Polytron, founded by the always animated self-proclaiming perfectionist Phil Fish, spent five years designing Fez, a game where the result matched the original planned imagination “almost perfectly,” a rarity in any creative project.
Fez, at first glance, looks like a nostalgic retro Nintendo game: 8 or 16-bit graphics, simple gameplay and hours upon hours of pure fun. These factors, among others, are what give Fez the charm and wit to win even the most hardened hearts of today’s Call of Duty-addicted gamers. Fez is, at its core, pure unadulterated fun. Welcome to the future of Retro gaming.
Indie platformers are aplenty on MacOS, with games such as Limbo or Trine 2 leading the way, but Fez was clearly one of the key missing indies. Luckily, it finally surprised us last month when it finally became available with the Humble Indie Bundle 9. Phil Fish did promise a Mac version long ago, but after months without news, it felt like another missed promise (. Now that we can finally play Fez, I can confirm it was absolutely worth the wait.
Enter Fez for Mac
Fez starts as a traditional 2D platform game, with your character Gomez in bed, pondering about life’s mysteries like how flatbread works or what’s the proper way to fold fitted bed sheets. After a short tutorial on movement and jumping, a letter informs him the town’s elder, Geezer, wishes to speak with him. As the tutorial progresses, Fez feels and plays like a standard old-school platform game. This all changes when you finally find Geezer and a giant 3D hexahedron grants the hero a mighty Fez bestowed upon Gomez’s head, giving him the gift of advanced sight and travel unique to his kind.
This is when Gomez sees that the powerful cube, which holds their fragile world together, begins to splint and shatter, flinging pieces of itself across the various lands. In an instant, the world around him glitches with graphical artifacts and 8-bit code interrupting the line before an old 386 CMOS screen reboots and starts the game over. Gomez wakes up in his bed again, still wearing his Fez, wondering if it was a dream or something else.
As he uses his new 3D shifting ability, a small prism-colored cube appears and offers to help Gomez collect the fragments of the world cube. Dot (the prism friend) explains the quest to save the universe: the main cube splintered into 32 cubes, and each of those separated further into 8 smaller cubes. Using his new abilities, Gomez is the only one of his kind who has the power to collect all the pieces, put the world cube back together and restore normality to the universe. The gameplay itself is a strong mix of platform jump games similar to Super Mario Brothers and puzzle-adventure games such as Machinarium and 7th Guest. However, when you add the 3D altering world moves into the design, the platform moves closer to Paper Mario, although Fez perfects this mechanic throughout the levels with flawless motion making the controls second nature. Switching between views of the world is how Gomez locates hidden ladders, walls and other variants in level design which makes Fez a casual – yet intriguing – game with the ability for multiple attempts to play over.
Gomez does not die. Instead, he appears back in his last position before he fell to his death. This “Captain Jack Harkness” ability does not hinder Gomez’ ability to find more cubes, instead, it gives the player the confidence to attempt the impossible, knowing they can always try again if the first time fails.
There are two downsides to Fez: The map system is hard to understand and use. The ability to return to any finished level from the map at any time is a great feature, however, its structure when first confronted with it may confuse new players. It also isn’t clear where on the map the secrets or cubes are still hidden until you’ve learned the language of the map itself, which makes the map barely more than a checklist until half-way through the game.
The second issue is with Gomez’s little square helper Dot. I would love to see her appear on a level when you are stuck, looking for anything you might have missed and tell you “Hey, maybe you need to go somewhere else first and come back later?”. After googling a few levels when this happened, I found out I had to finish something else on a different level before a tower appeared out of the water which would help me make the jump over to the last tower to grab the last cube and open the stupid door. Dot could have saved me some blood pressure medication there.
The first impression of Fez brings the warm familiar feeling of great games from years past, offering a friendly reminder why we spent so many hours searching dungeons and chasing princesses in the first place. Graphics are bright and animated with the movement and controls bending along with the flow of the action, never distracting or pulling the player out of the game. Fez makes me want to borrow a Tardis and go back to the 8 and 16 bit days to show developers how to build a tight and brilliant game. Everything about the game, from storyline to graphics, is perfect.
The soundtrack is gorgeous by itself. I found myself slowing down to enjoy specific levels because I liked the music – something I rarely do in games. Sound effects are fitting too. When you jump and climb to a ledge, it sounds like Gomez is struggling to climb. Everything fits into place well.
I did not play Fez with a controller, although I know the original design included the Xbox360 gamepad. I felt no discomfort using the MacBook’s natural keyboard and native control system, although I did find myself hitting escape a few times only to bring the Map option onscreen when I wanted the main menu. In Fez, The Enter key brings up the main menu. This is hardly a flaw, merely a strange learning curve.
My MacBook Pro 2012 (non-retina) with i7, 16GB RAM, and 650GT graphics card loaded and ran Fez just fine, although the first time playing I almost choked on my glass of whiskey when the hexahedron restarts the game (until I realized a MacBook wouldn’t reboot into a DOS-based environment). In any case, Polytron lists the following minimum system requirements:
- OS: Snow Leopard 10.6.8, Lion strongly recommended, 32/64-bit
- CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.8GHz or equivalent
- Memory: 2GB RAM
- Graphics: OpenGL 3.0+ support (2.1 with ARB extensions acceptable)
- Hard Drive: 1GB HD space
- Notes: Intel Integrated Graphics (excluding HD series)
That being said, I also tested Fez on my other MacBook Airs laying around the house, a 2011 model, and a 2013 model, both with i7’s but different Intel video chips, and Fez ran no different on those machines either. On the minus side, I could not load Fez on my old G4 cube, however, I let my twins two-year-olds play preschool learning games from Disney on it, so no hard feelings.
- Amazing retro platform – puzzle game
- Hours upon hours of entertainment
- Fun for all ages
- Puzzles are challenging, yet not aggravating
- Excellent soundtrack, I wrote this entire review while listening to the soundtrack – twice
- The Map is useless at first
- Would love more hints
Fez is one of those rare games where even if you have 5 minutes or 5 hours to play, you’ll find yourself smiling and enjoying yourself and having a great journey along the way, learning the intricacies of the world Gomez manipulates with his Fez powers. A game that is fun for the family, great to play, has a breathtaking soundtrack and excellent story for an inexpensive price only comes around once in a while. At full price, it’s a steal. When Fez is on sale, it’s a test. Besides, Like the great Doctor said: “Fez’s are cool.” It is hard to argue with logic.