Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Aqua Aqua
Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: 3DO
Developer: Zed Two
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
The graphics in Aqua Aqua are simplistic, but that's not to say that they don't have a little flair. Each of the various time-periods has its own look which, though it may be subtle, helps break up the monotony of your typical puzzle game. There are also some very nice effects in the game. The rippling that the water does as it splashes down or gets disturbed is frightening in its realism, and when it freezes over, the way it glints is truly amazing. Now, Aqua Aqua is undoubtedly not pushing the PS2 to its limits -- the game was on the N64 first, for crying out loud -- but it's certainly one of the prettier puzzle titles out there.

Fair warning: The game has gone from a slightly cartoony feel in the N64 and Dreamcast versions to a full-out kiddie emporium in Aqua Aqua. It's certainly ignorable, for the most part, but don't be surprised when you see little Teletubbie-ish characters wandering about aimlessly on your playing field.

The sound, on the other hand, is strictly standard fare. The announcer's incessant 'Four lakes!' 'Three lakes!' 'Six lakes!' can quickly become annoying, helpful though it is. It's decidedly less helpful in a multiplayer game, where you're not sure just who's getting the announcement. Music is neither memorable or horrible, which is a plus, but I'd much rather some tunes that I can remember -- I can still hum the various tracks from the original Gameboy Tetris, even though it's been years since I've booted it up. Well, months. Days. Okay, so I played it this morning. But I digress. You're definitely not going to be too impressed with the sounds of Aqua Aqua, but neither will you turn the volume down.

Well, Aqua Aqua had something going for it before I even booted the game. I thoroughly enjoyed both the N64 and Dreamcast versions of the game, and I was looking forward to the PS2 version. With a wholly different theme and even a name change, I figured that there would be some major changes to the game structure.

And while there are a few tweaks, in the end Aqua Aqua is basically the same game that I played a few years back on my Nintendo 64, with a few additions -- some positive and some negative. And while there's a lot of fun to be had here, fighting the camera and controls often makes it not worth the effort.

For those not in the know, Aqua Aqua and its Wetrix predecessors pit you against an array of falling objects. That may not seem new at all, but what the falling objects do is quite unique. You're given a large, flat area of land to build on. The beginning blocks are all Uppers, in various shapes and sizes. These raise the sections of land that they hit. Soon, Downers will start to appear, which lower land in similar shapes and sizes. And then the water comes. The idea is to leak out as little water as possible, gaining a high score at the same time. The water in Aqua Aqua behaves realistically -- it sloshes around, pours out of holes, and generally makes a big mess. So at the beginning of the game there's a rush to make a border around the level.

Of course, that would be too easy, so there are quite a few crimps in the procedure. Bombs occasionally drop, which make holes in the landscape. An attempt to put a bomb in such a hole results in much nastiness -- so don't do it. And if you build too much without lowering the land, you get an Earthquake, which can pretty much put you out of the game.

That's all well and good, but how does the game play? Well, it takes a few games to get used to -- more than your standard puzzler -- but once you've got the concept down, playing is simple enough. The scoring system, on the other hand, is complex enough to give anyone fits, and I doubt anyone really knows all of its nuances. You can rack up high scores quite simply, though, given enough time and practice.

The game sports a few different game modes. You need to complete the Training Mode first to unlock the Story Mode, which is actually a good idea. The Training levels can really help you get a grasp of what you have to do in the game. The Story Mode itself is a series of challenges, where you must survive for a while, against both occasional timed 'challenges' and the game itself, to open up new arenas to play in.

You can also play any arena (time period, whatever) you've opened in a head-to-head option. This is where the real fun of the game lies -- screwing your neighbours. And this is where you'll truly use the first really new feature of Aqua Aqua. There's a bingo card on the screen, and doing certain things gains you places on the card. Getting pieces in a line invokes an attack on your opponent -- usually, to devestating effect. Sometimes it's quite cool, but at other times it can be annoying.

You may be wondering why, with all this relatively glowing praise, Aqua Aqua has a relatively low score. Well, read on, my friends.

Hard. Although the game itself actually gets quite challenging as it progresses, this is not where the real difficulty comes from. It comes from the amazingly shoddy control scheme. Imprecise to a fault, you'll find yourself placing critical blocks in completely idiotic locations just because the game decided to underrespond or overrespond to your controls. It's absolutely exasperating, and frustrating to boot. Lining up pieces can be hell as well, as sometimes you need parts to overlaps whereas at certain other angles you don't. Luckily, in the multiplayer game, your opponent is fighting the same crappy control scheme as you, so it somewhat evens out.

Game Mechanics:
Let's put it simply: the control scheme in Aqua Aqua is atrocious. It's imprecise, waffling between hypersensitivity and complete disregard for any input you give it. I haven't had this many problems with controlling a game since Bubsy 3D (-shudder-), which is definitely a Bad Thing. You'll find yourself more frustrated with the weak controls than with anything else in the game, which is downright frustrating. It's something that could have been fixed, and should have been fixed. Otherwise, the game's mechanics are solid. The core conceit of the game is good, although it seems that after a certain point, Earthquakes are inevitable; the menus are easy to navigate and understand; the load times, while annoying at first boot, eventually become more than acceptable.

If it weren't for some nagging control issues, Aqua Aqua would be, hands-down, the best puzzle game on the PS2. (Trust me -- I have all three of them.) As it is, Aqua Aqua stands as both a step up and a step down from the previous iterations of the Wetrix theme. Those who can't find the original title will do well to pick this one up, but the enhancements in Aqua Aqua probably don't make up for the weak control scheme if you can find one of the previous releases. It's a solid concept, it just wasn't executed quite well enough.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.