An amazing game currently lives on Xbox Live Arcade, just waiting for you to fork over $10 and enter its world. That game is called Fez, and you may remember it from concept screenshots five years ago. Sometimes, genius takes a while, right? I’ve spent a good portion of time with this cute, deceptively deep, “two-dimensional” platforming game over the last week, and I’ve just started getting to really know it. I’m not going to outright spoil anything, but I can’t be held responsible for describing something you didn’t want described, so play the game first!

After beginning a new game, you’re first presented with a framed interior room, and the star of the show, Gomez, sleeping on a bed. The graphics are pure retro goodness, low-rez, but highly stylized and unique. Gomez himself (itself?) is represented as a white marshmallow something or other with a cute red fez on top. He doesn’t speak or really make much sound at all, but he’s visually expressive and has charming little “wait” animations when you don’t move him for a few seconds.

The landscapes you traverse all feature the same blocky aesthetic, as if everything were made of cubes, but the mood and tone varies depending on where you go. Life abounds, with frogs and birds and inchworms taking up residence most places. Other areas are bereft of anything but a seemingly empty, cold temple, replete with odd statues and unintelligble writing on signs.

No matter where you go, however, the sense of exploration, wonderment, and discovery you feel as you find new areas and warp between parts of the Fez universe is ever-present. One of the best things about the game is that it presents itself as a 2D/3D hybrid, brought together through an enjoyable gameplay mechanic that effectively quadruples the playing field of every level beyond its initial facade. Doors and passageways (and collectibles) hide and ensconce themselves in the 3 hidden views while you spin the world around trying to figure out how to exploit 3D space in a 2D plane to get to them.

None of the navigational problem-solving is too hard, but instead offers just enough challenge to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something. Actual puzzles are presented at times, and they’re often quite obscure and require some analytic brainpower. I’ve solved a few of them so far, but many still elude me, almost as if they are intentionally locked away until you gain a better understanding of the game as a whole, and not just the room they’re in. A unique, currently indecipherable language dots the landscape, even after “beating” the game. Those quotes are not there by accident, by the way. I’m hopeful I will eventually understand everything.

I really must mention the soundtrack, too, done by Disasterpeace. I’ve mentioned his name before, and even blogged about the pre-order for the soundtrack, so it’s no surprise how in love I am with the music in Fez. Each piece complements its scene (even dampening its volume when your character goes behind walls or inside rooms) pretty darn perfectly. I describe it as “melodically ambient chiptune” and that’s what I’m sticking with for now.

In short, the half-decade wait for Fez was well worth it. The only complaint I have is that the framerate drops noticeably during some levels, usually the larger ones, and is felt most strongly when transitioning between them. A minor complaint, but one that drags down the genius of Fez, regardless.

I can’t wait to have an in-depth discussion of this on TEM.