Review: Frantix

Frantix

Platform: PSP
Publisher: Sony Platform Publishing
Developer: Killer Game
Release Date: 9/19/05
Genre: Puzzle
Players: 1

Sony Online Entertainment’s new publishing label, Platform Publishing, recently launched two original new handheld titles for the PSP. One of those titles was the racing/puzzle game GripShift, which we reviewed in full earlier this month, and the other was Frantix, an interesting character-based 3D puzzle adventure game that is the topic of this very discussion. Unfortunately, while I found GripShift to be a fantastic effort and a title worthy of purchase from any PSP owner, Frantix, although an all-around decent puzzler, has left me a hair under whelmed as a whole.

Differently from the jack-of-all-trades racing/puzzle gameplay of GripShift, Frantix is a top-down isometric 3D puzzle game with actual characters as the stars rather than tiny cars. Similarly to games like the recent 3D Frogger games, Frantix has you navigating a chosen hero (there are four playable heroes to unlock in all) through small, grid-based stages collecting gems, solving puzzles and avoiding hazards and creatures in order to reach the exit portal under the pressure of a time limit. Since each stage map is laid out with an invisible grid underlying the environment, movement takes place on a square-by-square basis in up, down, left and right directions (no diagonal movements here folks) controlled using either the D-pad or analog nub — the D-pad is clearly suited better to the single-direction play style. Overall the controls handle simply and responsively, except for occasional instances that call for turning on a split second’s notice, and with three different camera views and the ability to rotate the perspective 90 degrees clockwise/counterclockwise using the shoulder buttons you can always find a clear view of the stage.

Frantix only offers one single-player mode that consists of six diverse worlds and a total of 185 puzzle challenges. So even though there’s only one mode present, it has plenty of longevity to bring you back for hour after hour of mildly addictive puzzle action. Each of the 185 stages requires that you collect all the gems scattered throughout the map before time runs out in order to open the path to the stage’s exit portal. By collecting these gems, in addition to special Gold Gems earned for achieving quick completion times, and completing each successive level, new levels, worlds and playable heroes become unlocked. Successfully escaping each stage isn’t as simple as merely collecting gems however; there are also puzzles to solve and various obstacles and hazards to avoid.

Puzzles in Frantix, for the most part, are of the straightforward switch-hitting/block-pushing school of game design, requiring you to push blocks onto switches to open nearby doors or create bridges over water or lava hazards that will instantly kill you should you walk into them otherwise. Colored tollgates, special doors, portals and bombs also factor into the puzzle mix, in addition to other obstacles and hazards such as quicksand, walls, traps and even various creatures like catdragons, ghosts and pumas. Special power-ups, such as haste, slow and invincibility, occasionally spring up in certain challenges, and in an interesting twist they can either work for or against you.

Overall, the gameplay is a mixed bag. Most of the time the puzzles are thoughtfully designed and enjoyably challenging, and the quick pacing and accessible playability of the game makes it easy to jump into and out of play while on the go. To the detriment of the game however, trial-and-error becomes more and more frequent as you progress, and in the end there isn’t the most varied selection of puzzles and challenges at hand when you’re talking about filling up 185 levels. Because of this the game gets pretty repetitive and even a bit dull when played for longer than a handful of stages at a time. I also wish the four different heroes were developed as unique gameplay entities with different powers and abilities to take advantage of, but as is they all play the same way. It also goes without saying that the lack of any extra modes, especially some form of multiplayer, is a disappointment. Platform Publishing was kind enough to squeeze the 2002 Academy Award-winning animated short film The ChubbChubbs! onto the UMD with beautiful picture quality though, in addition to the unlockable playable character Meeper from said film.

As far as presentational elements go, Frantix succeeds on many levels. Quick load times and an appealing menu presentation are subtle touches you’ll grow to appreciate, while the in-game 3D graphics are crisp and colorful thanks to a pleasant dreamy art style, unique character designs and fluid animations, pretty special effects and detailed environments spanning a variety of themed locales including, deserts, ruins, snowy worlds and even a world based around that of The ChubbChubbs! animated short. The game’s audio, on the flipside of the coin, is rather uninteresting. The techno themed soundtrack compliments the game decently enough, but overall it is completely forgettable, and the in-game sound effects are essentially limited to character and creature grunts, basic footstep noises and arcadey dings and chimes when acquiring items and completing goals.

Frantix is a tough game to critique. On one hand it offers challenging and mildly addictive puzzle gameplay that’s fun when played in short spurts, a lengthy list of levels to play through, a pleasant visual presentation and the hilarious The ChubbChubbs! animated film as a bonus. But then on the other hand the gameplay gets repetitive rather quickly, the occasional trial and error is disrupting, there isn’t but one single-player mode in the entire package and the audio is nothing short of forgettable. Taking the good with the bad and tallying everything up, Frantix comes out as a serviceable handheld puzzler that PSP puzzle vets who’ve worn out superior like-genre titles such as Lumines, Mercury and even GripShift should take a look at. Generally speaking however, a week’s rental is about the extent of the lasting value you’ll find here — it’s fun while it last though.

TryIt.jpg

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!