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Reviewed by Scott McCall In an age when companies rather rehash countless "safe" titles rather than develop and release original ones, it's refreshing to see a game standout from the norm, especially in the saturated puzzle market. Wetrix, developed by upstart Zed Two and published by Ocean, completes the trifecta when it comes to good puzzle games on the N64. Like Tetrisphere from 1997, Wetrix molds very original gameplay and a great presentation into a highly addictive formula. Admittedly, before turning on Wetrix for the first time, I was uncertain how good it would be. After all, how many puzzle games -- especially original ones -- end up coming even close to the granddaddy of them all, Tetris? Several days and a rental fee later, one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I've had in some time has come to an end -- but not for long. Unlike a lot of other games I merely rent and never play again, Wetrix is actually worthwhile enough to be purchased with your or my hard-earned cash. Bravo, Zed Two! In Wetrix there are random 3D pieces, which can be rotated, that fall onto a flat, isometrically viewed, square surface. Some of these pieces raise the height of the landscape where they fall and other pieces lower the land. These shapes must be used to construct pools, channels, walls, and dams to trap water before it falls over the edge, where it will be collected in the drain. When the fireballs begin to drop, you can use them to evaporate the water you've collected. The more water you evaporate, the more you score. Once the drain is full, the game is over. Before talking about the gameplay, it would be appropriate to gloss over Wetrix's control. I use the default control scheme, so I'm going to mention its configuration here. The A button drops the piece, the B button rotates the piece, the C buttons are for subtle camera changes (tilting and rotating the landscape), the R button is used to zoom in and out, and the Z button is for sending attacks in the multi-player mode. Fortunately, you also have your choice between the Control Pad and the Control Stick. I like the Control Pad in this game. Much like Tetrisphere, it is very difficult to become proficient at Wetrix until you completely understand the concept and get a handful of practice matches under your belt -- but don't fret. Your patience will be well-rewarded in this game. In order to save you a little trouble, I'm going to try to explain -- in horrific detail -- how the game works. The only problem is that the regular Wetrix Classic mode starts off much too fast for beginners. Oh well, you'll eventually get used to it. Baptism by fire, here we come. First of all, a few of the main pieces and objects should be defined. Besides water, the main item in Wetrix is an "upper." It's a orangish-red piece that is used to build up the landscape. "Uppers" come in several shapes, including a straight piece, a "T"-shaped piece, a hollowed square piece, and a corner piece. Conversely, there is the "downer" piece. "Downers," which are green in color, do the opposite of uppers: They reduce the landscape. Two of the shapes they come in are straight pieces and square pieces. You'll need downers to get rid of landscape you don't want in order to make room for more water, as well as to reduce the landscape so you can prolong how much time you have until an earthquake happens. Building up the perimeter walls too high will cause an earthquake, reducing most of your walls to nothing. It is possible to survive earthquakes, though. OK, so once a regular game begins, you should immediately start building a wall around the perimeter of the playing field. You may find that the water will, at times, come before you're finished, but you should finish the wall as soon as possible, anyway. You also have to be careful not to leave any gaps in between the walls, which is something that may happen until you get used to how the pieces fall into place. You will continue to build up the perimeter throughout the game. You must also build a place where you can drop bombs. Bombs, which blow holes through the landscape, causing the water to drain at an alarmingly fast rate, will randomly appear for you to drop every now and then. The best place for bombs is in the corner that's at the bottom of your TV (use the hollowed square pieces at first so water won't flow out that corner). You can have several bomb blasts down there and not feel the repercussions. What I mean is that if you accidentally bomb a hole that's already there, then a "re-bomb" happens. A re-bomb sends three random bombs onto your landscape, and you certainly don't want that. The good thing is that you can repair any hole on the playing field by covering it with an upper. Water in Wetrix comes in two forms: water bubbles and rain. The water flows dynamically and realistically in this game, which means it splashes when it's dropped, it will eventually spread out, and it always flows to the lowest point. The various sizes of water bubbles, from small to large, are pieces that you must drop onto your playing field. So you must strategically drop water bubbles onto your landscape. Maybe you have a little pool for them, maybe you're putting them off to one side until you finish the perimeter, or maybe you'll just drop it in the large, middle portion of your playing field. In addition to the water bubbles, it starts to slowly rain not long after the first uppers are dropped. Now that you have a perimeter, meaning there are no gaps on any side, there