Critical Reception: Polytron Corp's Fez

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Polytron's perspective-shifting platformer Fez, which reviews describe as "an absolutely magical, albeit maddening experience."
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Polytron's perspective-shifting platformer Fez, which reviews describe as "an absolutely magical, albeit maddening experience." Fez currently earns a score of 90 out of 100 at Jessica Conditt at Joystiq gives Fez 5 out of 5 stars. "When a game has won numerous awards before its launch, is one half of an industry documentary, and is developed by an outspoken, opinionated man," she notes, "it resides in a universe of its own and players are relegated to describe it in one of two ways: with blazing praise or incendiary criticism." Conditt continues: "Fez is on fire, and it burns with a brilliant, red-hot, yellow-tasseled flame." "What stands out is its involving gameplay and gorgeous design," Conditt praises. "Players control the shift between 2D and 3D with the trigger buttons, each time stopping on a plane that appears to be an HD remake of any 1980s platformer." The experience also proves to be quite challenging. "Similar to the platformers of yore, Fez is difficult," Conditt warns. "Many [worlds] have secrets, physics puzzles and logic riddles offered without words or description, left up to the player's inference and, I've come to suspect, dumb luck." "Fez is joyful," Conditt adds. "Gomez is more expressive than a marshmallow-puff character has any right to be, and his adorability carries throughout the entire adventure. [...] In short, the long wait for Fez is entirely worth it. Play it, and I dare you not to smile." Games Radar's Hollander Cooper scores Fez at 9 out of 10. "What if the secret to opening this door involves standing still for twenty minutes?" he asks. "Is this a glitch, or are we supposed to be able to fall out of the window? Is that a QR code on the wall? Should we talk to more owls? Yes, all of these are perfectly valid questions you'll be asking as you experience Polytron's Fez." "Fez is more about cryptography than it is platforming," Cooper continues. "Sure, there's plenty of jumping around from object to object and climbing things, but that's only surface-level stuff. It's deeper -- much deeper -- than initially anticipated, proving to be an absolutely magical, albeit maddening experience." The platforming elements are still strong, however. "If you're signing up for Fez specifically to jump on things, you're not going to be disappointed; it does that well," Cooper assures. "When it puts on its platformer hat, Fez has some of the smartest design we've seen in years, with mind-bending segments that require precision timing as well as a mastery of the game's unique world-shifting mechanics." "But eventually, we ran out of places to go and doors to open, and were drastically short of the number of cubes we needed," Cooper recalls. "This'll happen after a few hours of play, causing the game to suddenly transform from cute, indie platformer to absurd, puzzle-cracking masterpiece." "The best puzzle games have the ability to make the player feel inversely smart and stupid," Cooper writes. "We're sure some will be turned off by the dense, unorthodox style -- it's absolutely not for everyone -- but we're in love, and expect to spend many more hours unraveling the game's secrets." Jeff Gerstmann at Giant Bomb rates Fez at 4 out of 5 stars. "With Fez, you get as much out of it as you're willing to put in," he asserts. "That is, the game works on multiple layers. On the surface, it's a breezy little platformer that you should be able to cruise through without much difficulty. [...] But if you just collect 32 cubes and 'finish' the game, you're barely seeing what Fez actually has to offer." Gerstmann finds that Fez is at its most enjoyable when players explore beyond the game's minimum requirements. "As you dig beneath the faux-retro aesthetic, Fez reveals all sorts of hidden elements," he notes. "It forces you to pay attention to everything, from the paintings in a room to the scribblings left behind on classroom chalk boards. It never comes right out and says what's what, but as you explore the world and start to recognize what you're actually seeing around you, it creates a set of magical moments." Bugs harm the experience, however. "On multiple occasions, I've had the game simply quit back to the Xbox 360 dashboard without warning," Gerstmann writes. "Thankfully, the game auto-saves quite regularly, so I never lost much progress. It sounds like some other players are experiencing more dramatic problems, such as loops that prevent their save game from loading, and so on. Additionally, the game's frame rate often bogs down when you first load into an area, causing stuttery transitions from one zone to another as well as slowdown once you get to where you're going." "On my initial playthrough, the game was downright maddening because it was impossible to know if I should be paying attention to all the symbols and items around the world as I hunted around for enough cubes to finish the game," Gerstmann says. "Then, as I started to figure out what it was actually asking me to do, I started dreading the idea of busting out graph paper and attempting to piece the mysteries together for myself." However: "Even if you end up letting a collective of Internet sleuths guide you by the hand as you work your way through the game's cubes, anti-cubes, artifacts, and other items, Fez still somehow manages to be worth seeing, if only to marvel at how much weird work went into making what we all thought was just a retro-styled perspective-shifting puzzle game into something decidedly more mind-bending."

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