Review by Alecto

"Rubber ducky, you're the one"

Wetrix. Yet another falling block puzzle game, but with too much originality to be written off as a simple Tetris clone. Here you control a 3-D checkerboard-shaped island floating in the middle of the screen and must drop blocks of land and water onto it to create a functioning “ecosystem.” The water must be contained by hills or the island will flood, and the hills can’t get too high or it will result in an earthquake. It’s a lot like bath-time was when you were a toddler: try to be good and not slosh water all over the sides or you’ll be in big trouble.

Stability on the island is maintained by a balance of three main types of block: Uppers which build up the land, Downers, which bring the land back down to ground level, and water. Points are scored every time a block hits the board, and for various other significant events like creating a very deep lake or having a lot of water on the board. Each time a certain points objective is reached you’ll enter a new level and the blocks will start to fall faster. Other things will also fall occasionally to make things interesting; some controlled by you and some that just fall randomly. Mines and bombs will blow up anything they come in contact with while fireballs and ice cubes will evaporate or freeze the lake respectively.

Game control could not be simpler, since everything is done with the mouse. As the piece falls it can be moved using the mouse, rotated with the right-click button, and dropped with the left-click button.

So theoretically Wetrix should work. It’s a fairly unique puzzle game with a simple concept and easy controls. Unfortunately it’s only deceptively simple. While it may be easy to learn the theory of the game, putting it into practice is much, much harder. It’s very difficult to “get into the groove” of Wetrix because so much is left to chance and there’s a very small window in which to do damage control when something goes wrong.

First let’s examine the meter system. There’s a meter to measure the water level (that is, the amount of water that’s leaking off the sides of the island) and an earthquake meter that goes up every time an Upper lands on the board. If any of these meters reaches full capacity, it’s game over. But let’s face it, if my earthquake meter is almost full and I get five Uppers in a row landing on the board, I’m automatically done for without it really being my fault, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Similarly, if six or seven water blocks land on the board in a row (and this happens to me frequently) the lakes will overflow and there’ll be massive leakage. Again, not my fault. Sure, I could have built up the perimeter with Uppers to prevent leakage, but that would cause my earthquake meter to overflow. And the cycle continues…

Another issue is that deep into the game when lakes are well-established, even a small breech in the perimeter walls (if for example they get blown open by a bomb) will result in all the water leaking out. There is about a 3 second window while the water meter fills up in which you can do something about it, or else the game is over. So unless you’re lucky enough to get an Upper as your next block and have the reflexes to slam it down in time, a game that you’ve potentially invested a lot of time in is suddenly gone because of one random occurrence.

The title and menu selection screens of Wetrix promised much better video than was actually delivered in-game. The graphics were made to look watery by using an effects filter that made everything shimmer gently like you were looking into a puddle. The colors were very pretty also—a nice shade of blue with ripples of yellow and red. Unfortunately once you get past the menu screen the graphics take a nose-dive. The cool water filter disappears, and the tasteful colors are replaced with ugly ones. The level one gameboard is a shocking combination of yellow and pink squares, and as the colors change for each level things only get worse. Pink and green, yellow and orange, brown, and my favorite, the red and white candy-cane level. Very, very tacky.

I wasn’t able to hear any music and I don’t know if it’s a problem with my soundcard or the game just doesn’t have any. But I was able to hear sound effects and I must say that they are forceful enough to make up for any lack of music. The game sounds are all abrasive and in-your-face, which make Wetrix strongly resemble an arcade game in that respect. There are crashing blocks, sloshing water, and sirens that go off whenever your meters are getting too full. Special events like bonuses and ice cube warnings are announced by a voice-over that speaks in an artificial monotone computer voice (“fitter… happier… more productive…”) On the whole the sound is rather annoying but unfortunately you can’t turn it off because the warnings are actually very useful.

Although I had some issues with Wetrix I’d still say that it’s worth trying, provided you don’t have to pay too much for it. It is quite an original game and it’s fun to play a few quick rounds of it every now and then, but it’s hard to really get into it because the game can end so quickly and unexpectedly if one little thing goes wrong.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 09/08/02, Updated 05/06/03

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