Most small, independently-produced video games fly under the radar.
Fez, however, isn't your average independently-produced video game.
The brainchild of outspoken (and somewhat polarizing) game developer Phil Fish and his team at Polytron, Fez has been making quite a bit of noise since word of its creation emerged back in 2007. It's twice won coveted Independent Games Festival awards, most recently taking home the grand prize at this past IGF in March. Its journey is featured in the new documentary Indie Game: The Movie. That's plenty of action for a game yet to even come out, much less leave its mark.
But as it turns out, that's exactly what Fez does. Finally releasing this week on Xbox Live, the puzzling platforming game is all the rage, currently averaging a hearty 90 on Metacritic.
Draped in a retro, pixilated aesthetic and featuring a clever mechanic that lets its diminutive star, Gomez, shift perspective on his safe, 2D world, it's earning high praise left and right.
"The game's unique artwork, its perspective-shift mechanic, its nostalgia for the 16-bit years and its bewitchingly strange setting all exist in total harmony and make a single, deliberate statement," gushes Eurogamer's Oli Welsh in a 10/10 review. "The simple joy of exploration is at the very heart of the appeal of video games. In Fez - which features no combat or enemies, and only the mildest kind of platforming peril - it's absolutely unfettered."
No enemies, no combat, mild platforming…is Fez a breeze, then? No way, insists Official Xbox Magazine.
"Like a Pandora's Box stuffed full of often confounding puzzles and head-scratching symbols, the entirety of Fez is wrapped up in mystery," explains reviewer Francesca Reyes. "While platforming skills and timing your jumps are important, it's more the game's hyper-dense puzzle logic that'll force you to (gasp!) pull out a pen and paper for detailed note-taking or push you to seek out friends also playing it so you can chat about shared discoveries and solutions." Her score? A 9.5/10.
Game Informer agrees, pointing out that "some of the most involved puzzles are so complicated that you can easily pass them by without even realizing a puzzle was present." But while writer Matt Miller awards it a stellar 9.25/10, he bemoans the game's "confusing navigation" and "far flung clues."
Numerous reviews also call out the game's unique look. IGN's Mitch Dyer (9.5/10) loves "the terrific detail of its pixel-painted universe, old-school-inspired music, vibrant art, and ever-changing scenery," though some choppy animations and stability issues seem to crop up more than they should.
But consider those concerns small potatoes in a very large, very robust stew. Fez might have come from meager beginnings, but it appears headed for a bright future. Should you pick it up? For a mere $10, Xbox gamers can get what Game Informer calls "one of the most accessible, clever, and mind-altering experiences on the gaming market." Not so puzzling, after all.