Review: Wetrix (N64)

By Drew Wilson

Wetrix is a puzzle game that goes for a unique premise: adjust the land before the deluge occurs. We take a look at this old game and see if it’s still any good to play.

Wetrix was released in 1998 and was apparently the first of a short franchise. Initially, it made an appearance on the Nintendo 64.

The premise is fairly straight forward, you are given a series of land raising pieces to place on a plat piece of land. The idea is to build a dyke that will hold water. After a certain number of pieces, you’ll be given water bubbles to place somewhere on your land. Ideally, you’ll place it in your dyke system, creating a lake of some sort. The reason you want to contain the water is because you are given a water meter. Every drop that falls off your piece of land, it goes into your water meter. If your water meter fills up, it’s game over.

There are also other pieces you can receive. You can receive land lowering pieces as well. This lowers the land you place it on. While initially, this can be a bad thing, you’ll eventually have to content with the earthquake meter. If you get too much land raised, you’ll fill up the earthquake meter. If you fill up your earthquake meter, you’ll get an earthquake which usually allows a lot of water to escape as the land is randomly shifted around and mostly lowered everywhere.

Another piece you can get is a fireball. If you place the fireball on one of your lakes, it’l evaporate the water on the playing field and also drain your water meter back to safer levels. It also allows you to rack up a higher score, depending on how much water you drain and what kind of lake you drained. If you place the fireball over land, it’ll blast that small area to bits.

An additional common piece you’ll receive is the bomb. This does what you’d expect, blow a large portion of land to bits. The bomb is so powerful, it’ll blow a hold in the land right through into the bottom. So, if you drop your bomb in the middle of one of your lakes, you’ll put a hole in the bottom of it, drain the water and lose the game. So, careful placement of the bomb is paramount to your survival. If you drop a bomb in a hole, you’ll get a “re-bomb” where several bombs are randomly dropped on the playing field. This can also be a fast way to put an end to your game.

There are also numerous elements you can’t control in this game. In earlier rounds, you’ll have constant rain dripping down randomly in your playing field. Sometimes, these drops will land at the edge of the playing field and drip off. This pretty much guarantees that your water meter is always filling up, no matter how well you plan out your dyke system.

Another uncontrollable element is ice cubes. As you progress, you’ll gradually be bombarded with those “ice cube warning” messages as an icecube drops randomly onto one of your lakes and freezes it. Placing land dropping pieces onto the ice will, interestingly enough, remove the ice in that area. There are two ways to unfreeze your lakes. One way is to wait long enough. Evenyually, the lake will unfreeze and allow you to continually gain points again. Another way is to drop a fireball on it. This will not drain your water meter, but will quickly thaw out your lake again.

If you create a large, shallow lake, you’ll eventually get a “rainbow multiplier” which multiplies the score you can earn. If you create a small, but deep lake, you’ll get ducks floating around which can also allow you to earn points.

In later levels, you’ll also run into water mines. These mines are placed at random intervals into your lakes. If you drain your lake with mines still in them, they’ll blast holes in the bottom of your lake bed in the process, forcing you to try and patch them up before you receive your next round of water.

Much like regular Tetris, as you progress through the rounds, you’ll notice that the pieces gradually fall faster. This increases the level of difficulty as you progress through the various difficulty levels in the game.

All this, of course, is seen through the “classic” mode. There are several modes in this game. There is multiplayer (never tried), classic (which is the normal mode for this game), pro (which is a much more difficult version of classic), and handicap (which allows you to play with different rules such as forcing you to use a limited number of pieces before the round ends).

I found that this is one of those games that starts off intriguing and just tapers off in terms of level of enjoyability. At first, it’s a really interesting and unique game where you’re managing your land and trying to keep the earthquake and water meter down as you rack up as many points as possible. After a while, though, you’ll find yourself simply resorting to the same strategies over and over again after you build the basics of your lakes. For me, it was one large lake formed all the way around the playing field and designating two corners for a deep lake and a dumping ground for unused land raisers and bombs. After a while, the pieces just fall too fast to keep up and I wind up with a score that easily trumps every other score put in place in the system by default.

The repetition beyond that makes the game rather dull which is quite impressive given the layers of special effects and the various ways employed to keep the game interesting.

I found that even with the various modes to extend the life of this game, the interest curve remained the same. Interesting at first, but boring after a while. Some modes simply lost my interest faster than others.

Graphically, this game was well done. The major highlight in the graphics was the fluid dynamics. The waves, even in the menu system, was really well done. In the game, there was certainly a sense of realism in the water as it drops down either directly onto a lake or splashed along the side of a mountainside. The backdrops employed, I felt, were also well done. The dynamics of the land were another highlight. if you have a particularly tall mountain, the texture changes to represent snow on the tops of the mountain. The land also has an interesting way to staying dynamic. Sometimes, you can wind up with the tiniest bump in the land, but it’s certainly there and goes well beyond the deceptively simple looking blocks you are forced to use.

Having said all of that, there was also the use of basic two dimensional sprites like the bombs, the land raising pieces, the land lowering pieces, the ice cubes, etc. I thought these elements could have been better implemented because they looked like basic stand-ins that were left in the game when the developers couldn’t either find better graphics for them or simply ran out of space on the cartridge (the latter would be more understandable). I’m of mixed feelings of the pseudo 3D sprites in the menu system. I say they provide an interesting effect, but at the same time, it’s like the developers simply took a picture, cut a basic object to match the form and extruded it to make a 3D object. In other words, it seems to be a bit on the cheap side.

The music, I felt, was well done overall. The practice mode, for instance, is music that can be worth listening to as a standalone. When music can be listened separately, that’s a huge bonus in my books. Other songs in this game also fall into the category like the main theme, classic mode, and handicap mode. Some of the instruments can be a little repetitious, but in the case of this game, this is minor. I thought the sound effects were well produced.

Overall, this is a great game with very little replay value. You play it the first time and can have a good experience, but after a few hours, I lose motivation in playing this game. So, it can be a great distraction for a few hours as you build up a strategy that enables you to survive for extended periods of time, but once you get past the initial phase of creating a strategy and surviving the first minute of the game, the flare of this game dissipates.

Overall

Furthest point in the game: Beat a few of the handicap modes, topped the high score in classic and placed well in the top scores in pro mode.

General gameplay: 14/25
Replay value: 2/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 62%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85



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