Fez isn't remarkably dissimilar to an old family photo-album. Every turn of the page brings back plenty of happy memories that you'd previously misplaced, and for a moment you'll find yourself lost in blissful nostalgia. For many, it'll be nothing short of a bona-fide time-capsule.
That's not to suggest it doesn't break new ground; fiendish puzzles and an all-you-can-eat buffet of secrets keep proceedings remarkably fresh. Both old-fashioned and undeniably original at the same time, it takes the best of yesteryear's gaming and combines it with modern know-how to create something pretty special. Garnish with plenty of ingenuity, pop in the oven and you have Fez.
Your goal is simple. As the blocky little Gomez, you must find every cube scattered across the game's many stages to stop reality from ripping itself into pieces. Getting at them isn't quite so straightforward, though. Set within a 2D world of pixellated throwbacks, Fez's gameplay revolves around the ability to shift perspective by 90 degree increments. Hitting the triggers will rotate the level left or right, allowing you to access different faces of a stage that were previously inaccessible. This in turn unlocks new paths, the solution to seemingly unsolvable conundrums or doors that will take you to yet more worlds. Forcing you to think in both 2D and 3D space to solve its subtle - yet frequently baffling - challenges, it certainly doesn't lack ambition.
Case in point; with a whiff of M.C Escher's staircases about it, such meddling with viewpoint can alter how an environment fits together. From one angle you'll be standing on an unbroken platform, for example, but another will reveal that it's actually made up of two floating islands hovering miles apart. This concept is one Fez takes full advantage of, making for some intelligent puzzle-platforming that'll have you feeling rather clever indeed.
Fez's mind-bending charms aren't purely physical, nonetheless; the other side of its loveably retro coin is cerebral enough to make the game every bit as gratifying as it is occasionally intimidating. Riddled with codes to crack, its own language to decipher and ridiculously cunning challenges scattered all over the shop, it's an insanely layered experience. This is only compounded with new doors that are only available at night, or inaccessible chests that can't be reached without the aid of specific treasure maps. Make no mistake, this is one smart cookie.
Developer Polytron are hiding the best ace up their 16-bit sleeves, mind you. Despite it's obvious abundance of brains, this is a laid-back title that's far from difficult to get to grips with. Better still, the above intellectual elements are entirely optional. If you'd prefer to stick to the basics, it's possible to complete the game without ever pulling out a note-pad and pen.
Additionally, each bite-sized stage allows you to take things at your own pace. Because of this, Fez has a real pick-up-and-drop quality. Of course, that's assuming you'd want to put it down; collecting cubes is almost as heart-warmingly rewarding as finding stars in the recent Super Mario games, and it's every bit as more-ish. This is partly due to the fact that there isn't a set amount of lives to fritter away. There aren't any complicated mechanics to get the hang of, either - you merely move, spin the environment, jump or interact with the world via the X button. It's as simple as that. It's definitely going to take perseverance and a fair bit of input from the grey matter to reach 100% completion, but the nicest thing about them is that they're totally optional.
Let's not get too ahead of ourselves, nevertheless; it's not completely without fault. Fez's primary sticking point lies squarely (no pun intended) in its traversal. Rather than allowing you to fast travel (the best you get are sporadically placed warp-gates), you have to manually walk from area to area. Seeing as the majority of stages are squirreled away in odd corners of each world, traversal is thus something of a nuisance. What's more, the needlessly complex map doesn't help matters. Beyond informing you roughly of how everything fit together, it's a bit light on detail. Accordingly, it's not hard to become disorientated.
To make matters worse, glitches are an intermittent problem too. I suffered issues with ghosting platforms and a couple of game-breaking glitches to boot, and whilst these don't ruin the experience by any means they're pretty frustrating. I understand that Fez was made by an incredibly small team (and they've since admitted on Polytron's website that the game had received more testing in 24 hours of launch 'than it had in five years' of development), but that isn't much comfort when you're forced to reload because the whole thing's frozen up on you.
Fortunately, every cloud has a silver lining. Fez's can be found in its old-school aesthetic. With an art-style that takes liberal cues from days gone by whilst still managing to retain a deeply unique identity, the elegantly simplistic visuals are a riot of colour that are simply beautiful to behold (for fear of sounding overly romantic, the likes of it's sunsets are a highlight worth camping out for). Meanwhile, the sound design is so loveably nostalgic it'll give older players shivers. You may as well have pulled it straight out of the late 80s.
It's unabashed confirmation that Fez is by far and away one of the most memorable downloadable experiences of recent memory. At 800 MP, it's practically a steal as well. Relaxing and ambitious both, it's a reminder of exactly what made - and continues to make - gaming such a cracking industry. It may play host to a couple of irritating flaws, but these only go so far in spoiling the fun; the rest is a trip down to yesteryear that will remind you of why you fell in love with the medium in the first place.