Reviewed: October 18, 2005
Released: September 19, 2005
I had no idea (and therefore no expectations) what Frantix was when it showed up for review. I knew it was from SOE, or rather their new spin-off division, Platform Publishing, so I figured it was going to be an adventure style game much like their PSP launch title, Untold Legends. Even the cover sported an adventurous looking hero, but what exactly is a ďpuzzle adventureĒ?
The first thing that came to mind was a game like Myst, but a quick look at the back of the box dispelled those illusions. Frantix is a 3D puzzle game that sets up quick and dirty little brain teasers that will have you collecting multi-colored gems, and moving a lot of crates, all set in fanciful environments that look like they were ripped right from an SOE role-playing game.
There are more than 180 of these puzzles, each taking less than a minute to finish for the most part. They are quick to load and even quicker to reload encouraging you to try each one multiple times in order to beat the quickest time and earn bonus gems.
The presentation is as barebones as it gets. You go from the menu to the tutorial or any of the unlocked stages. There are no movies, no story (not even in the manual), no reason for the characters to be collecting these gems; not much of anything other than entertaining and challenging gameplay.
You start the game in the World of Tutorialandia (seriously, Iím not making that up) where you will learn the basics of the gameplay. Frantix is all about various types of puzzles, either collecting multi-colored gems to unlock matching gates or simply gathering the normal gems in order to unlock the exit in the shortest time possible.
Some levels have traps, others have enemies and nearly all have some sort of environmental interaction. There is no real combat in the game but you can use objects within the level to trap or get around the various hostile creatures. There are also numerous power-ups that will enhance your character with various abilities such as speed and invincibility.
There are four heroes you can choose to play with but there is no real reason to choose one over the other. Most of the time you are so far zoomed out you wonít even be able to identify your character artwork other than from the main menu.
The controls and interface is intuitive yet a bit awkward at times. You can move in any of the four primary directions using the A-pad or the D-pad. I found the D-pad worked best when precision was required, as a single tap will move you one ďsquareĒ in any direction. The A-pad is a bit more unpredictable.
You can rotate the camera right or left in 90-degree increments with the shoulder buttons and the triangle button tilts the camera up for a top-down experience or zooms in for a mid-range or close-up view. Sometimes the top-view is the best angle to plan your strategy.
Strategy rarely consists of anything more than reposition boxes to trap monsters or perhaps create a bridge across water or lava. There are bombs you can place and switches and level to pull. Itís quite addictive actually and the fast load times keep the repetitious gameplay from ever getting annoying.
And that pretty much covers Frantix. You race around some gorgeous levels collecting gems as quickly as possible to open the exit. The path is often littered with hazards and creature that will require a bit of thought and effort, and the entire game is design to make you want to replay each level over and over until you shave off enough seconds to earn that coveted Gold Gem.
There isnít much in the way of game modes other than the single-player experience. There are no multiplayer options despite the cool potential of solving these levels cooperatively or even in a versus race mode. There are no mini-games, but Frantix is basically a collection of 180 mini-games already. And there is no real unlockable bonus content other than the levels you will unlock as you play through normally.
The graphics are totally unexpected and even a bit out of place for a game like Frantix. Sadly enough, they are considerably better in quality than those found in Untold Legends. As I kept plodding through puzzle after puzzle I kept imagining how cool a real adventure game or RPG would be with graphics like these.
Landscapes are rich and detailed and the gems glow with vibrant colors. The creatures are lively with nice animation and subtle details you can only see when you zoom in close. Given the limitations of the gameplay, the graphics are in a league all their own.
The music is forgettable for the most part. Itís pretty much that ambient background music that is pleasant to listen to for extended periods of repetitive gameplay without getting too annoying.
There is no speech so the rest of the sound package is basically environmental effects like water, and the scratching of boxes or stones as they are dragged around or the pitter-patter of monster footsteps.
Dedicated gamers could probably sit down and finish all 180 puzzles in about 4-6 hours, but the very nature of the gameplay lends itself to quick bursts of play, which stretches out the experience to a week or more of casual play. This is one of those games you keep with you and pop into your PSP when you donít have enough time for something more substantial.
And for fans of the short film, ďThe ChubbChubbs!Ē; you know, the one that came on the Men in Black DVD, that film is offered as a bonus on the UMD. Meeper, the character from the movie, is even available as a playable character.
If you love puzzle games and donít mind the lack of presentation then you will probably really like Frantix. We currently donít have a lot of options when it comes to this genre on the PSP - Smart Bomb is certainly no alternative.
So if you are looking for a large collection of quick and challenging brainteasers that you can pick-up and play without huge time commitments then you should really check out Frantix. Itís one of those addictive games that will keep you busy a lot longer than you think.