Tag Archives: Fez

Fez and the Metroid We Loved

There’s a lot out there about Zelda’s relationship with Fez, but during my first playthrough I was reminded of playing Metroid as a kid. The sounds and organic feel make it like you are participating in the existence of a living thing. Eery at least, loving at best.


An orange and yellow figure against a silver backdrop. Simple enemy, architectural example, arm cannon extended in a prepared posture. I was too young to finish Metroid, looking back I probably explored less than a quarter of the map. But when Gunpei Yokoi and co. designed Metroid 1, “completing the game” iterated on the vague definition of exploration, story, and wonder that had yet to be fleshed out in games. When I saw the box on the shelf I had to know what it was.

img_0028Story is a given now, the creative clans that tackle our humble technology with the financial and diversified force of a big budget film offer up whatever research says should be there. If it’s good, good, if it’s bad well, it’s a game, some story telling elements are hard to fit into a game. With cinematic cutscenes, narrative dialogue and a cast of characters pages long, sometimes it’s a wonder that a game is ever released.

Fez isn’t like that, Fez is more akin to Metroid 1 than Zelda 1, and more than both, Fez adds community and life without shoving it down your throat. The world is not averse to you. Ambient chatter, environmentally phased music, weather and idle critters, either are what they are or stand as slim slices of a thick puzzle piece. Every detail matters. There are no enemies, dying is like going out of bounds, check the ball and play on. Fez takes out everything that makes the difficulty frustrating. No super low health cap up front, none of the retro “impossible bosses.” Beating Fez is like dedicating yourself to seeing every exhibit in every museum in DC. Stare long enough and you’ll start to see things you didn’t see before, a blinking star, a pattern in the architecture. Like handling a Rubik’s cube, you turn and stare, turn and stare, until at last a piece of the puzzle is solved. That’s where the difficulty lies, Fez woos you, and only after you have fallen completely do you begin to see that you saw nothing before, and you start drawing strange shapes on scrap paper for your family to find and ask you “why?” Or worse, say nothing at all but add them to the pile they know you keep them in.



One of the first puzzles, these little dudes hang on the wall in a picture in an old man’s house. They represent a code, but they also add to the life of the place. He lives there and he has these pictures, family, students.


The poster of Zelda 1 hanging in Gomez’s room sets the tone. I realize that if Fez is a tribute to any game its Zelda but the longer I played the more I came to associate the atmosphere with the planet Zebes. Finding the bits and cubes I thought, “it doesn’t matter what’s hidden, everything else is stripped down, Gomez is a simplified Samus Aran.” Gomez is all that Gomez is going to be, the drive isn’t to find an ability laden suit of armor, the drive is to put the world back together for civilization. A home like place that wants you to chill and trust it. And like all of Samus’ powerups, the cubes you find unlock further parts of the world.

In Zelda the art and music come together to create the very earth-like world of Hyrule. The art and music in Fez complete an other-worldly picture. Lonesome but not alone. Close but obtuse. Zelda makes me feel like I’m in the woods where I grew up, Fez makes me feel like I’m  watching moon exploration footage, expecting some horrible something to come out from behind a grey silt hill. No other game captures the eeriness like Metroid. Fez, inadvertantly or not, nails that on the head. Something happened and Home glitched out and now its dangerous and we’re the ones to figure it out.

When I was eight years old and I rented Metroid and somehow found my way to the vertical white corridors and chozo statues, I felt like I was being watched. The place was very much alive to me, the whole thing, the tunnels and architecture, and my presence is either of no concern at all or greatly unwanted. Not quite threatened, not quite safe. That was the whole point, the sounds, the music, all engineered so that player, Samus, and environment phase in and out of each other, belong to each other and exist off each other. Fez conveys the same feeling but with warmth. With a creative flair more like a candy store than a hostile planet, you just want to look at it, and then maybe lick it.

A great game takes you away and holds you captive. It isn’t that World of Warcraft does it, Call of Duty whatever, or Mario, Art does it. And when a game realizes the art plateau its worth your love, its worth a touch of your existence.

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The Depth of Fez

You’ll feel like you’re done, but if you are “playing authentically,” taking notes, not turning to Google every time you play (though I did search larger blocks of translation early on, stick with it though and you get to where you can kind of read it), when you get the achievement for finishing the game, its obvious you are not done. Remember finishing Fable, or ACII maybe, both of those games allow you to continue to explore and complete objectives, but the game doesn’t live on after the final mission, whatever that may be; still beautiful, still peaceful due to your diligence, but a little dead, silent almost. I’m around 150% complete and 30 hours in and I just found the 64 cube door under the tree. The endgame, or “aftergame” only gets better, richer, the longer you spend with it the more alive it becomes.


