The blurb on the back of the game's case describes it as a "character-based 3D puzzle-solving adventure." That's a polite way of saying that you have to guide some poor sap through 185 individual mazes spread throughout six separate worlds. Each maze is a 3D environment populated with crystals, switches, traps, and an occasional monster or two. The whole idea here is that you have to guide the character past the various puzzles and enemies, collect all of the crystals in the stage, and reach the exit as quickly as possible. Make one mistake and you'll have to start the stage over again. Thankfully, most stages take less than 30 seconds to complete once you know what you're doing, and you can re-attempt any stage as often as you like until you're satisfied with your top time.
Some of the switch- and door-based puzzles are legitimate brain teasers, which should please the braniacs out there that go for games like this. By the same token, the implementation of pick-up items that allow the character to run faster or pass through enemies adds a zesty twist to the otherwise bland subject matter.
Diehard maze fanatics may give up on the game anyway, despite its solid intellectual chops, because the controls are rigid and often unresponsive. The character moves in one-step increments, which takes some getting used to, and there's a very obvious input delay that frequently causes him to take an extra step instead of stopping or turning. It's a real pain to push left on the d-pad, hoping to take a turn, only to watch the character walk directly into a lake.
Like most puzzle games, Frantix doesn't offer much in the way of graphics and audio. The 3D environments and characters are nicely rendered, and the animation is smooth, but there isn't much variety. Every stage is basically just a large room decorated with a few plants and pillars, populated with movable blocks and carbon-copy monsters that are re-used to the point of absurdity. The default isometric camera view affords a good look at a major portion of each stage, and you can toggle between three different zoom settings or rotate the camera in order to gain a better look as necessary. Musically, this sure ain't Lumines, but the simple vocal sound effects and jumping techno music do manage to come together into a shockingly appropriate soundtrack.
For some inexplicable reason, the 2002 Academy Award-winning animated short, The ChubbChubbs! is included as an extra on the disc. It's a charming cartoon and worth a look, although it doesn't bear any relevance to the characters or events in the video game.
All in all, Frantix just doesn't quite work. Seriously, ask yourself "do I find mazes fun?" For most people, the answer is no. Worse, the few diehard maze fanatics out there that actually might want a game like this will probably be turned off by its dodgy controls. Frantix... the maze-oriented puzzle game that you have to be hell-bent on liking to enjoy.
1/12/2006 Frank Provo