are going to be a few new things to contend with. We've already discussed bombs, so let's talk about fireballs next. Fireballs are a good item. Dropping a fireball into a pool of water will evaporate all the water in that section and will reduce your drain meter, too. Fireballs dropped onto dry land, however, will cause damage to built-up landscape -- but not to the floor of the playing field. Fireballs also melt ice. Speaking of which, once you get past the first level, then "Ice Cube Alerts" start happening. A couple of seconds after this warning, an ice cube will drop onto the landscape, freezing all of the water in the section it lands. This can be good or bad. Freezing the water prevents any seepage -- at least until it melts -- but it means you can't evaporate the water; a fireball that hits ice only turns the ice into water. As you can probably imagine, it's great if an earthquake happens while all the water is frozen because the water remains frozen, giving you time to build up the perimeter again. Ice landing on dry land, by the way, does nothing except give you bonus points. Then there are the dreaded mines. Once you progress past the third level, mines will start to drop. Mines are harmless if they're floating in water, but the problem is that if a mine touches dry land, then it will blow a hole in the landscape. So you're left with a dilemma about whether to evaporate water or not. A couple of miscellaneous items are rubber duckies, which appear in deep pools or ponds and give you bonus points, and the rainbow, which appears when there's a lot of water on your landscape. The appearance of the rainbow triggers a multiplier effect that multiples all points by 10 while the rainbow is visible. This can lead to some big, big points if a fireball is dropped while one is visible. Unfortunately, this could also be bad if you have a low perimeter when the rainbow melts any ice away. In order to achieve the best results in Wetrix, it's best to start out with large lakes for the first couple of stages. Having a large, single reservoir and coupling it with the rainbow multiplier means lots of points in the beginning. But you'll need to eventually divide your landscape into multiple ponds, pools, and sections before the mines and earthquakes start to happen. That's how you can get some truly impressive scores. And one of the cool things about Wetrix is that there's an official scoreboard to brag about your accomplishments. To ensure that your score is authentic, the designers have thoughtfully included a password code to verify the accuracy of your score. The above in-depth description of the gameplay generally applies to all modes, but it was specifically written with the regular, single-player "Classic" mode in mind. In addition to that, there are several other modes of play. There's the "Handicap" mode, which features special puzzle situations such as a drain that's already half-way full and a landscape with holes in it; the "Challenge" mode, which is a faster-than-normal mode with present conditions that have you getting the best score possible within time restrictions, or seeing if you can last for 100 or 500 piece drops; the "Pro" mode, which cuts right to the chase: fast-paced gameplay and mines right from the start; a "Practice" mode with decent lesson-by-lesson instructions; and the "Multiplay" mode, which is the standard two-player mode. In the two-player mode, both players always get the same pieces in the same order. Although the two-player mode is pretty fun, it's probably one of the few not-so-awesome things about the game. I wish there were points given in it, and I'm not so sure the attacks are implemented correctly. Graphically, Wetrix looks very impressive. There are different pattern-based backgrounds for the levels in each mode. The backgrounds are geometrical and are constantly moving, but they're not quite as psychedelic as the ones in Tetrisphere. The landscape is also subtly impressive. It's smoothed, it's shaded, and it can be shaped down to the most minute detail. Likewise, the water is very, very nice. After water bubbles are dropped, they can slowly fill out the landscape and can ripple realistically about. I wonder why the N64 is the king of water effects? Even more spectacular in Wetrix might be the audio. We've been complaining about the music on the system for nearly two years now, and it finally looks like it's starting to live up to its potential. The new age style music in the game is just fantastic. All of the tunes come out in full, hearty stereo sound. The sound effects, from the sound of water to the earthquakes, fit perfectly. There is even some voice in the game. It almost sounds synthesized, but I think it was done like that for effect rather than space reasons. Save for a huge learning curve and a strikingly average two-player mode, Wetrix is just one fabulous gem of a game. It's not only one of the most original titles to come along in some time but also one of the most addictive. Puzzle game aficionados should not even think about passing this one up, and casual puzzle game fans will want to, at the very least, give it a rental for a few days. This surprisingly fun and polished game will provide hours and hours of gaming goodness, especially since it saves all of your high scores. Take it from me, if I wasted days and days on a game I rented, then it must be good.

Graphics: 4.2 out of 5 Sound: 4.5 out of 5 Control: 4.1 out of 5 Gameplay: 4.6 out of 5 Lastability: 4.5 out of 5 Overall: 4.5 out of 5

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