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Joystiq Top 10 of 2012: Fez


Years of hype, several delays, a self-destructively outspoken developer, framerate stutters, game-breaking crashes, and now post-patch blues. While I don't agree, I can certainly understand why some have little time for Fez even before getting into the game underneath all the mess. That's a shame, because the game is an absolute peach.

The Fez I played back in April, which crashed nine times in all and stuttered on numerous occasions, was worth the tribulations and then some. I raced through it across the release weekend, throwing myself at the challenge of finding all the cubes hidden within the cryptographic platformer, and doing so without any outside help whatsoever (OK, maybe a little). It should have been a maddening exercise of frustration and ire, but instead I had an airy grin plastered across my features throughout.

Fez is like a Black Forest cake mixed with a Matryoshka doll; each deep-enough bite reveals a whole new layer concealed beneath, with its own delicious flavor to discover. The first, superficial layer is that of a pixelated 2D platformer which can be rotated around a 3D axis. Not only can this mechanic be used to guide your hatted avatar to cubes hidden across the game world, but on a purely technical level it's succulent enough on its own. At first it might seem gimmicky, yet it doesn't become stagnant no matter how deep you go.

As strongly variable as the level design is, what keeps Fez going in terms of that superficial layer is a kaleidoscope of audiovisual guises. One moment it's a breezy paradise of green pastures and sunny skies, the next an almost surly symphony of (deliberate) multicolored glitches, and then a hypnagogic graveyard complete with an owl head statue following you with its gaze as you creep about its domain. The game wears many masks across its many levels, changing its look, sound, and feel constantly. Considered as a world to explore and soak in, Fez is a feast for the senses.

DNP Joystiq Top 10 of 2012 Fez
This is just one layer, and the code-breaking layers beneath are what make things really tick. As the realization emerges of just how deep the rabbit hole goes, Fez morphs from a quirky, colorful indie platformer to something akin to a surrealistic crossword puzzle, except each word solved changes its complexion profoundly.

That's even before you get to the middlemost layer, because what lies in there is a real wow moment. I won't spoil it, but suffice to say discovering it made me feel like Neo seeing the numbered code within the Matrix. From then on, I was hooked.

That's why I so enthusiastically pursued every last cube across that opening weekend. And I was lucky to do so; maybe I wouldn't be extolling the game so highly had I come to it later, given all the complications it's suffered since launch. Those issues (and others) have let Fez down, but I prefer to look with optimism to the news of the game coming to other platforms next year. Not only does it mean more people will get to experience something just short of a masterpiece, but there's also the opportunity for a rebirth, and to give a very good game the technical platform it deserves. Let's hope it isn't wasted.

Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2012 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far:
  1. ??????
  2. ??????
  3. ??????
  4. Fez
  5. Super Hexagon
  6. Dishonored
  7. Halo 4
  8. Mark of the Ninja
  9. Mass Effect 3
  10. ZombiU

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