Fez is a promising 2D indie platformer that finally lets you get behind flat background objects.
2D platformers typically leave a lot about the environment unanswered, but not Polytron Corporation's Fez. Fez takes the flat environments of 2D games and lets you get behind them through its "trixel" technology (which you can read about here and here), combining the mechanic with an absolutely adorable setting. The game's PAX East 2011 demo was enjoyable from every angle.
Fez stars a cute, little white creature named Gomez that wears a fez, just in case you were wondering about the title. However, Gomez starts out fez-less and must hop and climb his way to the top of a small island where he encounters a large golden cube that speaks to him an an alien language, and then explodes into pieces. A prismatic entity explains that this cube must be reassembled by collecting its smaller cubic pieces, and Gomez is the man for the job.
A fez drops down from the heavens and lands on Gomez's head, surprisingly giving him the ability to rotate his once 2D-only world. Unlike Super Paper Mario and other titles that allow players to switch between 2D and 3D, Fez always takes place on a 2D plane. It lets players rotate the 2D world so that a platform once directly in front of the player can be flipped out to the side, making it a new spot to hop on.
This might sound complicated, but it's very simple to understand once you see it in motion. Players will want to rotate the world in this way to uncover and collect pieces of the strange, alien cube, which are sometimes broken up even further into 8 blocks (or 8-bits, get it?). Once players pickup a cube, it can be used Super Mario Galaxy style to open doors that correspond with the number of cubes held. The demo only featured a couple of doors, but Fez has a world map that made it look like there were lots of different levels and connections between them.
Everything about Fez screams retro, primarily because the world and its characters are represented with a pixelated graphical style. However, this style is combined with HD effects, such as vibrant shine lines that emanate out of collected cubes. It looks as if someone took a Commodore 64 game and put it on a Blu-ray disc. The game includes other retro callbacks too, such as a cutscene that features intentional ASCII glitch effects and an old PC-style boot screen. Altogether, Fez's looks are extremely appealing because of artist and designer Phil Fish's visual direction that encompasses multiple traits.
Fez has been in development for over three years and won the award for "Excellence in Visual Art" at the Independent Games Festival in 2008. It should whet the whistle of fans that enjoy platformers like Braid and VVVVVV that change the genre's typical gameplay style with a unique mechanic. Fez is currently planned for release on Xbox Live Arcade in fall 2011.