Fez: A Tour of Phil Fish's Mind Palace

By Will Smith

After five years, Fez has finally come out. You should play it. You should not read this post.

I don't think I can talk about Fez without also spoiling Fez. If you love games, you should buy Fez today. It's on Xbox Live Arcade, and it costs $10 or 800 Microsoft space bucks. Despite a few minor technical glitches I encountered, I cannot endorse this game strongly enough.

Image Credit: Polytron

Play it without Internet assistance. Don't look at FAQs. Turn up the sound. Don't worry about achievements. Don't read the rest of this post until you've played the game. Have fun exploring!

After a five-year development process so torturous for its creator Phil Fish that it was documented in a movie, Fez is out. I'm not going to talk about that though.

I'm going to talk about the game. It starts as a 8- or maybe 16-bit throwback platformer with a clever Flatland-esque hook--the 2D protagonist, Gomez, discovers he lives in a 3D world. The perspective tricks are a fresh twist on traditional platforming and the traversal mechanic is fun and satisfying. I leave the starting area and open the first door I come to. I start exploring.

At first, my only goal is to find doors and see what's inside. After an hour or two opening doors and collecting the same kind of stuff you collect in most games, I check the map and realize how far I've travelled. I wonder if all the doors go this deep.

I backtrack to the start, open some more doors, and find another hours-long path. Strewn along the way are rooms the map says have puzzles--some with obvious solutions, some fiendishly difficult, some without an obvious puzzle. I like puzzles.

It's a lonely game. The puzzles, no matter how difficult they seem, are fair and have solutions that you should be able to deduce. I get a little endorphin rush every time I complete a tough one.

I find a classroom. I learn about the evolution of Gomez's people. I learn that they have a numerical system. There's an alphabet. There might even be a language. My story is a small part of a larger universe.

I see Tetrominos everywhere. I hear a familiar sound. It's the _bloop_ noise my cannon made in Space Invaders. I listen more closely. The score is evocative and referential and original all at the same time. I hear more familiar sounds from my youth. I wonder if Fez is more than just a game, I think I might be inside Phil Fish's memory palace.

It's 2AM, and I understand what paranoia really feels like. Everywhere I look, I see clues that point me toward the puzzle of the world. They're everywhere: in the stars, in the shadows, on signs, and in masonry. I'm taking pictures of the screen and writing elaborate notes. I see hints of things in the 3D spaces between 2D worlds. The clues all point to something, but I can't put it together. I go through the last door.

After the end, I go to sleep and dream Tetris dreams.

Disclosure: Microsoft provided us with an early copy of Fez