Version tested: PSP
The best puzzle games are a slow, teasing exercise. You build and you build and you build, and then eventually you can't stop it any longer - the screen fills up, the time runs down, and you feel like you can't go again for another half an hour. Sometimes you punch through your high score and it all seems worth it. Sometimes you stare at your stylus or d-pad in disbelief.
The idea is to move a little man/dragon/other around 185 small grid-based levels collecting all the gems so that you can walk into a box at the end and move onto the next. To gather them all, you'll have to work out how to make use of all the available crates to bridge water or lava, take advantage of or avoid speed-up and slow-down icons, dodge, disable or destroy enemies with recognisable movement patterns, and gradually build up to applying all these skills and other similar ones in concert.
Following a quick and dirty introduction across 'Tutorialand's opening 15 levels, and with per-level tips for getting used to new objects and techniques, Frantix becomes a case of applying the logic to whatever you face in an increasingly complex manner. Where previously you might have had to fence in a catdragon so it dies in the sand before pushing a bomb up to the other end of a narrow pathway to blow up another one, a few levels later you may have to carefully consider the order in which to dunk blocks in a stream to create a bridge, and how to get them into the right position without rendering the rest of the level impossible.
Careful consideration is very important, because the game is full of single-use doorways, one-way doors, teleports, and little hindrances - like for the most part only being able to push blocks rather than pull them. It's very much a case of figuring it out and then doing it, and in the process of figuring it out, you'll probably screw things up quite a lot and have to reach for the pause/restart. Fortunately, the devs have managed to cut those reload times down to split-seconds, so generally you'll only have to stare gormlessly at a load screen between tasks.
Which would be alright, except Frantix isn't actually that satisfying. Your movement is at running pace and often has to be quite precise, and even the d-pad can't prevent you moving too far from time to time - often with level-breaking consequences - while the camera can be quite restrictive despite options to change the vantage point.
Meanwhile, a lot of levels are absurdly straightforward, or randomly decide to rely upon your reactions and devilish time limits rather than the puzzling that the game's (mostly) best at. One example, set on a red heart surrounded by blocks themselves surrounded by gems, initially involves dodging a weave of blocky monsters, escaping the heart-shaped box and then skirting the level boundary in a precise pattern before making for the goal - and the only time I got it right I had 0.3 seconds left. There was lots of frustration there.
It might seem odd to say it, but it's overly graphical too. You could do a game like this on the Game Boy Advance if you really wanted to, and it's a shame somebody didn't really want them to, because the camera might not be a problem if it wasn't for all the distracting scenery. Plus, maybe it's my failing eyesight, but I often found myself plunging into lava because it's hard to pick out from the grassy or rocky textures when the game's in motion.
That said, Frantix is capable of absorbing you for a bit. When you eventually figure out some of the puzzles, you get a bit of a buzz. But is that really enough? There's relatively little to draw you back into it either - doing things very quickly secures gold gems, but this isn't really the sort of game the feels rewarding to try and beat faster and faster. The only other thing on the UMD worth considering is a bizarre animated short featuring some cuddly explosive creatures and lots of slapstick - and while I'm no film critic, I'm pretty sure you can get the same level of entertainment by switching on your TV at 3.30 on a Tuesday when the kids are all getting in from school.
Some people will probably enjoy Frantix. It involves a bit more lateral thinking than the average puzzle game, and it doesn't outstay its welcome or exceed its mandate more than is forgivable. But puzzle games can be and often are a lot better than this. We'd all like to relive our teens, right? Frantix is the years that preceded 'figuring out how it all worked', and something like Lumines or Zookeeper is all the times you were left alone in the house thereafter.
6 / 10