Many games have tried to topple Tetris, or at least grab a share of its popularity. Wordtris, Facetris, Welltris, Super Tetris, and Columns are but a few of the games that have taken the basic Tetris formula - falling blocks that must be arranged just so - and attempted to improve upon it by adding a gimmick. But the lack of gimmicks is exactly what makes Tetris so popular; its simplicity is its virtue.
Wetrix is the latest in this long line of contenders. Originally released for the Nintendo 64, Wetrix is a game that makes no attempts to hide its influence. The name is just shy of being "Wetris," which itself runs dangerously close to Alexei Pajitnov's classic. Even the pieces are the same: the "L," the simple square, the helpful straight line, and the multi-purpose "T." But the mechanics of Wetrix are quite different. The playing field is an isometric square. Each piece you drop raises the landscape to create ridges of the appropriate shape. You'll need to quickly build canyons to prepare for the inevitable water pieces, which you'll need to drop within your makeshift storage bins in order to contain the flood. Your goal is to let as little water as possible drip from the sides.
That wouldn't be so difficult were it not for the other elements that conspire to hinder your progress. The water acts realistically, dripping over the sides of your ridges when a particular basin is full, so it's helpful to create a series of high walls and deep valleys. There's no safety in this strategy, though, because as your walls get higher, the threat of a devastating earthquake (which sends the whole map topsy-turvy) grows greater. Pieces that lower your ridges help in this respect, and fireballs occasionally appear to evaporate the water in selected areas without penalty. There are also bombs, which put a hole in the map, causing any water in the area to rapidly drain, and ice cubes, which freeze any water they touch, effectively turning water to walls for a short period of time.
Not only must you try to keep watertight, but you're also going for a high score. You get bonuses based on how many lakes (enclosed areas containing water) you have built, and deeper lakes will earn a rubber ducky, which floats and quacks on the water, multiplying your score when present. It's maddening, and addictive.
But Wetrix does suffer from a few problems. It's rather hard to line up the pieces on the map (especially when using the mouse), and this is problem is exacerbated by the pizelated board. The game gets frantic quite quickly, making it somewhat difficult to ease into. And, finally, you'll often wish the game were just a little bit simpler. It recalls Super Tetris, the somewhat disappointing follow-up to the classic that added a number of new pieces to the mix. It was certainly fun, but it lacked Tetris' mesmerizing quality. Wetrix feels like the Super Wetrix for a game that never existed, bombarding you with pitfalls and roadblocks during what is, at heart, a very simple game.
The frantic quality of Wetrix has its charm, though, and the game is fun. The water graphics look great, the sound is good (with a booming voice telling you how many lakes you have, which is even more fun if you set French or German as the language). The overall effect is a bit like playing Tetris when your blocks are illogically stacked and you're nearing the top - it's immensely frustrating, but equally satisfying when you succeed.