‘Fez’ (PS4) review: Turning the world on its side

Intricate, ingenious puzzles anchor aesthetically beautiful ‘Fez’

There’s something so strikingly simple about the complexities of “Fez.” You’re this adorable little creature, Gomez, in this stunningly gorgeous two-dimensional world, and you’re just trying to solve the mysteries of this universe by rotating it every which way. You’re going to want to pull your hair out trying to solve some of this deceptively challenging puzzles, but you’ll be in awe the entire time. Do you see how cute that hat is?!

The simplicity of “Fez” is rooted in its controls. Those controls, however, belie the outrageous amount of work you’ll have to put in if you want to solve all the rotating, intricate puzzles. You see, Gomez can shift the world by 90 degrees left or right (think of a cube and moving from one plane to another). And that’s how you’re going to progress: Because what you see at first is hardly all that’s there.

It’s like looking at a three-dimensional painting, with designs on both inside and out. You’ll need to turn the world to be able to advance, because each side has different designs. Say you’re stuck and can’t climb up anymore. Shift the world to the right, and you may see a new set of stairs created out of the side of the previous view and the front of the new one. And that’s the basic task of “Fez.” Simple, right?

Well, it is. Until it isn’t. You’re told the basics, but then you’re thrown into the game to figure it out yourself. Exploration is key, as is experimentation. There’s no other way around it: You’re just going to have to try until you figure it out.

The multiple levels you’ll be exploring are head-scratching at times, but you’ll feel outrageously accomplished when you solve them. And there’s plenty to explore within each area that’s not tied to story progression, giving “Fez” a bit more depth beyond its puzzles. (For some replay value, the game offers multiple route on many stages, allowing for even more exploration.) The sets also are quite a sight to look at. From the frenetic scene-changing (both in terms in level and perception) to the vibrancy of its charming pixel art, you have plenty to enjoy aesthetically.

But that’s all mechanical and technical. The tone and writing of “Fez” is arguably even more endearing. Even when things get a little weird (and it happens more than once; I even thought my console was dying at one point), the entire feel of “Fez” borders on whimsical. From the colors to the NPCs, there’s just a sense of wonder here. Until the world is blown up, that is, at which point you set out to help fix the problem with your useless helper friend Dot. (Think of Link’s Navi companion in “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” but only slightly less annoying.)

In the end, “Fez” is a charming puzzle game that will challenge your sense of perception. It’s endearing and packed full of little secrets just waiting to be discovered, and its old-school vibe created by Polytron Corp. can’t be beat. You may get frustrated at times, but solving this gem of a game is worth the effort.

Four “Why did I turn it that way?” stars out of five.

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