That being said, there are some issues which make navigating the world frustrating at times. The most obvious of these being the convoluted and clumsy world map. Granted, the nature of Fez makes displaying all the information on one screen challenging, and I'm not sure of a more elegant solution, but that doesn't absolve it entirely. The infrequent and scattered warp gates, which allow for express travel throughout the world, also lead to substantial backtracking. This can become tedious late in the game, once all but a few remote areas are of any relevance.
Being a puzzle-platformer, exploration also means encountering a few brain-teasers along the way. These puzzles initially appear straightforward and conventional enough... rotating a platform here, stacking a block there, and so on. However, once the world of Fez starts to truly take shape, any semblance of casual platforming gives way to what the game actually is: an extremely cerebral, shockingly deliberate puzzler. You soon realize that every piece of art, line of dialogue and collectible item - which you had dismissed simply as window-dressing for the sake of world-building - are all subtly connected to a series of meta-puzzles throughout the game. At its extreme, this means deciphering a foreign language to uncover encrypted riddles that lead to secret areas and treasures. The thought that went into crafting these incredibly complicated later puzzles is nothing short of amazing.
The realization that Fez quietly holds what amounts to a second game beneath the surface leads to a strange feeling once you've “finished it”, or in other words, seen the credits. This is because it only takes a combined 32 of the 64 total cubes and anti-cubes to accomplish - cubes resulting from traversal and anti-cubes from puzzle-solving. For me, this meant obtaining 10 of the 32 anti-cubes, which was merely the tip of iceberg. Fez practically begs players to immediately start a New Game+ campaign to see even a fraction of the most-thoroughly hidden content.
Successfully solving these puzzles creates a brief, euphoric sense of accomplishment in between hours of banging your head against a pixelated wall. The latter part of that statement speaks to the main problem with Fez's commitment to its hands-off, old school approach - objectives are rarely clear and crucial information often feels artificially out of reach. This doesn't necessarily mean the puzzles are poorly designed, it simply means that only the most obsessive die-hards will have the patience to unlock the secrets to many of these baffling puzzles.
Ultimately, whether you're platforming or puzzle-solving, Fez's audio/visual presentation is undeniably beautiful. The retro-themed, pixelated environments are rendered with vibrant colour, impressive detail and dynamic events to make them feel surprisingly modern. As time goes on, levels turn from day to night, wildlife responds to your actions and weather changes, all of which creates the sense of a living, breathing world. The game's sound design also goes a long way, providing catchy, melodic backgrounds to help change the tone of each level. The only noticeable drawback to this otherwise fantastic package appears when the game stutters during loading sequences.
Fez is yet another testament to the creative freedom the console downloadable space has offered so many memorable games this generation. Its unique approach to platforming leads to expertly-designed environments and its puzzles are consistently inventive. Everything from the placement of everyday objects to the incredibly intricate puzzles feels meticulously poured over and deliberate, resulting in an experience unlike any other. Not without its share of flaws, Fez nevertheless succeeds in delivering on its lofty ambitions, belonging alongside other greats in the space such as Bastion and Journey. When all is said and done, it's heartwarming to see a long, seemingly rocky development process produce such an inspired result.
|» Inventive perspective changes|
|» Incredibly complex puzzles|
|» Gorgeous presentation|
|» Excessive backtracking|
|» At times unclear objectives|
|» It ends|
|9||GamingUnion.net Editor's Choice Award|