The Nintendo 64 seems to be giving puzzle games a second wind - in spite of the fact that only a couple of them have been released. Yet judging from Tetrisphere and now Wetrix, the system may, in fact, be reinventing the genre all together. And while it's somewhat cheap to use the "if/then" formula when reviewing a game ("if you loved XX, then you'll really love XX"), it's notable to mention that those who loved Tetrisphere will probably like Wetrix, and that those who hated Tetrisphere will probably like Wetrix as well. It's more immediately accessible than Tetrisphere, as an intensive tutorial is not necessary to figure out what's going on.
The Wetrix objective is not far removed from the standard modus operandi of space vs. time puzzles. You start with a 3D surface that resembles a bloated checkerboard or rendered cutting board and place your objects as they appear on the screen. You're given rectangular boxes, hollow squares, and T-shaped pieces to rotate (much like in Tetris, Puzzle Fighter, or any moveable-object puzzle game) and drop on the board before the few seconds of airtime run out and the objects place themselves. You're doing this to form walls and enclosures to capture the water droplets, of all shapes and sizes, that begin dropping on your playing field a few moves in. A water pipe meter along the side of the screen alerts you to a dangerously close amount of uncontrolled or uncontained water on your field.
While it sounds easy enough in theory, it's actually quite difficult in practice. The pieces, even in beginner mode, drop fairly quickly, considering the degree of calculation your mind must render to build successful water receptacles. And not only are you building with randomly shaped objects, you're tearing down walls and reconstructing at the same time. Green rectangles and squares drop alternately with your red building blocks, allowing you to destroy walls and change the layout of your wells. Of course, if you're not quick enough on the draw, the destruction blocks just park themselves on top of your finely placed structures, leaving gaping holes and disjointed crevices for the water to seep out. The point is, you want to contain these pools of water, without spillage, configuring as many lakes as possible without leakage. So naturally, using these destruction blocks correctly can help you fix errors you've previously made with permanent walls and change your structure as more water and walls become available.
But there are a couple more caveats as well. First of all, the board is slanted, so that has to be taken into consideration as the rain comes down. You may think your walls are tall enough to withstand overflow, but since the board is angled, your south walls have to be taller than your north walls. That's just simple logic. Also, your building/destroying blocks are not the only objects falling from the sky either. You'll have bombs to contend with - which tear up anything in their path unless you guide them to a far corner of your board that you're not currently building on - and fire bombs that work in your favor, if guided toward your lakes as they sizzle the pools of water away, making room for more water to fall. But you can't miss the water with these bombs, or they act just like the other bombs, destroying your walls and your board. As if that's not enough, just wait until you get to the point in which you've built a well-planned, solid aqueduct, and an earthquake rolls through devastating everything on the board. If you're fast, you can rebuild and actually get points for repairing the damage and leaks. Likewise, you'll earn extra points for repairing bomb blasts throughout gameplay, and on the flip side, you'll die very quickly if you send a bomb down a previous bomb's path ("rebomb... rebomb...").
Where do the other points come from? Maintaining separate lakes of course. Upon starting the game, you may find yourself constructing a large pool, able to contain a huge, singular body of water. Wrong. You get points for creating individual lakes. And as many as possible. You'll know you're on the right track if a duck appears. You can also expect rainbows, ice cubes, and assorted distractions that seemingly appear once you get the hang of the game and start doing relatively well.
There are several modes of play in Wetrix. The classic mode is the single-player game, which begins on the easiest level and progressively becomes more difficult; multiplay mode allows for two players (unfortunately, not four); challenge mode includes a one-minute or five-minute race to build the best board, a 100-piece or 500-piece fast-paced contest, and two preset levels of varying difficulty; there's a practice mode, which believe me, you should use; a pro mode, which you may never, ever master because it's quite difficult; and a handicap mode in which you can play on raised land, ice levels, random levels, levels with holes, or start with a half-full drain meter.
So what's the gameplay like once you get the logistics down? In a word, irresistible. Not only is the pace challenging from the get-go, Wetrix has taken the hidden constituent that makes most good puzzle games addictive, and has upped the dosage.
The graphics are a lot like Tetrisphere, in the sense that thinking through a spatially oriented puzzle with actual 3D "spaces" to consider is a whole new adventure. Fortunately, Wetrix offers players a variety of camera angles, close up and far away as controlled by the right shoulder button, and various tilts as controlled by the C buttons, in which to analyze your terrain. This is pretty important, too, as the difference between winning and losing the game can be measured in a small sliver of open space hidden behind a wall you cannot adequately see over or around.
The controls are relatively simple. The default is basic puzzle configuration, one button (in this case, A) to rotate and one button (in this case, B) to drop. The analog control, although a bit difficult to get used to, is recommended for long-term success.
Wetrix offers hours of engaging play, with a frustration level that falls just short of being annoying and more in the range of inspiring you to continue until you've accomplished what you want to. The title offers an amazing amount of competitive challenge, but a four-player mode would potentially add hours of group play in either co-op mode, team battles, tournaments, or two on two. The only things it's perhaps lacking when compared to its N64 puzzle brother Tetrisphere are some graphical sheen and overall depth, though it's still of course a great game that really stands on its own. Perhaps we'll see all of this should there eventually be a Wetrix 2.