Fez was one of my favorite games of 2012. I loved its lushly detailed art style, evocative soundtrack, and seemingly impossible puzzles. I feverishly played it for weeks, filling notebooks up with scribblings of symbols, codes, and theories. I felt a small tinge of sadness upon completing the game, knowing that there would be no more Tetromino puzzles to solve or languages to decipher.
First-time indie developer Andrew Gleeson must have shared that feeling, because his new freeware game Melodisle is clearly an homage to Fez. It may look like an inferior clone at first glance, but it successfully manages to pay tribute to Phil Fish's puzzle-platformer while maintaining an endearing identity of its own.
Like Fez, Melodisle stars a blocky white protagonist who must solve various puzzles in order to collect an arbitrary number of collectible objects. Where it differs is its core game mechanic. Instead of rotating the game world, the player has the ability to sing musical notes. Utilizing an eight note scale, the player must sing various melodies to crack the mysteries of the island.
The nameless protagonist isn't the only musical element in Melodisle. The creatures you encounter sing as well, harmonizing nicely with the game's relaxing, minimalist soundtrack. Since all the musical notes are in same key, I often found myself putting aside the problem-solving and just jamming along with the wildlife.
There are eight collectible music notes to be unlocked by successfully solving puzzles. There aren't many puzzles to solve, but the ways in which you use the singing mechanic to solve them is surprisingly diverse. To go into too much detail about the nature of the puzzles may inadvertently give away their solutions, so the less said about them the better. You will probably have to write a few things down, but don't worry - there are no ancient languages to decipher here.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Melodisle is that it was made by one guy over the course of one month - and it's the first game he's ever made. It was Andrew Gleeson's initial contribution to One Game a Month, a game jam challenging developers to churn out a game every month for the entirety of 2013. According to Gleeson's blog, the musical mechanics of Melodisle may be revisited in another project down the road after he gets some more experience. Considering the potential of the concept, he may have a future indie hit on his hands.
Melodisle is not without flaws. Upon falling into water, the player will often respawn right on the edge of the last platform they were standing on, causing them to infinitely fall to their death. This is ultimately a minor annoyance, as I was able to break the cycle with a little maneuvering and the game doesn't require much precision platforming to begin with. There are two specific puzzles that the majority of players are seemingly having a hard time with, and their difficulty contrasts a little sharply with the rest of the game. But let's face it - one dude made this game in a few weeks in Game Maker. With that in mind, the aforementioned criticisms sound almost petty.
As a game, Melodisle is a charming, compact experience that I would wholeheartedly recommend whether you are a fan of Fez or not. As a proof of concept, it demonstrates the potential of its fresh-faced creator as well as the potential of its central game mechanic - a mechanic that could be explored much further in a larger-scale project.