The goals in video games are usually well-defined: Kill the bad guys. Rescue the princess. Knock the pigs off their pedestals.
But there's a whole underground movement of independent designers making games with less well-defined goals. They may look familiar on the surface especially to fans of running-and-jumping "platform" games like Super Mario Bros., but the old-school mechanics are a way to draw players into deeper mysteries.
Fez looks, at first glance, like a throwback to the 8-bit glory days of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. You control a blobby collection of pixels named Gomez bouncing around a two-dimensional town. But you soon discover there's a third dimension involved, and you have to constantly shift perspective to negotiate Gomez's ever-expanding universe.
It isn't an original idea: The 2-D-to-3-D gimmick has driven games like Paper Mario, Echochrome and Crush. And once you get used to looking at the landscape from different angles, it's fairly easy to find the dozens of golden cubes scattered about.
So lead designer Phil Fish takes it one step further. To really complete Fez, you need to tackle a few dozen puzzles that are stubbornly vague. What do the hieroglyphs on the walls mean? What are these constellations trying to tell me? Why won't that owl stop staring at me?
Some of the brainteasers deliver that "aha!" moment when you solve them. A few initially struck us as impossibly obtuse. But there's no shame in asking friends for help with Fez. Sometimes, all you need is a different perspective.
RATING E for Everyone
PLOT Get your pixels moving
DETAILS Xbox 360, $10
BOTTOM LINE Amazing