The game’s “Hot New Previews” gimmick is that it takes place in a 3D world, but you only get to play in two Ds at a time. Your controller’s triggers rotate the world 90 degrees in either direction; platforms that are situated on opposite corners of the x-z plane can form one continuous plateau as long as they line up clearly on your y axis. This would probably be enough to make a game out of (don’t tell “Super Paper Mario” that), and naturally it is used extensively, but the experience of playing “Fez” is more saturated with cryptography than puzzly platforming.
Maybe-long story cut a little short: I like it, yeah. The puzzles are cool, and it’s nice that some of them are enormous enough that they loom over the whole experience: What’s up with the codes hidden opposite the giant chairs? What do I do with those little pillars with cubes inside of them? Is it this “Tetris” puzzle that’s dumb, or is it me? Also the game looks very nice, and sometimes it sounds fantastic, and it manages to repeatedly surprise in both senses.
But the game’s missteps are just as surprising. The collection of things wrong with the game is probably the strangest I can think of: shudder-inducing references to internet memes, jokes about an annoying video game character that are much more annoying than that video game character, ridiculous QR codes as optional solutions to certain puzzles, things that its director wrote on Twitter.
The real problem, though: Clearing a stage in “Super Mario Bros. 3” without getting hit is usually a much more interesting puzzle than any of the symbols scrawled onto “Fez’s” walls. I’m not saying “Fez’s” puzzles aren’t fun, because they usually are, and when they’re not making you feel like you might be a moron they can make you feel like you might be pretty smart, for a second.
Clearing “Super Mario Bros. 3” without ever picking up a mushroom didn’t make me feel smart; on the other hand, it definitely taught me how to play bass guitar.
two stars out of four
Ben Hornsby used to have “Rubik’s Cube” races in middle school (he was very cool).