Organ Grinder: The FEZ Experience

_FEZ is a game I’ve been looking forward to for the past two years, ever since randomly being linked to a gameplay preview for it [that wasn’t it, but the original video doesn’t seem to exist anymore]. All I needed to see was “puzzle platformer based around perception” and I was sold. To be honest, I really didn’t know much else. I didn’t need to. Sometimes, you’re sold so early on that any more detail is simply unnecessary. But even if I had been absorbing every bit of info I could find on the game, I doubt I would have been prepared for what awaited me.

_The video game, as we currently know it, has existed for about 40 years. In that time span, we’ve seen and experienced many marvels, from the platforming exploits of Mario to the ability to face off against virtual armies with people on the other side of the globe. The first time I personally experienced these things, I was a bit awestruck. As a youth, I had seen games like Pong and Centipede and Missile Command played on my dad’s old computer, but then…suddenly the game world is too large to fit on the screen display? How big IS this stage?! He just keeps running right and there’s an army of turtles and…brown things in his way! And suddenly, multiplayer gaming didn’t just mean “Playing games with people in the same room.” Those were big deals. Both of those aspects of video games are taken for granted nowadays. Now think back to Metroid. The first time I played it, I had that same sense of awe. “Whoa…it’s like a maze. How do you find everything? Where do I go?” That aspect, when found in video games, is not taken for granted. A legitimate sense of wonder for exploration and discovery isn’t something one gets from a video game that often.

Exploration and wonder are both found in abundance in FEZ.

_This isn’t entirely what I was expecting out of FEZ. When one thinks of puzzle platformers or other games cut from that cloth, games like Braid, Limbo or Portal come to mind. Each of those games presents you with stages or areas where the goal is kind of outlined for you. “Press this switch.” “Find your way up.” “Grab this puzzle piece.” Yeah, I know, that’s REALLY dumbing it down, but you get what I mean. But the bigger difference is more…in those games, every puzzle is in its own self-contained world. In Braid, you don’t get a new power which enables you to backtrack and go to a previously inaccessible area. In Portal, there’s no real backtracking of any kind. The easiest way to explain it…the puzzles laid before you in those games are more “Ah-ha!” FEZ is a game where the puzzles are often “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

_In case you couldn’t tell, I’m kind of dancing around some of the content found within the walls of FEZ. There’s a good reason for that: I think FEZ is something that should be discovered for yourself. It’s kind of like Myst, or a well thought out Alternate Reality Game. There’s a big difference between telling somebody something like “You solve the puzzle of THIS with something you find in THIS room!” and discussing the game with other players saying things like “I found this here! I bet I can use it here!” There’s a difference between reading about The Beast and experiencing The Beast. [Sadly, I wasn’t a part of The Beast. I did follow ilovebees though, which was a ton of fun and I hope to enjoy another experience like it again someday.] FEZ has a similar kind of feel to it. Not everybody will be able to figure out everything on their own, but I don’t think that being able to figure everything out on your own is the point.

_Think about the Halo franchise. There is so much hidden stuff and so many easter eggs, it’s just outrageous. Quite simply, there’s simply too much stuff that’s too far out of the way and just unintuitive for any one man to find. But luckily, thanks to the internet, we gamers are the video game playing equivalent to a million monkeys with typewriters. There is as much man-hours going into video games as ever before, except now, instead of only being able to get Milon’s Secret Castle tips from one other kid at class who has played the game and probably not beaten it either, a community is right at our fingertips all the time. As we speak, one’s of people are banding together to try to solve the mystery of the black monolith in FEZ. I have no idea where to start with that thing…but it’s alright if it’s incredibly obtuse! It’ll be solved eventually, likely not by a single person, but by a group of people who banded together to discuss theories about it! Something about FEZ just gives off that communal feeling, like it’s not just about exploring and seeing what you can find, but also about talking with other players and seeing what they’ve discovered that you haven’t and vice versa, as if sharing epiphanies is as big a part of the experience as having them yourself.

