Rilla and I have been playing Fez for the last few days. It’s been a pretty weird ride, actually. One in which we didn’t particularly enjoy much of the game (beyond some pretty captivating cuteness) until we’d finished up to 100% and then started a “New Game+”. It has a bunch of elements that didn’t quite work for us, particularly the map, some of the platforming physics, and the inanity of trying to get around from area to area once you’d already been somewhere. However, Fez does do some things pretty well, and there’s one element I particularly admire.
Mild spoilers coming up, perhaps, I’m not really sure since I don’t know what I’m going to write.
Anyway, if you think about what you can do in the game, in terms of your agency, it’s apparently not much. Move around, jump, spin the word on the vertical axis, and that’s most of it. Throw in talking to people and the odd specialised interaction (bombs, ringing a bell) and you’re pretty much done. This is typical of most platformers and, if we’re being honest, this is typical of pretty much every game out there. Your level of direct agency is incredibly limited and this is usually made up for by complicating that agency in terms of its efficacy – +2 broadsword, level 50 zombie, etc etc.
So one really smart thing that Fez does is choose moments (puzzles) that reinterpret what your standard agency means at a meta level. Effectively it uses the language of console cheat codes, which have always been combinations of button presses, as a further means of expression in the game world. In particular, you can use the buttons that normally control your physical movement (and still do even then) to basically say to the game “I get it”. Specifically, that you “get” a puzzle.
This is so simple, but so extremely effective, and I’m full of admiration for that leveraging of a different kind of agency, that movement away from endlessly physical expression toward something more cerebral (and something more cerebral that doesn’t involve dialogue trees, thank god). It works incredibly well and feels like a real sort of communion with the “spirit of the game” or whatever. You call, it answers (or not, if you got it wrong, obviously).
If there’s one thing I’ve found to genuinely love about Fez (apart from Gomez, the little cutie pie!), this is it, and I hope people take note.