Gomez wakes up on a sunny day and leaves the house to receive an important letter that’s about to change his life. Who is Gomez? He’s a weird-looking blob of white pixels living in a colorful flat world of neon green platforms hanging across the cyan sky. The message in the mailbox asks you to meet one-eyed Geezer at the top of the village. That meeting is going to change the life of the protagonist in a most peculiar way. Gomez will receive a fez. The red hat isn’t just an exotic accessory. It allows you to manipulate the world by rotating it sideways. And of course you don’t just receive it: getting ahold of such a powerful artifact is accompanied by the appearance of a giant golden hexahedron spewing cyphered messages at you, tearing the space-time continuum and “resetting” the game.

You wake up once again and go out of the familiar house. At first glance — nearly nothing’s changed. Villagers still wander around minding their own 2D business, but you know you can see more, can reach places you couldn’t reach before. And that will help you on your quest that your newest Zelda-referencing flying companion, four-dimensional hypercube named Dot tells you about. Collect the cubes. Open the doors. Save the world… perhaps?

So peaceful

Fez rightfully assumes that for now all you need is more of that gorgeous scenery. It was enough for the game to receive two IGF awards despite being still in development both times. And it is in its right being so confident about its looks. Visual styles so distinctive and appealing don’t appear every day. It’s retro and modern at the same time, a lovechild of technological experimentation multiplied by childhood nostalgia. It took its creator Phil Fish more than five years to build a game around the initial trixel idea, which makes you wonder just how much of that time has been spent scraping the work results and redoing stuff all over again. That doesn’t save you from having game-breaking bugs in the final product, but it nearly guarantees having a puzzle so difficult, that it took the community a whole year to crack it “properly”.

The mystery of the black monolith was initially brute-forced by collective online effort. But of course that solution was far from satisfying to say the least. Uncovering the logic behind the artifact that was not so easy to discover in the first place would be a proper way. There was no shortage of fourth-wall breaking hints before with QR codes, pop-culture references and messages encoded in binary with the star patterns of first “regular” ending. Fez teases you, challenges you to solve it; the game gives you the deciphering key to its baffling coded messages with a visual representation of a famous pangram.

There was no shortage of theories surrounding an obvious 2001: A Space Odyssey reference, but the reasoning behind it was elusive. Much like the original Clarke's black monolith its counterpart from the game’s gotten its share of explanations, but still stayed unfathomable. Maybe it was its meaning — that we can’t have all the answers. Or maybe it was the ultimate prank of Phil Fish, who managed to keep a three-dimensional nature of the game a secret when it was unveiled in 2007 at TIGSource. In 2008 when the rotating mechanic became known the second cryptic part of the game remained undisclosed. One can only imagine what it takes to keep your mouth shut for so long and not hint it even once.

If you have the guts to delve into the internet discussions surrounding Fez, more than once a you’ll find a sentiment which will be something like “I won’t ever play (or buy) Fez, because Phil Fish is an asshole”. It’s not my place to tell you if he’s an asshole or not (if anything he’s got obvious temper control issues). What’s this all about? He’s made some controversial comment about Japanese games. And though he was answering a question about modern ones somehow it got generalised into “Phil Fish thinks all Japanese games suck”. He reacted poorly to some baiting trolls on Twitter. He tried to troll himself, perhaps too obvious with his Andy Kaufman profile picture. And ultimately he bursted out and stopped development of Fez II and closed his Twitter account (though he’s returned afterwards).

And you know what’s important about it? None of it really matters if you’re deciding whether or not you should play Fez . If the greatness of an artist would actually depend on being pleasant we wouldn’t think so high of Salvador Dali whose autobiography is riddled with stories about punching little girls in the head. If that examples seems too distant for you, how about some rock stars? You can’t even really name names here. There’s just too many examples of an asshollery in the industry, to the point of a band fucking underage groupies being some kind of a trope. And so what?

It sure it’s nice if your favourite artist is a decent human being (or even nearly a saint). Sometimes their values affect the stories they tell, sometimes they don’t. But thinking of it like it’s the only quality that really matters is stupid. The question you should ask yourself is not “Is Phil Fish an asshole?”. It’s “Is Fez a great game?”

Your perception of Fez shifts and rotates much like you do within the game world. A slow relaxation of a starting zone gives way to some underlying mystery; then you’re distracted from that with some really smart puzzles that don’t even seem like puzzles at first glance. Finally, when (if) you get through all of this, you get to see the fourth side of the cube. And it blows your mind. These transitions are subtle. You can’t really put your finger on what’s changed at first (except for the big final development). And is that really a change? Maybe it’s just a look from a different angle, a perspective alteration revealing content that was always there, but you were too distracted to notice it. Just to prove this point Fez doesn’t really reward you with anything. It just starts anew leaving you with nothing more than a buzz in your head from all those riddles and suspicious hints to a bigger story.

Supposedly some of them were meant to be picked up in a sequel, but we aren’t getting it anytime soon. Well, time to rotate that cube again then. Maybe there’s something on the side that you’ve missed?