Fez, the 64 cube door.

The kind of depth Fez offers in akin to the earliest foundations of game culture, as if Phil Fish was frozen in time in the mid-eighties to be released a quarter century later with the ambition to make a game, only to realize the tools are space age compared to the 8-bit hammer and chisel they used to use, you build the tools yourself. Pixels sparkle and you can look behind them, you can use any color and make the music truly immersive. The art would be enough to bring Fez loads of positive attention, but the protracted post-game inspires patient completion, hermit qualities to avoid spoilers, worrying family members that find strange symbols written everywhere. The force of genuine complexity engenders in we Fezzians what the big shops are trying to accomplish through statistical research. Our dedication, loyalty, trust, and word of mouth. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that if Phil Fish released another game he would likely become successful all over again. There are several cases to show we respect and trust indie devs for their thoroughness, Edmund with Isaac on the 3ds, Jon Blow with The Witness, even Fez’s own composer Disasterpiece (and company @HeartMachine) with Hyper Light Drifter.

Fez is a lot like The Witness in that you really can’t look up solutions, you have to participate. You have to learn; as soon as you look one thing up you are skipping something you should have figured out on your own. It turns into a scavenger hunt. Fish originally wanted us to draw our own map. Everything is part of the solution, those solutions are skills that you develop, not something you can forget on use. Fez would be too much for me if I took too much time away from it, reading the language became easier, and the tetromino code, even the map starts making sense (a little anyway, even Phil said it was probably the weak point of the game).

And none of this is by accident, at one point Polytron had their hyper interested following believing the game was strictly 2-D. When I bought it in 2016 I had no idea what I was in for. About ever 5-10 hours I spend in the game I have another major revelation about what it all means. No one is shocked that people are still looking for secrets.

I understand if the game isn’t your thing, it wasn’t mine either. But I do respect the revolutionary of it, so I picked it up. It is a deep game, I can’t stop telling people, and every time I say it I mean something different. While you are in the game you’ll lose time, I don’t know how much but the colors and sounds, the lore and little surprises, they will float you from major revelation to major revelation.


At around 180% I’ve almost found all I need to get into that 64 cube door. The owls are another thing, one of the last spaces for me to “clear” is where they gather. I got real excited when the third owl said something about “the 64-bit name of God and then I came back to their gathering place to find them there. They kept coming around, I thought, but it didn’t click until the third and I acted on a suspicion and saw them all there. I kept thinking I wasn’t far from finding the fourth, the owls and the mystery that surrounds them had me certain the eerie feeling you pick up playing Fez is due to their presence.

It was around this point that I revisited the Observatory as well, poking around for that last secret. I didn’t notice how the light and dark cycle effect what you see through the Telescope. The red dots on a lot of the wall hangings reminded me of the treasure maps. When I saw the blinking lights it was a literal rush, I had found the other secrets in the room, but there was a hint that is alike to others in the game, and of course totally different just like all the others. To find my first heart bits on my own changed the way I feel about Fez and games like it. Fez is one of the most fleshed out games I’ve played. 180% and still leaning into content to find the next thing.



The first time I played Fez was years after it came out.  Years after the movie, the cancellation of Fez 2.  Turns out I get to count myself lucky for getting to separate the game form the drama that surrounded it.  to finally play it was great, the initial screen, the first bit before the world breaks, all the way to the end it was magical.  Fez did everything right and if you’ve somehow found this writing piled up in the back of some cloud server searching for reasons to either play it or not, just get it.

Now when I say “all the way to the end,” I mean I finished the story, which is more ‘an’ end. ‘The’ end isn’t something I’ll reach on my own. It’s beyond me, METATRON, for real? That’s the most random thing to me, even in the world of Fez.  Truth is I’ve read about how that puzzle was solved and I know there’s just no way I’d have ever solved it. I would have given up long before someone had the notion to use brute force.

As I’m writing this, I’m nearing 140%, almost 30 hours, and there has yet to be a single time I’ve sat down to play and been disappointed.  Even after solving the letters and numbers, I get excited when I find somethig else to translate. With all there is to read about Fez I’ve still managed to read little enough outside of the game that I’m still hoping for clues to puzzles I’ve yet to solve. Just today I found and solved the puzzle associated with the burnt map page, still I haven’t figured out the secret, but just entering the tetromino code to have the dark piece float above me was a rush.  Its those moments, and there are plenty, that has me savoring my current save game like I do the original Zelda I have saved on my 3ds (the only game I’ve played of Zelda 1).  We’re all chasing something, I want the sensation of having figured it out mostly myself. Its a rare puzzle game that has me embracing such an ambition. 60 hours into trying for “no death” achievements for Super Meat Boy? No Problem. But puzzles aren’t ever my thing.

