As much as sport titles, first person shooters, RPGs and adventure games are fun and satisfying to play, handhelds also need titles that simply provide quick-fix entertainment without heavy-handed stories, long texts to scroll through and 9 innings when 3 will do. Hence, puzzlers will always have a place in our hearts and on our handhelds. And while the PSP already has the amazing Lumines, another good puzzle game is never a bad thing. And so, Killer Game brings us Frantix, a "Puzzle Adventure" that is "lite" on the "adventure" side, but 'heavy" on the "puzzle' end.
Let's get one thing straight from the onset; there is absolutely no story to Frantix and absolutely no adventure aspect to it either. This is not a bad thing, but the box art refers to it as "an amazing puzzle adventure" which can be misleading. Frantix is all about is collecting gems in level after level in the hopes of meeting gem quotas and exiting the portal before the time runs out. Gems collected in each level will add up globally and will eventually unlock new worlds and levels to play in.
This may all sound easy, but each level holds a particular challenge; from different colored gems which will ultimately unlock certain colored doors, to hazards, warp points, blocks that must be pushed into place and creatures that will impede your progress. Through all of this, your character has no special abilities or weapons besides his/her wits. The controls are simple; the directional buttons control your hero's movements. The Triangle Button toggles the camera between 3 views (3/4 view, overhead and close behind - which shows off the graphics but proves useless) and the Left and Right Triggers rotate the camera 90 degrees in either direction. That's it! Still sounds easy right?
At its best, Frantix offers some truly brilliant puzzles that must be thoroughly considered and reflected upon. These are usually levels that involve colored blocks that must me collected in a certain order or warp gates/walls that must be traversed with lots of forethought. If you happen to misstep, the game loads quickly and restarting a level is almost instantaneous. When Frantix becomes a chore to play however, is during its frequent "twitch" based levels. These generally involve strange creatures that move a certain way and must be quickly averted. These puzzles are not fun at all because even if you clearly know what to do, it's sometimes a question of trial and error to actually do it. And it's generally during these twitch puzzles that you would appreciate sparser levels that don't hide the path to take or camera angles that sometimes misrepresent your surroundings. The controls are also sometimes not as responsive as they could be. Still, there is enough cerebellum-pumping content to keep puzzle fans happy. The puzzles are also fairly clever enough to be challenging but never overwhelming.
In total, there are over 2000 gems to collect and just over 217 "gold gems" to win (these are awarded when a particularly quick time has been reached on a level) in roughly 200 levels. There are also several heroes to unlock and any level can be replayed in the hopes of besting your time. The good news is that your hero has no "life" and so, death, mistakes and time limits are meaningless when you can replay any level as often as you like.
Graphically, Frantix may try too hard to look good... and when you move the camera to a close-up view and pan around, you will see all the wonderful details that each level carries. But the amount of details and scenery hurt Frantix a bit since it's not always easy to see gems, paths or creatures. The later levels are a little cleaner, but the initial forest level is a particular offender where shrubbery and forest growth sometimes hinder progress. Luckily the top-down view and the camera rotation options come in handy. Besides that nit-pick, Frantix is probably the best looking puzzler out there. And it's worth burning a level's time limit just to look around.
In the audio department, Frantix stumbles slightly. While musically the game is nothing special, the sound effects are what finally made me mute the game; a character walking into things triggers a particularly annoying voice clip. And while the female character sounds a little less annoying (in that strangely erotic Lara Croft hitting a wall or telling you "no" kind of way) it still gets repetitive quickly.
What would truly have benefited Frantix was another play mode. As it stands, there is only the single player puzzle mode (with limited replay value), no multiplayer to speak of and really not a lot to unlock. What Frantix does have that kind of makes up for this is the amazing Animated Short Film "The Chubbchubbs" which is a smart, highly entertaining computer-generated film that you'll show to everyone you know. You may even stop people on the street to play this for them. It's available from the start and will probably give you some incentive in unlocking the Chubbchubb level in the game.
Frantix is a clever title that tries hard to fulfill a particular niche on the PSP and its puzzles are frequently brilliant and well-designed. The twitch aspect sours the experience a bit but any puzzle fan will learn to look past them. A worthy title that stumbles, but still proves enjoyable.