Peanut butter and jelly. Coffee and cigarettes. There are certain things in life that just fit together, especially puzzle games for hand-held systems. Gaming history was made when Tetris debuted alongside the original GameBoy. Everywhere you went; people were grooving to those Russian beats and dropping blocks all over the place. Since that genre-defining moment, puzzle games have become the staple of portable gaming systems.
Today, we have a few more options when it comes to brain twisting puzzlers. Games like Bejeweled (PC/mobile) and Lumines (PSP) build on the block assembling theme established with Tetris; for those that crave something different titles such as Elecktroplankton(NDS)and fan favorite Chu Chu Rocket take those familiar puzzler elements and add a bit of spunk to them(music composition and kitty-pursued mice, respectively.)
Frantix sets out to seamlessly blend both action and strategy, but never really shines at either. The PSP puzzler revolves around the collection of gems scattered over one hundred and eighty maze-like levels and more than five different worlds. You'll control one of four different characters that must acquire gems in order to advance to the next stage. There is, of course, more to the game than just hoarding gems-- monsters and hazards stand in your way, as well as a preset time limit that forces you to think fast, react faster, and sometimes just die a lot in order to figure out the stage.
Enemies all have set patterns they adhere to, and once you recognize the pattern and adjust your strategy, they present no real threat. You'll square off against hopping cat dragons, ghosts, two-tailed foxes, aliens and other wandering fiends. The enemies are varied enough, but many times, they won't have a clearly visible pattern. The general vagueness makes the levels difficult, not because of it being mentally stimulating.
Along with monsters, you have to watch out for the numerous hazards liberally sprinkled through out the levels. There are permanent hazards that end the game, and other traps that just delay you for a few seconds. You'll face lava pits, quicksand, and very deep puddles; while stone pedestals and wooden crates will help you overcome these natural pitfalls. You might as well get used to seeing these objects; they'll need to be pushed and pulled so much that the game turns into a box-pushing game rather than a puzzle game.
Frantix looks pretty good, but doesn't seem to have the polished feel of Lumines, the current king of PSP games. The music is mediocre at best but the sound effects are so annoying, you'll quickly punch the mute button. For a game that thrives on speed and quick reflexes, you'd expect some snappy, tight controls. The cross pad works good enough, but Frantix features analog control! Don't get your hopes up; whether it’s a flaw in the PSP design, or a developer mistake, the analog stick is so sluggish and irresponsive that it nullifies any notion of actually using it. It may take some time to get used to the third-person perspective here, but like Intelligent Cube and Devil Dice you'll get used to it.
As bad as things may seem, there are some really wonderful elements at work in Frantix. The first half of the game displays some rich environments, and quirky, yet interesting, puzzles. Initially, you'll run around the aptly named "Tutorialandia", then progress to areas such as a serene Zen garden and an impressive Egyptian-themed desert. If you're struggling with a certain stage, check around the board and look for the "?" which sometimes gives you a clue to the level's solution. Sometimes these clues are a great asset; other times, they are simply worthless or located in such a way that you'll have to kill yourself for a glimpse at the hint.
If you are tired of the same ol' fare of arranging blocks and shapes or just want something fun for those lunch breaks and train rides, Frantix more than satisfies. This isn't a life-changing, genre-defining game; you won't be blown away, nor will you damn yourself for buying the game. Most likely, you'll relish the game for what it is: a pleasant way to spend those minutes you'd normally use staring out a window or gazing into the dryer.