FEZ – Sucks in All Dimensions

Fez Feature

Okay, I don’t normally do this, but I’m stopping you right here.  DO NOT read this article if you haven’t played FEZ.  I’m going to be talking about some things that – even having heard mention of them – will definitely take away from the FEZ experience.  So, here’s a summary of my feelings for the game up front:

FEZ is an incredible experience yet a mediocre game.  It’s difficult to recommend as its unprecedented dependence on its players’ privilege and prior, non-game related knowledge greatly deters players.  If you’re a fan of platformers, there’s some fun to be had in this collect-a-thon, though the rotating mechanic’s novelty will diminish sooner rather than later.  If you’re a completionist, stay away!  The latter puzzles are insanely cryptic, unfair, and nigh impossible, especially if you have no programming or coding knowledge (like me).

Well, with that out of the way, I want to talk about some FEZ!  This article is meant for people who’ve already played through FEZ, so I’ll be approaching mechanics and puzzles under the assumption that the reader’s already familiar with these things.  Another great reason why you shouldn’t read this if you haven’t play the game yet!

But, seriously, if you haven’t played it yet, don’t read this or anything else online about it.  It will legitimately ruin things for you.

Fez CoverGame: FEZ

Platform: XBLA, Steam, PC, PSN

Developer: Polytron

Publisher: Trapdoor (PSN)

Release Year: 2012

I want to lay this out there: I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into when I downloaded FEZ.  I saw it when if first came out, thought it looked cool, and then ignored it until it came to a platform I wanted to play it on. The only things I knew about FEZ is that it looked like a cutesy platformer and Phil Fish was kind of a childish, unprofessional prick.  Considering I’m those things, too (the Phil Fish things, not the cutesy platformer thing.  One can only dream…), I didn’t let it bother me.  I’m pretty good at separating the art from the artist.

Phil

I’m sure he meant to put “at” after “worst.” If that’s the case, I’m guilty as charged!

I snatched FEZ up when it finally released on the Vita!  I downloaded it, played through to the end, got the New Game +, restarted, got stuck, and went to the internet to find solutions.

This was my greatest mistake in playing FEZ.

losing-money

Other than actually paying for the game, that is.

Since the game’s laid out like a Metroid-vania, I assumed I’d get upgrades as I played, allowing access to the copious blocked paths found during my journey.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  I finished the game, got a sweet pair of shades, and that was it.  No upgrades at all: no missiles, no transformations, no options, no sweet Mexican wrestling moves.  All I got was some sun glasses that let me go into First-person mode.  What the crap will that do for me?

Shades

Other than make me look freaking awesome, of course!

Befuddled, I sat there and stared at the in-game map (which is a horrendous mess, by the way) and lamented at all the purple question marks that indicated I haven’t discovered a secret in that room yet.  I went to each room, scoured it in first-person mode, and left just as confused as I had been when I entered.  I felt stupid and hopeless; thus, a prime candidate for the Internet!

welcome-to-internet

Everyone on the Internet is [insert racist/sexist remark here]!

I looked up some stuff and discovered there was another layer to FEZ I had no idea existed.  Up to that point, I had only thought the puzzles in the game were related to platforming and rotating.  I had no idea the game had its own language and number system!

thCAWXZUSH

This single picture will help you solve most of the latter puzzles in the game.

As I played, I kept seeing weird writings on the walls that I felt I should be able to read.  I just didn’t know it was my responsibility to figure out how to read the stuff myself!  Seriously, there was no indication that you should learn to read the stuff, let alone an obvious means of learning how to read it!  The game’s sole clue is vague and obscure at best and downright worthless at worst.  You know the clue I’m talking about:

Fez (7)

An obvious reference to Disney’s The Fox and the Hound!  Quick!  Grab the VHS, pull out the film, and run it backwards under a lamp!

When I saw the fox jumping over the dog in the forest, it got my attention, but I didn’t think it was important (mainly because I didn’t know they were a fox and a dog).  Oh, it was important, all right.  It’s pretty much the crux of the latter part of the game!  You know the old typist learning tool:

“The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” 

That sentence contains every letter in the English alphabet.  Combine that with another obscure clue you saw in an in-game classroom that reveals reading the text requires you to rotate the text 90 degrees, and you have yourself the game’s alphabet!  The stone column the animals are next to is the game’s Rosetta Stone!

