Thus far, PlayStation 2 owners with a fancy for puzzle games have had to make due with Fantavision and the latest installment of the Bust A Move series. For a system that's barely two months old, this isn't such a bad selection. But those looking for something uniquely addictive in the genre might be twiddling their thumbs at this point, and Zed Two and 3DO have something to say on the matter. Aqua Aqua for the PlayStation 2, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Wetrix for the Nintendo 64, is basically the same game released three years later, but it still represents a refreshing change for the puzzle genre.
The main objective in Aqua Aqua is to build enclosed pools with the provided pieces to trap water and then evaporate it. The land pieces are shaped similarly to those from Tetris, and as they fall from the sky, you must spin and drop them. Once a pool is made, water pieces may be dropped inside it to create a standing pool of liquid. Fire pieces may then be dropped into the water for some evaporation action. The more water you evaporate at once, the higher the score. The premise is simple, but if you fail to balance the pieces on the board, earthquakes occur, sending the board into chaos. Making things even more hectic, ice cube pieces that freeze the water come up from time to time, hindering your progress. Bomb pieces that destroy portions of the board also make the cycle regularly, and disposing of them without creating a hole in the pool can be tricky. Green pieces that allow you to melt areas of the board are handy for turning two pools into one for a big score.
In order to begin playing the main modes of Aqua Aqua, you must first complete the training mode. Once you've made it through all eight training missions, you may play the story mode. In story mode, you play one level after another while competing against a boss character. Several times during each level, the boss will attack the play surface, destroying any sort of order you may have previously created. In order to defeat each boss, you must score a specific number of points within a set time limit, which creates the sense of urgency that is key to the enjoyment of any puzzler. If you're just looking to shoot for a high score, the quick puzzle mode allows you to play any of the levels opened in the story mode sans bosses disfiguring the terrain. The simple multiplayer mode requires that one player outlasts the other, but interaction between the two players is nonexistent. This lack of an ability to dump bad pieces on your opponent is disappointing, and it seriously stymies the feeling of competition.
If you're looking for a PlayStation 2 game with graphics that will make your friends wish they had camped out on October 26, Aqua Aqua most certainly isn't it. Then again, graphics are probably the least important element of a puzzle game. There isn't a great deal of flash involved in Aqua Aqua's graphics, but anything more would just get in the way. The visuals are bright and colorful, and the effects for placing pieces are snazzy for the first few hours. A static camera hovers above and to the side of the playing surface. This presents a multitude of problems. It's almost impossible to tell if the pieces are being placed where you want them due to the blinding angle. Another point of annoyance is that it's often difficult to tell where water is leaking from due to the topographical 3D board. If Zed Two had included the ability to control the camera, both of these problems would have easily been eliminated. The character models used for the story mode look like they're the result of a project assignment from a 3D modeling class for beginners, but then the story mode is just added for fluff anyway.
Aqua Aqua's soundtrack is dominated by ambient techno cuts and trance-influenced breaks. They match the soothing nature of the game quite well, but they're repeated far too often. The sound effects aid in creating a chaotic atmosphere but do little else. Dolby 5.1 isn't a prerequisite for a standout puzzle game and you won't get that here.
Aqua Aqua has its problems, but it's still the best puzzle game yet to grace the PlayStation 2. When compared with other puzzlers, its complexity can be frustrating to come to grips with. But when a solid understanding of the required strategy is obtained, the formula becomes all the more addictive. It's a solid concept, but the execution is prohibitive, which may turn off those with short attention spans. While Aqua Aqua doesn't break any new ground, those who haven't experienced Wetrix will find it to be a refreshing change from the glut of Tetris and Bust-A-Move clones on the market.