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Dee Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2012-06-05 05:38:15
Yeah, this one's weird. And it only tangentially has bearing on the XBLA game itself. Today's comic strip was something of an experiment for us. If it didn't work for you, sorry; we'll be back to poop jokes soon enough.
Fez is one of the most remarkable platformers I've ever played. I struggled for a long while trying to decide whether it was unfettered brilliance or an overreaching, steaming mound of pretentiousness. It employs an 8-bit retro aesthetic to amplify the effect of its forward thinking game mechanic and overarching design.
The game is clearly alluding to more than simply jumping, climbing, and opening doors. There's an allegorical meta-narrative that seems to be commenting on everything from the state of the videogame industry to the metaphysical reality of the universe itself. I knew I was in for something astonishing when, as Fez's opening sequence transitioned into the game proper, it made me audibly and candidly gasp out,"WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING HERE?"
Its unique game mechanic is that, while it is a 2D platformer, your magical fez allows you to manipulate the vibrating strings that the universe consists of (my interpretation) to TURN the world sideways. After doing so, you can travel along two dimensionally along the other axis, seeing and interacting with environmental objects hitherto inaccessible. The game is about constantly SHIFTING PERSPECTIVE in order to reach previously inaccessible areas to gain more knowledge and understanding. That alone is an insightful metaphor for life. Or maybe I'm reading way too much substance into what is actually insubstantial magniloquence. Or is the fact that I'm even trying to deliberate between the two, a blatant indicator that Fez's thought provoking nature reveals its importance? I don't know anymore.
So as you use this world turning mechanic to jump and puzzle your way through the game, it starts to hint at far greater depth. Some puzzles, even in the starting area, seem intractable and unfathomable. I started making physical notes (something I hadn't done in a game since Apple IIe RPGs) in order to mark odd signs and portents that seemed to hint at solutions. This was an extremely frustrating experience that gnawed away at my obsessive compulsive curiosity as well as my ego. In order to truly conquer Fez, you need CRYPTOLOGICAL skills to unravel its mysteries. There is a point in the game when this all crystallizes when you, essentially, crack its freaking Rosetta Stone. Once armed with that breakthrough, Fez very nearly explodes in the intensity with which you power through it.
Even still, there remained a couple of undecipherable collectibles I couldn't wrest from the game's grasp on my own. Once I decided that I had sucked as much of Fez marrow as I was willing to invest time into doing, I started hitting up message boards and discovered that a vibrant communal effort had attacked the game's mysteries together. This community reminded me of the "I Love Bees" ARG viral marketing campaign for Halo 2, or the madness of unraveling the intricacies of Demon's Souls. Frankly, I freely concede, I never would have solved at least one of the puzzles on my own. I gotta say, that one puzzle I'm thinking of, is horseshit. (Is this my wounded ego saying this, or a critical analysis of its unreasonably esoteric nature?)
The line of demarcation between genius and pretentiousness is success. You aim high and miss, you get panned for shallow pseudo-grandiosity. Fez aims high, and it's difficult to determine if it hits the target, or confuses the flight of the arrow with clever but lowbrow sleight of hand. I refuse to admit that I'm not smart enough to tell the difference, so I'm going to go ahead and tell you that Fez is brilliant and fucking incredible.