Fez though, turned me onto Braid, turned me onto The Talos Principle.  I’ve even restarted Assassin’s Creed 2 because I know there are puzzles I left undone because “I hate that sort of thing.” Maybe its getting older but my appreciation for puzzles in a game at all have deepened greatly since Fez. It has forced my patience to mature the same way Super Meat Boy has focused my fine motor skills. I find myself taking a breath before a tough decision in my daily life. Its starnge to have my life affected so by a game.

To say nothing of the art would be wrong, but so much has already been said. What meaningful thing I have to say about the art alone could also apply to the game as a whole. Fez is the result of an artist that understands what it is to have craft. In its final form, what we have is the work of a man on his grind. I would have loved to be there as he called it “done.” But I also know that Phil Fish probably doesn’t see it as I do. After all the finese and detail I would imagine its hard for him not to see enough flaws to mean something. And something so personal as this game goes beyond flaws. It has flaws because it is so inseparably linked to its creator.

Fez Context


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The Color and Feel of Fez

33 hours into Fez and only a few items left to collect; the color and feel of Fez gets engrossing with progression.  Everything comes together to give us a place to be.

The 33 hours I’ve spent pouring over Phil Fish’s Fez has been in small doses. These games are the most for me, for some reason puzzlers are bigger than I can manage for extended periods of time. But every time the game makes its way back into my mind in a way that playing is unavoidable, I’m met with precise comfort. Even the opening chiptune chord that accompanies the title screen instructing us to press A seems to catch you, like falling into the game, or rising up to it, depending on how you view the rotating letters FEZ.

One of the things that stick out to me most, as Phil Fish explained in various interviews, is that all of the artwork for Fez was created in Photoshop and then imported into the Trixel engine to create the 3-d world. I don’t know how to make a game but I do understand Photoshop, and work ethic, and craft. It all comes together to create the original Zelda feeling of I-am-lost-and-I-haven’t-even-started. A game is often described as ‘Metroidvania’ because you run around collecting items that power up an otherwise weak player character.  Fez is like Metroid because you feel the character of the place, you understand that there is life but it isn’t overt and when you do meet it face to face its something you have to translate, explore to figure out and puzzle over. Its eerie and inviting and joyful and the further you get in the game the more you will recognize the precision of each cube, even more so when you see it in first person perspective.  The cubes are not flat with lines drawn to represent cracks and moss, they are textured, the cracks are indented, moss hugs the ground and butterflies land on it.

Fez Color 1

I found this room later in the game. I love all of the trees, but the color contrast sticks with me. One of my favorite spaces in Fez

The eerie-inviting-joyful was driven home in the room above.  The white skull (and let’s be honest the skulls and owls are carrying the creepy throughout the game) floating in what looks like blood was enough, by this point in the game these rooms feel close, like a thought that you live with and hear in your head often, maybe without you realizing it. It’s personal. This room’s secret stood out to me as strange and unique, they are all unique but this was unexpected and only added to the texture of it all.   I wanted out shortly after finding it.

I loved that the owls were scattered throughout, and I loved that you could talk to them.  What they had to say came off as just weird, as I found one early, and then another.  Having seen the two out in the wild and then traveling to their little corner of Fez-land where its spooky greenish blueish ghost home plays background to stormy weather and the lightening reveals hidden steps; that’s where the owls live, with the ghosts, I didn’t want to stay there either.

Fez Color 2

I love owls. We live in the country and we’ll get one from time to time take up residence near our property. When I saw that they all gathered here it was spooky, but at this point in the game a lot was starting to make sense to me. Fez will catch you and pull you in.

When I played Metroid for the first time I was way to young to grasp it beyond shooting the things that were killing me.  Somehow, my 7 year old best was to make it to a vertical tunnel with tiny white blocky steps, I don’t remember the name of the exact location on the map. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I played it again after that first experience and I had carried that feeling with me all that time.  I literally felt like I was trapped at the bottom of a deep tunnel and wasn’t able to negotiate the handholds to get myself out. Wondering around in the woods as a kid I’d been in that situation before. You know there are people around but they aren’t around you and you are going to have to reach that next whatever to get yourself out. When I got to that point in the game again I stopped to take it in and it had the same effect. There are so many moments in Fez that have that effect on me as I play through (I’m still not finished with it). Fez is for sure something I will come back to every few years as a place to visit.

To be continued…

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