One of the most common refrains being espoused by people discussing Fez online is that the “fake retro 8-bit” style of games is growing long in the tooth. That strikes me as a limiting and narrow-minded perspective; Fez’s aesthetic is a deliberate stylistic choice that required a fair amount of artistry — the game excellently depicts things like frogs with remarkable minimalism! — and it serves a functional purpose as well by helping enable the game’s optical-illusion-based core mechanic. Sure, lots of games have mishandled the faux-8-bit look, but when it’s used well (as it is in Fez), it becomes as a valid a visual style as the high-poly-count, four-rendering-pass “realism” of AAA shooters, which, incidentally, will look painfully dated five years from now. At least the pseudo-classic look front-loads its visual obsolescence.
Most importantly, Fez’s throwback style helps communicate the relatively simple nature of the game mechanics, which makes it not only a viable look but an appropriate one, too. It serves as a sort of graphical shorthand to clue viewers in to the fact that it’s not a complicated, cumbersome-to-play contemporary game but rather one that hearkens back to a simpler age. And it’s only one of many recent and upcoming games to look back to these more straightforward play mechanics. As anyone who spent a little time on the show floor at PAX East can attest, the 2D platformer is undergoing a revival of sorts. Liberated from the “handheld ghetto,” where most self-proclaimed hardcore gamers will turn their nose up at any game regardless of its excellence, the side-scrolling run-and-jump game has set up camp in the indie game space of consoles and PCs. The genre never died; it merely needed a safe place to live, where gamers’ obsession with a visual bang for their gaming buck doesn’t overshadow the quality of the software itself.