An indie classic comes to Switch with a brilliant presentation and so many secrets.
When Fez came out on Xbox 360 nine years ago, I anticipated it largely because of the stylish visuals, spectacular soundtrack, and cute puzzle platforming. It more than delivers on all three, but beyond that veneer is a game that holds myriad secrets and is so much more than it lets on. While it’s hard to replicate the original experience of Fez (a few NWR staffers actually are trying, inspired by this tweet), this is still a magical game that is a welcome addition to the Switch library and still holds up in the modern day as a damn-near must-play classic.
Fez stars Gomez, a cute little fella who finds a fez hat (hence the name of the game) that allows him to see his 2D world in 3D space. That introduces the primary mechanic involving using the shoulder buttons to rotate the world left and right, showing four sides that allow for expanded traversal and lots of hiding spots. The quest involves collecting 32 cubes strewn about the world, hidden in different areas and environments that pay homage to Mario and even Tetris. Everything builds from that setup, adding in new twists on the rotation puzzles and platforming as well as more arcane and wild late-game challenges that might require you to take notes to keep up with. Going into further detail would spoil some of the fun. The answers are out there if you want to know, but if you’ve never played Fez before, I recommend just going in relatively blind.
The voxel-based graphics feel alive in the way they animate and rotate. I love the way Gomez bounces around with every step, watching as birds and other creatures flutter in the background. A strong serene feeling spews out whenever you enter a door and zoom into a new area behind you. The puzzles might get mind bending, but the tone and vibe is pure chill. No enemies are around to hurt you and the only way Gomez really stops is when he falls from a great height. And even then, he just respawns quickly. The atmosphere is made better by the outstanding soundtrack from Disasterpeace that is tone-setting with its incredible usage of chiptune and synths. This is up there with the greats in terms of gaming soundtracks.
Deliberately so, Fez doesn’t explain much. You’re tasked with getting the cubes and off you go. For the most part, this works very well. You keep returning to a main hub world and often when you get to the end of an area, you can easily warp back. Where it falters is that the map is shown in a confusing 3D line chart manner that gets confusing to make hay out of. When progress is forward moving, Fez soars. When you have to backtrack over areas to try to find one last cube, it sinks. In the mysterious back half, things go a little crazy, but that’s part of the charm.
When Fez clicks, it’s sublime. Bouncing through the world while rotating it to figure out the right way to reach a platform nails the right balance of difficulty and reward. The way the game opens up as you play, revealing secrets on top of secrets is something I’ve never seen another game land quite as well. What stands out most to me about Fez after nine years is that I’m in the midst of my third playthrough and even with some of the sheer novelty being lessened, I’m as enthralled as I was back in 2012. Fez stands as a truly unique indie game that draws inspiration from classics but is wholly its own precious and maddening experience that needs to be played.