The latest darling of the indie gaming scene, Xbox 360 download game Fez worships at the altar of old school gaming. You control a, um, humanoid thing called Gomez who lives in a world built from pixels so large they could knock you out. He/she/it wears a fez and must collect gold cubes to stop square black holes eating the world. As the polyhedron that guides you summarises: gold cubes important, collect ‘em all, don’t die.
At this point you might glance at the screenshots and assume that Fez is yet another trendy retro chic platformer. Essentially Mario remade in Hoxton. But you’d be wrong.
Yes, Fez does involve some hopping around but, falling aside, dangers are few. Instead the challenge is figuring out how to get around its loopy 8-bit world to reach those gleaming cubes, which requires solving some dastardly perspective-based puzzles.
You see, the world of Fez might look all two-dimensional, but it’s actually a cube that can be rotated through 90 degrees with a press on the Xbox triggers – a trick that rearranges platforms and opens up new pathways. And this where the real meat of Fez is: in the challenge of experimenting with viewpoints to discover new ways to get Gomez’s mitts on another cube.
But while Fez is not a Mario platformer, the way it cranks up the difficulty has a lot in common with Nintendo’s finest, especially in the quiet, almost unnoticeable, way that it teaches you about new things as you go until you find yourself battling some of gaming’s most fiendish puzzles.
It’s a fabulous mix: bouncy platforming, head-bending puzzles and an expertly executed difficulty curve all wrapped up in a retro world guaranteed to crack a smile on the face of anyone who remembers buying games on cassette.
The only disappointment is the bewildering in-game map, which makes finding your way around its sprawling world more of a nightmare than a dream. But maybe that’s just part of Fez’s retro stylings – a deliberate attempt to get us reaching for the graph paper to draw our own. We’re on to you, Fez...