There are so many reasons why this revelation is awesome and why it’s terrible.  It’s awesome because WOW!  Really?  Well played, Polytron!  That was really cool!  I especially like how old school it feels: no hand holding, just your intellect kicking ass!  Too bad I wasn’t smart enough to discover it on my own…

GIFSec.com

So this is why I have so many friends!

Now, let’s talk about why it’s terrible.  First, not everybody knows that sentence and its significance.  Some of my colleagues hadn’t even heard of that sentence.  Second, that sentence only holds importance to English speakers.  If you don’t speak English, you will never figure out that puzzle, which effectively dashes the hopes of completing this game.

Dog

Exactly…?

And there lies the biggest problem with FEZ: it expects too much from the player.  Not only do you have to know English, but you’d have to have taken a typing class to know the Fox sentence.  In later puzzles, you have to know how to convert blinking lights into binary, translate that to hexadecimal,  and then convert that to ASCII.  I have a Master’s Degree, and I barely know what any of that prior sentence means!

Masters

Truth.

Then there’s the monolith puzzle. My, God.  This beast stumped the Gaming Community for weeks.  I’m so used to getting on the internet to find solutions; I can’t believe there was a significant amount of time when this puzzle went unsolved.  The community finally cracked it with brute force (randomly pressing button combinations until they found the right one), but it wouldn’t be until much later when somebody actually found the way to obtain the solution.

Monolith

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… Now it makes sense?

It was neat to see the gaming community ban together and tackle this ridiculously difficult puzzle.  But apparently the battle isn’t over yet.  There are people out there convinced that not everything has been seen in FEZ yet.  Since the game is so cryptic and obscure, it’s hard not to be a little skeptical.  I mean, what’s the Skull Artifact for?  And what’s the deal with the Heart Cube?  Does anything happen after you break the Heart Cube apart?  Has anyone legitimately figured out how to obtain the button combination needed to break the Heart Cube?  What’s with the stereoscopic view?  Does that reveal anything?  Why can Gomez inexplicably fly after starting a new game plus?

Shades

Shades, motherfucker!  Shades!

And that’s what makes FEZ so compelling: There’s so much mystery that’s still unsolved after nearly 2 years!  I just can’t accept that in this day and age.  However, Renaud Bédard, FEZ‘s programmer, has remained tight-lipped whenever he’s asked if there’s more to be discovered.

In any case, I’ve completed FEZ with a 209.4% completion rating (whatever that means).  Now that I’ve done everything (known) there is to do in the game, I feel ambivalent. On one hand, I can appreciate everything the game did as a game: the graphics were great, the music was superb, and the platforming was okay if not a little too easy.  On the other hand, I’ve mixed feelings about its “meta game” aspect.

As a meta game, I loved how it broke the fourth wall and spilled out into the real world in the form of player-made tools.  It’s also amazing how it brought a community together, reminiscent of gaming’s nascence and how we all congregated in cafeterias and playgrounds in order to solve some of gaming’s first puzzles.  However, I have to calls ’em how I sees ’em, and the latter puzzles in FEZ are completely terrible and poorly designed.  They require too much outside knowledge from the player.  And don’t forget resources!  Though hard to believe, not everybody has a smartphone.

QR

Rich and privileged English-Speaking programmers was the demographic you were trying to reach, then?

But does that mean Fez‘s puzzles are bad?  Sure, they’re poorly designed, but that’s by gaming standards.  FEZs avante-garde puzzles are energizing and brutal, and they show exactly how gaming as a medium can define itself from other art forms as well as redefine itself within its own genre.

fart_in_wetsuitWhoa.  Pretension overload.  Here’s a fart joke to bring you back down.

So my ambivalence for FEZ is born from the fact that – despite knowing the platforming was mediocre, despite knowing the puzzles were poorly designed and bias, and despite my frustration with the game’s possible incompleteness – I still freaking love it!

I spent an entire weekend with the game, and I’ve never been so engaged!  I became steeped in its culture, researched everything I could online, and delved deeply into the rabbit hole that is FEZ‘s world.  The game sparked my imagination like no other as I tried to decipher its back story from pictures on the wall.  FEZ offers so much by only using visuals, and that’s something incredible that I can’t deny.

So… my final verdict?  I said it at the beginning of the article: it’s an okay game yet an outstanding experience that I can’t recommend.  FEZ can only be truly appreciated by English-speaking players with very, very keen eyes for detail.  Being able to refrain from using the internet to figure out the meta part of the game is key to your enjoyment as well.  Had I been clever enough to have discovered the alphabet myself, perhaps I would have a different view of this game.  Though, I doubt it.  The game’s biases are just too flagrant.

