Retrospective: Wetrix+

They are tricks. And they are wet. Wet tricks. Wetrix. See? It's taken me approximately 20 years to actually realise that's what the title Wetrix means. It is quite the revelation, I can tell you. Not quite as earth shattering as when I realised Project Gotham Racing was so called because it's a tongue in cheek nod to Metropolis Street Racer's eponymous fictional setting (Batman vs Superman began on Dreamcast, folks).

So Wetrix then. Or Wetrix+ as it is known on the Dreamcast. A sort of remaster of the Nintendo 64 game of the same name, which was developed by Zed Two and released in 1998. The original game does have a fairly interesting back story, with the Wikipedia page documenting that the title began life as a tech demo within in an entirely different project, demonstrating the Nintendo 64's ability to effectively simulate the properties of water. Alongside the stunning Wave Race 64, Wetrix clearly shows that you can never have too many games that show off just how wet your digital water looks.

But what is Wetrix+ though? Well, it's a puzzle game that involves the player manipulating the game 'board' by terraforming it into a series of lake beds and valleys. Bubbles of water then fall from the sky and fill these lakes; and the sole aim is to balance the amount of landmass and water in a state of equilibrium, amassing points the longer you can keep it all in harmony. Sounds fairly simple on the surface - and it is - but there are a number of things that are thrown into the mix to tip the scales against you.

See, as well as water falling from the sky, you'll also receive bombs which will blow holes in your board, meaning that water will escape off the sides and fall into the drain (represented by a meter at the side of the screen). You'll also receive flaming meteors which will burn off any water they come into contact with. Then there's the actual game pieces themselves which are a bit like Wetrix+s' equivalent of tetraminos.

These pieces (which come in an assortment of shapes) are what you use to raise and lower the terrain in order to create your lakes and valleys...however if the landmass becomes too much for the board to take, an earthquake will be initiated, destroying your carefully designed canals and oxbow lakes. Naturally, this means more opportunity for that pesky wet stuff to roll off the board, into the drain and shortening your game session. When that drain fills up, it's game over.

So you see, Wetrix+ is a game of balance, in more ways than one. You need to monitor how much land mass you're chucking onto the game board, how much water you're losing off the sides and through holes, and also be mindful of the various hazards reigning down from the heavens. Sounds like there's a lot going on - and there is - but in practice it's all fairly straight forward once you get your head around it.

Wetrix+ is - as a concept - fairly original it its design, and it uses the technology it was based around to great effect.  However, it is a little bit too complex - even (somewhat oxymoronically) in the face of how simple it is, once you learn the basic concept - to be considered a truly great puzzle game. Titles such as Tetris are so successful due to their extremely basic premise; however, Wetrix+ inhabits that odd fringe zone that is littered with clever and original takes on the genre that just don't quite click in the same way that Alexey Pajitnov's magnum opus does. Other titles it shares this no man's land with are things like Tetrisphere (also coincidentally a Nintendo 64 release), Zoop and Kula World. They all try to do new and interesting things...but they're just, well, OK. Wetrix+ is in the same league, for me.

The Dreamcast version of Wetrix has the '+' suffix because (as mentioned) it is something of a remaster of the Nintendo 64 game. Released in 2000, Wetrix+ features improved visuals and sound, along with some new gameplay camera angles. Essentially though, it is pretty much the same experience that can be enjoyed on Nintendo's platform. And that's to say that while it looks nice and has an original concept, there's not a great deal of longevity once the gimmick of making lakes has worn off. There are several different gameplay modes, but they all revolve around the same mechanic of balancing the water and landmass levels, with other parameters such as time limits and various falling hazards thrown in.

Ultimately though - and here's the major drawback of Wetrix+ - it all just gets a bit old, a bit too quickly. Remember how Tetris had that 'one more go' factor? That seems strangely absent from Wetrix+. For all the lovely music, psychedelic backgrounds, and pin sharp visuals, there just something missing that will make you want to continue playing for extended periods or after multiple stages. It is the kind of game you will find yourself playing for 15 minutes and then be looking at the shelf for something with more substance and variety.

That's not to say Wetrix+ doesn't have it's moments. Successfully recovering a stage from the brink of an earthquake with a few well-placed meteors and land reduction pieces can be very satisfying. But the truth is that there's just not a great deal of 'other stuff' that can realistically be done with the style of game. If you like 'B tier' puzzle games then by all means seek it out, but be mindful that Wetrix+ is an OK game. Just OK. Nothing more, nothing less. And that's OK with me.

But this is just my opinion. You may completely disagree and think I'm a total fool for daring to suggest that Wetrix+ doesn't represent the greatest technological advancement humanity has ever accomplished. Let us know your (correct) thoughts in the comments.


DCGX said...

I recently bought this game again after not having it for, maybe, 17 years. It's a deceptively difficult game compared to other puzzlers, in my opinion, but it is fun for a bit at a time.

Imerion said...

One of my favorite puzzle games! I really liked to concept and for me this really had that "one more time" feeling. Multiplayer was great fun too, as was some of the challenges. Could really do with a new game in similar fashion.

pcwzrd13 said...

How dare you call my favorite Dreamcast puzzle game just "OK", Tom!! I'm very offended and will never read this blog again! :-P In all seriousness though, you missed some stuff gameplay-wise. To get the best score possible in the game, you need to create small duck ponds (if you make a pond two walls high on all sides, a duck will spawn in it) which act as multipliers. I usually make 4 or 5 of them surrounding a big pond in the middle. You drain the large pond with meteors and leave the ducks in the others. There are also lots of hazards that you don't see until the later levels. It gets crazy intense after level 5 or so.

For me, Wetrix+ definitely has that "One more go" factor. Actually more like 50 more goes. lol I've spent hours a day trying to beat my high scores. Trust me, once you start getting into the strategy and scoring into the millions, it's hard to put down.

I'll just shamelessly plug my high score video here. ;)

Tom Charnock said...

Welp...thats me told! Thanks for all your comments folks :)

Lewis Cox said...

This was featured on our DCJY Advent! Definitely a very innovative idea

a said...

Never played it but I've always been really interested in this game. I stumbled across the soundtrack on youtube a while back and have to say it's water-tight! Some really nice 90s electronica, very much of the time. As for the game, I'd love to play that too, to ebay... and away! :]

SegaSen said...

I got bored with it quickly. Tried it a few times with years in between. Very meh. I would give it a 5/10.