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Wetrix

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Reviewed by Sabo

Gameplay

Sporting an isometric view, Wetrix enables you to arrange 3D shapes on a square playfield. The object of the game is rather simple: Use the 3D shapes to build channels and mounds which are used to contain water. After you lay down a number of ground pieces, water bubbles start falling from the sky. If your channels have holes, the water escapes and flows off your playfield. If you lose too much water, the game ends. There are six modes of play: Wetrix Classic: A single-player mode where the goal is to earn as many points as possible. Wetrix Pro: Arcade-style action at a very fast pace. Challenge Mode: The gameplay is similar, but you can impose several limitations on your game. For example, there are times modes, such as One-Minute Challenge, or number-based modes, like 100 Piece Challenge. You can also preset the order of falling pieces to directly compete with a friend, eliminating any random factors that could favor one over the other. Handicap Mode: Play under hardened conditions, like Raised Land, Random Land (it flattes itself after a while), or Random Holes. You can also start off with an ice layer that slowly melts or a half full drain. Practice Mode: Learn the basics of the game and train building moats. Once you finish the Practice Mode, you will be able to change backgrounds. Two Player Mode: Zed Two includes the option of playing against a friend in split-screen battles. You can even try and attack your opponent with a variety of weapons. Although the gameplay appears straightforward at first sight, Wetrix takes a while to master. You need to keep an eye on your mini-map (which shows where the water escapes), and juggle earthquake warnings, bombs and mines. Unfortunately, this is one reason why it might turn off many first-time players: Unlike games like Tetris or Tetrisphere, Wetrix forces the player to compete at a relentless pace, dropping pieces from the heavens in quick succession right from the start. Apart from building blocks and water, there are plenty of other pieces that appear at random. For example, fireballs evaporate some of the water if placed in a puddle, ice freezes it, quakes reshape your landscape if you build too high, and bombs make holes into the ground. Once you get accustomed to how it works, Wetrix becomes one of those games that is hard to put down. Like most puzzle games, it's all about points: Build a pond deep enough and a rubber duckie will appear; accumulate enough water and your will receive a rainbow. Along with the number of ponds you get going and how and when you evaporate them, players can accumulate points and achieve new high-scores (which can either be saved to a memory pak or as a code password). The different modes are a welcome addition and will keep you coming back for weeks -- I just wish there was some kind of a beginner mode where pieces drop down more slowly, to make Wetrix more accessible to younger players. Controls are also very tricky and it takes a while until you get the feel for lining up pieces. Again, an option for beginners to have pieces snap into place would have made a great difference.

Graphics

Zed Two has done an awesome job in bringing the water in Wetrix to life. It flows realistically , ripples on impact and even reflects its surrounding thanks to some clever environment mapping. The colorful 3D landscapes with their subtle lighting effects and psychedelic backgrounds are a welcome break from the hordes of Japanese 2D puzzlers that play well, but don't even tickle the hardware one bit. On the downside, the camera can be a pain in the butt. You can switch between different views, but the most workable (the most zoomed-in one) doesn't let you see the bottom of the screen at all -- making that your build-up-crap-to-diffuse-bombs corner by default. It would have been great if the developers had included the option to rotate or adjust the view at will (what little rotation the player can do via the C-Buttons is basically worthless).

Sound

Wetrix's New Age themes (imagine Jean-Michel Jarre doing Top Gear Rally) work well as background audio for the game, but they won't knock you off your seats. Unlike so many American mono games (here's looking at you, Midway), Wetrix will sound even better when hooked up to a stereo system. The game's sound effects are right on, and the eerie Stephen J. Hawkins synth voice will start to haunt you even after a few games.

Multiplayer

One of the few places where Wetrix lags behind games like Bust-A-Move or Tetris. It still manages to be quite entertaining, but when two experienced players compete head-to-head in the split-screen mode, the game turns into a race for the bombs. I wish there was some option to pick and choose which attacks could be used to balance the play a little more.

Options

You can adjust volumes, select from several languages and controller settings, save high-scores with a controller pak (or as a password), and customize the playfields.

Overall

Wetrix is another high quality puzzle game that can proudly stand next to its N64 competition, Tetrisphere and Bust-A-Move. The camera and control problems and the slightly flawed multiplayer mode knock it down in our final rating, but if you're looking for another game that you can just pop in and play anytime, this is it. Wetrix is an addictive waste of time for one player and shows that there is still room for innovation and originality in the puzzle genre. Couple that with its low sales price and you've got another Infogrames/Ocean classic and a splashing debut for British developer Zed Two. Buy it, but don't expect to immediately like it. It takes time.

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