Fez slips in under the Indie Wankery Radar in a cute, colorful package that calls to mind a hybrid of Cave Story and the fun rock-solid platformers of the 16-bit era. Then you get about 60 minutes in or so and realize the game is all Pretty and little Substance. Well, there's worse time sinks out there, I guess, but it's still very disappointing. Especially in light of the critical spunkfest that accompanied the game's release.
Fez calls to mind two innovative PSP platformer releases - Crush and Echocrome. I hesitate to go as far as calling it a ripoff of either, but it is awfully coincidental that it went into development right about the same time both ot those games were released back in the Pleistocene. It initially looks like a refreshing and innovative take on the old platformer formula - you're primarily running and jumping, but you can rotate the game world vertically in increments of 90 degrees. This is great until you find that the only activity in the game is exploring levels to collect X number of cubes. No enemies, no deaths, no real element of challenge whatsoever other than rotating the game world from each new minnaret you reach until paths forward become evident. Sometimes simply rotating a bunch of times will glitch you over to a distant platform inexplicably as apparently the game engine's positional tracking of the player is buggy. Supposedly this was patched out but it still happened to me a couple of times in a Jan. 2014 install of the game from Steam.
I didn't complete the game, but apparently if you do there's a New Game+ mode that adds actual puzzles and riddles to the levels. Unfortunately, by all reports these require going outside of the game to dig up obscure information, solve advanced math problems or even in some cases scan QR codes. Forcing the player to sink how many hours into a non-game before allowing them to replay it with actual challenge is bad enough on its own, but expecting them to have expensive tools (a smartphone) or quit out of the game to look things up is design failure at the most fundamental level.
I don't know if this is a case of targeted marketing or this is just who the designer is and thinks everyone playing the game is going to be just like him (and can fuck right off if they aren't.) Phil Fish seems both highly unstable and unpleasant and I don't care to delve any farther into his life or psyche to figure it out. Whichever is the case, the game seems entirely aimed at casual-gaming tech hipsters who live in expensive trendy coastal cities, pay for their Starbucks venti lattes with their iPhone and like to play those augmented reality games that corporations run as viral marketing in cities. Hey, guess where most of "games journalism" is headquartered? It's just conjecture, but it would certainly explain certain discrepancies about the game's reception.