Portables are ideal for puzzle games and Ubisoft have been instrumental in bringing some completely different puzzle games to the PSP with both Lumines and Gripshift being published by Ubisoft in PAL territories. Those who cannot get enough of the puzzle genre have another option now with Frantix and whilst the game isn't exactly revolutionary and isn't likely to be a system seller; it is very addictive whilst it lasts.
The concept behind Frantix is extremely simple. Players take control of a man (or someone who looks a bit like a man) and the objective is to collect all the gems in a level by solving basic problems. Some of these problems include having to move objects, avoid enemies and collect power ups to speed your movement. When you collect all the gems in a level you can move on to the next level. In total the game includes 185 levels to navigate through and each of the levels becomes progressively harder. There is also a time limit imposed which helps to keep things a bit frantic.
The basic concept works well for the game, but the main appeal of puzzle games is that undenying feeling of wanting to go back for more, and yet for some reason Frantix really doesn't draw you in. The game does allow you to unlock extra characters, but aside from a different visual look the unlocked characters don't make much of a difference. Any kind of difference between the extra characters would have been appreciated, but unfortunately they all play the same.
Considering the basic premise of the gameplay, it is disappointing that navigating the character around the puzzles isn't as easy as we'd hoped. At certain parts of the game you'll require some really precise movements and you're character will not always react the way you want them to. Your character cannot move diagonally which feels restrictive and at times your character will just keep moving; rather than stopping to move to the next gem.
The camera can be moved at any time with the shoulder buttons on the PSP. At times objects will get in the way and you will need to manipulate the camera so you can see a clear path. Sometimes the camera gets in the way at the worst of times, which is extremely disappointing.
There are some things that have been omitted from Frantix that really make the game feel a little rushed. Why are we collecting gems in a funky world crowded with obstacles? Well, we still don't know. The game doesn't include a story of any kind, and even though it isn't necessary it still would have been good to have at least been given a excuse to be collecting all the gems. The game also doesn't have a multiplayer mode of any kind. There are plenty of ways that multiplayer could have been implemented into the game such as racing against a friend in each of the levels; but for one reason or another there is only the one mode which seriously hinders the options available to the player.
The visuals in the game are fairly basic, it really doesn't feel like the developer has put much effort into making this game look anything other than standard. The environments look good but there isn't enough variety in the worlds though, which means that the visuals become a little repetitive after a while. Considering how small the environments are we did expect that a little more detail would have been put into them. One of the advantages of having some basic visuals is that we didn't experience any slowdown during any parts of the game; which is a welcome change.
The sound is really basic though, and isn't very memorable. Occasionally your character will make some annoying little noises and the music appears to be set on repeat, which means that you're likely to just turn the sound on the PSP off. The sound isn't annoying but it's just very formulaic.
The adventure mode in the game is likely to last a long time, but once you've finished the adventure mode it is unlikely that you'll play through it a second time. This is really where the game is weak though; simply because there is nothing else to entertain yourself with once you've finished the one mode in the game. This is where the game really would have benefitted from a multiplayer mode. The only other addition to the game comes in the form of a bonus video. The developers have added the 2002 academy award winning short film "The ChubbChubbs", and included an unlockable character from the film. We really don't have any idea why the film is relevant to the game and we're just riding this off as a novelty. The short film only goes for five minutes though so it barely counts as an extra.
Frantix is a budget title, but given the choice we'd rather the game had a bit of extra development time and was released a a full priced game. One mode in a game simply isn't enough and as such the experience feels extremely rushed; and ironically you're going to have to rush through the levels to complete the game. Frantix also could have had an addictive multiplayer mode if the developers spent just a little more time working on it.
With so many puzzle games out for the PSP now and Gripshift readily available, it's hard to recommend Frantix. With another six months of development time this could have been another enjoyable puzzle game for the PSP, but unfortunately Frantix is just a little too short and a little too budget for our liking.