Game of the Week: Fez

Today is special day! Adventure is ready!

I'll let you in on a secret. Recently, I haven't liked video games very much. No - scratch that. I'll always like games, I'll always be fascinated by them, I'll always have admiration for their creators and take professional satisfaction from trying to understand and articulate how, and why, they work.

I just haven't actually wanted to play them very much.

This is, in part, an occupational hazard for games writers. Even the most fun kind of work, whether it's thinking and writing about games all day or caning the latest release over the weekend for a review, is still work. You need to clock off and unwind, and soon enough you find that it's more refreshing to watch a couple of episodes of your favourite TV trash, or put the radio on and pick up a book, than it is to play a game.

Part of it is also belonging to a generation that's been pursuing this hobby for 30 years and is starting to feel that it finally might have run out of surprises for us. Part of it is enduring the glut of sequels that accompanies the autumn of every hardware generation, and finding the gaps between Actual New Games growing longer every week. Part of it - only a relatively small part - is apathy born of watching prominent sections of the industry turn their back on creative risk altogether.

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Draw three and Vegas scoring, obv. Get the Brainium one. No wait, don't.

Mostly, it's a personal thing, and it just happens. You try freshening up your diet with mobile games but they don't have the substance to hold your attention. You swing the other way and seek out the latest epic but can't figure out how to fit it into your life, and its unexplored length daunts and mocks you. On train journeys, a brand-new 3DS or Vita languishes in your bag on standby while you gaze out of the window, read the paper or - my secret shame - play Solitaire on your phone.

It's frustrating to watch the unplayed games pile up and the list of recommendations from friends and colleagues grow longer and longer, but it feels like tackling either would be a duty rather than a pleasure. It's embarrassing when someone asks you what you're playing at the moment and you don't have an answer. It's sad to feel alienated from something you love. But it just happens. It's part of growing old.

Good thing there's an antidote.

Fez

It's anything but clinical, but Polytron's beautiful Xbox Live Arcade platform adventure could have been engineered in a lab to cure disenchanted gamers of their ailment. It certainly worked on me this week.

It's not just that its gameplay hits my personal sweet-spot (a combination of Zelda and Mario with the emphasis on ingenuity of design over action gameplay). It helps that it's gorgeous. Phil Fish's artwork and Rich Vreeland's soundtrack (surely one of the best of recent years) are beautiful and enigmatic, mingling gaming nostalgia with contemporary design and eerie hints of the counterculture head-trip of the '60s and '70s, from Douglas Trumbull to Tangerine Dream.

It's anything but clinical, but Fez could have been engineered in a lab to cure disenchanted gamers of their ailment

But much more important than the references Fez makes is the fact it takes you somewhere mysterious and exciting, somewhere you haven't been before: an increasingly rare treat for a seasoned virtual tourist who bought into the dream of exploring imaginary worlds as a kid. Fez's 3D world folded into a series of 2D planes is startlingly novel in terms of technology and navigation - and it's also a powerfully atmospheric and intriguing place.

Beyond that, I fell in love with Fez because its entire raison d'Ítre is to make me feel exactly what games have been failing to these last few months. A sense of discovery, of impossible possibilities, of - I'm sorry, there's just no other word for it - magic.

"Fish clearly worships the Nintendo of his boyhood and has dedicated himself to unearthing the sense of surprise and secret wonder you felt playing a Metroid, Zelda or Super Mario for the first time," I wrote in our Fez review. "And he's got closer than you ever thought possible.

"You'll... unlock doors to forgotten cities. You'll discover warp routes and hidden worlds, and reach for a pad and pen to unscramble one of several secret languages scrawled on the walls.... Most of all, you'll marvel at the twists and branches of an unravelling world map as you go deeper, higher, further still - losing yourself down one of Fez's dozens of rabbit holes that always last a few steps longer than you expected, or take you somewhere you didn't think you'd be."

If you share my worry that games have nothing left to show you, Fez will change your perspective with the deceptive ease that it flicks from one plane of reality to the next. It's as exciting a game as I've played in a long time, and the excitement is infectious. Go and play it now. Me? As soon as I've finished writing this, I'm going to tear the wrapping off my copy of The Witcher 2 and dive into its world with newfound hunger.

As someone - someone who looks like he might be an older version of yourself - tells you at the very start of Fez: "Today is special day! Adventure is ready!"

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