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April 26, 2012
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By Matthew Scott Hunter

‘Fez’

(E)

****1/2

Polytron Corp.

Xbox Live Arcade

At a glance, “Fez” looks to be another one of those retro 2D platformers that are so in vogue these days, but the first few minutes of gameplay will radically shift your perspective (figuratively and literally). You play as Gomez — a simple, pixilated sprite, living in a small island village on a two-dimensional plane. The arrival of the titular headgear throws your life into chaos by damaging the very fabric of the universe and granting you the power to rotate your world on its vertical center axis, revealing dimensions and geography heretofore unseen by your tiny, 8-bit eyes. Suddenly, your world has three additional angles to explore, in which you’ll find tantalizing mysteries, ingenious puzzles and the collectible three-dimensional cubes that can set everything right.

Basically, the game presents you with a 3D world in which, at any given time, the rules of 2D physics apply. For example, let’s say you need to reach a floating platform on the far right side of your screen, well beyond the range of Gomez’s jumping capabilities. Rotate the view ninety degrees. Thanks to forced perspective, the distant platform now appears to be right beside Gomez. Technically, it’s not. It’s off in the distance. But in a world of 2D physics, the rules of depth don’t apply, so you can now hop (or possibly even walk) to the previously inaccessible platform. Much like the concept of “Portal” — flinging yourself using vertical momentum through horizontal portals — “Fez” seems overly complicated on paper, but once you’ve taken Gomez’s world for a spin, it quickly becomes very intuitive. And like “Portal,” “Fez” broadens your thinking with brainteasers unlike anything you’ve seen in a game before. It’s a truly original experience.


‘Skullgirls’

(T)

***1/2

Autumn Games

Xbox Live Arcade

The character roster may be even shorter than the skirts of its risqué characters, but “Skullgirls” is a surprisingly deep and stylish fighting game for a downloadable title. Players can put together one-, two- or three-person teams of busty combatants (with smaller lineups granted more powerful moves), to go toe-to-toe in gorgeously animated bouts set to a soundtrack of smooth jazz. The fetishistic characters are all well-balanced, with useful and eye-catching character-specific moves, which, bafflingly, aren’t listed in the game itself, and actually have to be looked up on the game’s website.

‘Anomaly: Warzone Earth’

(E10+)

***1/2

11 Bit Studios

Xbox Live Arcade

“Anomaly” puts a new twist on the traditional tower defense game by putting you on the offensive, leading a convoy of attack vehicles through the alien occupied streets of Baghdad. While your units certainly act as aggressors, they handle their own attacks, so your role is simply to keep them safe. You can do this by planting useful power-ups, distracting enemy turrets and choosing the most effective route for your assault. Each mission has the thinking on your feet quality of a real-time strategy game, without the hassle of constant micromanagement.



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