_Not everything about FEZ seems like it was the best possible idea to be put in the game. There are parts of it that definitely could have been executed better. But there are so many unique aspects of the game, it’s easy to excuse those parts. There’s so many clever ideas crammed into a single-digit hour game, it will probably embarrass some people. The game world seems so fully realized, it’s no wonder it took 5 years to make. I have a lot of praise to shower upon this game, but I will refrain from doing so. If it is within your capacity, you should check out FEZ.

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2 Comments

Filed under Live, Playtime, Thoughts

2 responses to “Organ Grinder: The FEZ Experience

  1. I can’t help but agree, having just completed new game +. The puzzles can seem a bit overwhelming, but through exploration, you get those moments that you can’t help but get that feeling we used to get in old adventure games, before internet walkthroughs became common.

    A few other backloggers have been playing it, and it’s been fun comparing notes and watching each other play – kind of how I remember playing old games like Final Fantasy, when we’d all talk about the game and our progress between friends, not having a GameFAQs to look to.

    The other part that is interesting, is all my pages of notes, copying things down because they might come in useful – the net result being a fully deciphered alphabet and number system that is integral to solving the game’s more intricate puzzles. And it didn’t feel tedious or boring – the game dropped just enough hints to keep you interested in moving forward without simply frustrating the player.

    There are, however, a couple awkward puzzles I feel could have been better implemented – specifically, a certain time based puzzle, and several necessitating the need for QR scanning capabilities. It has to be one of the glitchiest Xbox 360 games i’ve played in a while (I was kicked back to my game library twice, and slowdown during loading animations was constant) but generally, a very enjoyable experience despite it’s few flaws.

    The Phil Fish / Japanese games controversy is of course a factor in the reception of this game, but I choose to not let that alter my experience with Fez. While I don’t disagree with Fish’s points, and believe that many japanese games do have some significant flaws, I do disagree with both how he chose to express them – he could have been a bit more professional and less abrasive – and that he did so as a developer, despite not having released a game at that point, it was rather facetious to start hurling criticism without any visible credibility to back it up. I am sure many people feel strongly about what he has said, but don’t let that make you miss out on what is one of the best downloadable games of 2012.

    • _hojo

      I definitely hear you on the old adventure game vibe. One game this reminded me of that I didn’t bring up in my post was actually Milon’s Secret Castle. Could you imagine that game coming out on XBLA now? Being able to have a group of gamers all simultaneously experimenting and discovering things and sharing it with everybody? It would be a far cry from a bunch of isolated gamers having to get all their hints from the Tips section of Nintendo Power lol

      That idea reminds me of something I heard regarding television. A lot of write off TV, but in today’s hyper-connected environment online, live events are big deals. Like, the idea of everybody, everywhere watching something and being able to talk about it in real time. Twitter is basically the new water cooler, except it’s immediate. These early days of FEZ make me think about that. Sure, it’s fleeting and after the first week that feeling won’t really be able to recaptured or recreated, but there is definitely an attraction to it.

      Haha, yeah, there are definite problems with bugs and glitches. Apparently the game won’t even run on older model 360’s. Like…you just get booted back to the dashboard from the title screen. On the one hand, you say “Development was handled by two guys working on a shoestring budget. They could only do so much.” Which is true…to a point. Comparing it to Braid is like night and day in that department. Braid was mostly ONE guy and was tightly coded enough that no one ever hacked their way up the full game speed run leaderboard. That’s a fucking accomplishment on XBLA lol. But a lot like the Elder Scrolls game, which have ALWAYS been buggy as hell, it’s good enough for me to enjoy it despite its flaws.

      …the Fish/Japan thing is so touchy lol. People seem to be on either side of the line, like “I like Japanese game, what a blowhard!” or “He’s right, Japan sux!” He’s entitled to his opinion, definitely, and it’s obvious just from playing the game that he has a love for all the Japanese games he grew up in and his criticism is more directed towards the current state of Japanese game development, that’s still no real excuse for being as tactless as he was about it. And as far as credibility, the bottom of this page is really telling. I think getting awards like that before your product is finished probably inflates one’s ego a bit lol. Still no excuse, but just sayin’.

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