Owls

Also, creepy owls.

Thanks for your Playing!  What do you guys think about FEZ?  Was I too harsh on the meta aspect?  Leave me overly complex clues telling me your thoughts in the comments!

Video Credit – PlayStation

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Double Dragon Neon – Successors of Badass!

DDN Feature

A while back, I wrote an article about one of my favorite video games of all time, Double Dragon.  It was one of my first articles ever, and I wrote it to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary.  Of course, I wasn’t the only person who recognized this milestone.  WayForward Technologies, one of my favorite modern-day developers, released a download-only title to commemorate and resurrect the franchise, Double Dragon Neon.  Unfortunately, I didn’t play Neon when it first released, so I pined for its badass embrace for two long years before I finally got a chance to play it.

Was the wait worth it?  Does Neon do the Double Dragon legacy justice?  There’s only one way to find out!  It’s time for some Bro-op!  Let’s win back our girl!

Double_Dragon_Neon_promotional_poster

Game: Double Dragon Neon

Console: PSN, XBLA, Microsoft Windows

Developer: WayForward Technologies; Abstraction Games (PC)

Publisher: Majesco Entertainment; Midnight City

Release Year: 2012

As you can no doubt gather from the above trailer, Double Dragon Neon harkens back to a time when mullets weren’t just the subject of ridicule and overly bright pastel colors weren’t only okay for men to wear, but encouraged.  That’s right; DDN is a sinewy love letter to the 80s!  From its eye-scorching aesthetics to its embarrassingly liberal use of the age’s slang, DDN plays up the Reagan Era as if Mother Russia were back on the attack!

Its devotion to the 80s extends past its graphics and can be heard and seen in its corny quips and outrageous set pieces.  The whole experience is reminiscent of Saturday Morning Cartoons, a staple for 80s and 90s kids, and seems nostalgic and new all at once, which is a pretty impressive feat.  More impressive is the fact that the game is actually quite funny.  There were many moments when I couldn’t help but crack up.  For instance, there’s a part when Billy and Jimmy are in Outer Space and resolve that holding their breath will protect them.  And it totally does!

Hold Breath

Because – let’s face it – we were all dumb as hell in the 80s.

DDN‘s jocular approach is almost disrespectful to the Double Dragon name.  The key word here being “almost.”  I’d be pretty upset if it weren’t so damn funny!  Needless to say, DDN is satirical by nature, as is apparent with the game’s over-the-top action.

Killcopter

That’s one way to attack with a helicopter…

And then there’s Skullmageddeon, the Skeletor-sounding antagonist that exhales hilarity with each and every fourth-wall-breaking line of dialogue he delivers.

Skullmageddon

Ironically, he’s been in my dreams ever since…

Skullmageddon is introduced in the second stage and heckles you via PA systems throughout the rest of the game, mocking the brothers and poking fun at video game tropes all the while.  The stuff he says when you pause the game during the final battle is incredibly humorous (“When I’m about to swing my sword, just punch me and I’ll stop. There, I just saved you a trip to the internet.”), but it’s the sorrowful lament he croons during the ending credits that wins at Video Games.

*Sniff* Don’t stop dreamin’, big guy.

And the rest of the game’s music is just as good!  DDN‘s soundtrack (which you can totally download for free, courtesy of the game’s composer and sound designer, Jack Kaufman) is balls awesome!  Though, you’d already know that if you’d read my thoughts on the matter in The g1 Best Ever Soundtrack article I was a part of.  To sum it up, the soundtrack complements the game’s tongue-in-cheek self-awareness while simultaneously sounding straight-up awesome!  Some level tracks have vocals (and they’re cheesy and amazing, by the way), but it’s the remixed/rearranged tracks from the original game I love the most.  My favorite is Kaufman’s Surf-Rock rendition of the “Palace Theme” from the original Double Dragon.

Anyone else suddenly feel like kicking ass with the Beach Boys?

Caricature of the 80s?  Check.  Successful at being funny? Check.  Sweet tunes?  Check.  Looks like we have the makings of something truly badass here.  We’re just missing one ingredient: Fighting!  So does Double Dragon Neon have fighting in it?  YOU BET YOUR SWEET AUNT MATILDA’S ASS IT DOES!

