2D, or not 2D?

One Dimension Is Boring

In 2007 we were treated to a fresh spin of the then-growing-old platformer genre. And who better to lead the way in the genre than Mario? Of course the game was Super Paper Mario, and its appeal was the blending of the 2D and 3D space. Since then, this idea has been expanded upon by a number of different developers and to some fantastic results. The platformer has now evolved into a much more complex genre and has quickly become the preferred canvas for many upcoming indie developers to paint their creations on.

Also following this trend is Fez, a new platformer that has been in development for a few years now and even picked up the award for ‘Excellence in Visual Art’ along the way at the 2008 Independent Games Festival. However, the delayed release makes us wonder whether there is room for one more participant in a genre that has been so thoroughly explored by many other indie developers?

Reality Is Perception

Fez is the newest creation from Polytron Corporation, whose previous release called Super HyperCube challenged the player’s idea of 3D perception and space. The task was to fit a constantly moving 3D shape made up of cubes in to a hole before it collided with the oncoming wall. The bewilderingly simple design originating from the ‘fit this shape into the hole’ test that toddlers are often presented with both challenged and confused its players. It also showed early signs of the team’s interest in fusing M.C. Escher-like architecture into video game design that provides a unique puzzle construction that can only be truly realised through video games.

Although Fez does not match the style of their previous title, Polytron’s ideas have certainly carried over to make this more than just another 2D platformer. Playing as a small all-white character wearing a fez (hence the title) called Gomez, you explore a 3D world from a flat, 2D character’s perspective. Although the game has been compared to games like Crush and Echochrome, it is actually quite different in its design. Instead of switching between 2D and 3D, Fez only plays as a 2D sidescroller. Each level can be imagined as a cube, and the player can rotate the cube horizontally across the four flat faces with the shoulder buttons. As such, you are always in the second dimension, whilst the world exists in three dimensions. Although this is a complex idea that is difficult to comprehend, once you have witnessed the game rotating between the horizontal faces, it all becomes clear. It will more than likely make your jaw drop and will force you to tilt your head slightly in order to try and understand what just happened.

Sugar Coated World

The game is set in a bright and cheery 8-bit world that pays tribute to the platformers of old. The animations are not of the same style, however, and are very smooth, proving that the retro style is merely a visual tribute and not a frustrating return to the time of stiff controls. What can be seen of the levels so far is that they are understandably complex and can be traversed in a number of different ways. When you consider that nearly every single spot on the level can be explored from four different angles, you may begin to imagine the amount of thought poured into the level design. The levels are made up mostly of 1x1 cubes that form floating structures and other architecture.

Gomez is not alone in his journey and can be seen interacting with many other characters that resemble his all-white exterior. Now you know where the Moomins have been all this time. There also seem to be little towns and houses to visit that place this platformer in a similar vein to Cave Story. There is certainly a match in the eccentricity of the characters and the fantastical setting.

Although it is not clear what will be in the final game beyond this, it is clear that Gomez must perform a variety of different actions to reach the end of the level. Climbing, throwing bombs and navigating dark spaces are all certain to feature in the game, adding their own bit of diversity into the mix. In order to motivate players to fully explore the levels, there seem to also be collectibles of various types. From gameplay shown so far, Gomez can be seen to collect items from small cubes to form a bigger cube, fezzes and keys for treasure chests. It certainly looks as if the game will provide a challenge and a good deal of replayability. It’s going to be a dizzying ride to say the least.

Slipping Into An Abyss?

The importance of the story is not clear at this point. But there are hints that it may involve the swallowing of Gomez’s world into an abyss, presumably because of an inter-dimensional collapse or something along those lines. Your random guess at a pretentious, sci-fi/fantasy storyline is as good as mine. The story and some useful hints for players will be communicated through the many signposts and the zany characters that inhabit the world.

A lot of thought has obviously gone into the game, and the Trixel engine that the game uses is certainly capable of transferring this effort into a truly exciting title. Being a huge lover of innovative and complex gameplay, Fez is certainly adding up to be a must-buy title for me and many other indie game fans. With so many other repetitive big-name titles being released, Fez is one of those games that is standing out despite its low-budget production. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that 2011 is finally the year that the game is released, so we can explore the dizzying delights of what Polytron has created.