Aunt Matilda

Don’t mess with Aunt Matilda.  She has a Dragon Tattoo under that shawl.

DDN‘s combat is as you’d expect from a Beat-Em-Up: Simple.  But don’t mistake simple as being bad.  You can punch, kick, jump, and grab.  There are also special moves you can equip, such as a hadouken-like projectile or summoning a screen-clearing dragon.  Though you can only have one special move equipped at a time, it does add some variety.

Dragon

Suck it, Falcor!

Where the game shines (pun totally intended) is with its dodge system.  Dodging does just that: dodges.  But, if done right, you get “The Gleam.”

The Gleam

Close.  Think “Whiter.”

Duck right when an attack is thrown, and a red sheen will envelope your body.

Gleam

Now who’s the baddest mofo low down around this town?

The Gleam temporarily doubles your attack power, adding a sweet risk/reward factor to every fight.  Dodging and activating the Gleam provides much needed strategy to a potentially repetitive game, thus keeping it fresher longer.  The plethora of weapons you get along the way helps in shaking up things as well.  But the real fun comes with the boss fights.

The bosses aren’t too difficult, yet they’re challenging enough to warrant your undivided attention.  If you’re not watching closely, you may miss your chance to get in and do some real damage.  The Gleam becomes essential during boss fights, so you’ll need to figure out their patterns.  My favorite boss is the plant monster that’s a cross between Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors, a T-Rex, and a shark.

Yup.  It’s as glorious as it sounds.  Plant BossI’m a mean, green mother from outer space, and I’m bad!

Another intricacy that adds more flavor to battles are Stances.  There are several Stances, and each gives specific stat boosts and/or passive abilities, e.g. increase your defense or let you absorb life with each attack you land.  Stances can enhance your play style, and they can be leveled up by collecting cassette tapes (the music format before CDs, kids).  Furthermore, you can increase the amount of tapes you can collect for each Stance by upgrading in the game’s shops.  These shops can only be accessed by replaying levels, which is really annoying.

Tapesmith

All shops should have fire billowing behind the shopkeeper.

In addition to replaying levels to visit shops, I have a few other complaints.  First off, I understand DDN is spoofing the 80s, but did they really have to include the stupid, cute character that so many 80s movies just had to make room for even though nobody but little kids liked them, despite the fact that kids shouldn’t be watching the movie anyway because it’s too violent?  I’m obviously referring to Fuzz Face.

Fuzz FaceYour existence feels like a kick in the balls.

Seriously?  Why did so many 80s movies have this annoying character?  Even Rocky IV had that goddamn robot.

Rocky Robot

Goddamn you, Robot!

Secondly, for a game that’s supposed to paint Billy and Jimmy as badasses, they sure do beat up a bunch of women.  I’d say about 50% of the enemies are female.  I’m not trying to sound sexist, but it’s a little weird beating on chicks when you’ve been told “Boys don’t hit Girls” all your life.

Chicks

The Lee Brothers call this play “The Chris Brown.”

Lastly, in the concept art that unlocks after beating the game there’s some art depicting what is unmistakably mogwai and gremlins.  That’s bullshit, WayFoward!  You can’t just show us that!  Make this happen!

Gremlins

Actually, water makes them multiply. Eating after midnight turns them into dicks. Nerds.

Minor complaints aside, Double Dragon Neon is a fantastic game I love replaying.  Of course, it’s a ton more fun when you’re playing “Bro-Op.”  Not just because it makes the game easier and spending time with a close bud is fun, but because you get to use the High-Five Stick!  That’s right; the right analogue stick is reserved exclusively for high-fiving your bro.  And it is magnificent.

High Five

You will never be this cool.

Thanks for Your Playing!  If you like Beat-Em-Ups or enjoy games that don’t take themselves seriously, you need to give Double Dragon Neon a playthrough.  It’s a short game (about 2-3 hours long) with high replayability and a bunch of funny moments that you just have to see.  Just make sure you bring a Bro to help you thrash all those Williamses.

Double Dragon – Innovators of Bad Ass

This year marks some pretty significant milestones for some long running video game franchises:  Kirby’s 20th, Final Fantasy’s 25th, Donkey Kong’s 30th.  Being a retro gamer from the Golden Age of Console Gaming, I can say I feel privileged to have actually been a part of these games’ legacies.  If not for me and many others like me, these games wouldn’t have gotten as far as they have, and I accept sole responsibility for their success.  You’re welcome.

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