Just as we began to think that the puzzle genre was going stagnant on the PS2, along comes Aqua Aqua to spruce things up, not to mention funnel away hours of precious time. An update of the grossly under-appreciated Wetrix+, it’s a puzzler with all of the trappings: geometric gameplay, cute characters (Aquas, in this case), goofy sound effects and frantic, nerve-jangling gameplay. In an effort to… well, to garner a better score, gamers are challenged to capture and dispose of water falling from the sky by building makeshift moats and dams. Sounds fun, right? It is indeed.
The story takes place six and a half days after the dawn of time; then there’s some nonsense about a dry planet and the four evil monsters (one for each level — they show up and generally muss up your carefully wrought structures) who decide to make it their own. The Supreme Being dispatches four Aquas, or Water Spirits, to bring water and life to this desolate rock. Of course that isn’t really important all — all you really need to know is this: Water = Bad.
Pieces fall from the sky one at a time onto a large grid; each of these can be rotated by using the square button, and dropped by hitting the X button. The trick is to build shallow bins from falling pieces of earth (squares, lines and L-shapes) and then use these to catch the water pieces, which tend to come in packs — let water spill over the edge and your stress levels begin to surge. The fireball is crucial to your efforts, as it evaporates any water it hits. A test tube on the side (replete with adorable Aqua trapped inside) displays how much water has spilled over the edges; when it hits the fill limit it’s game over (replete with adorable choking noises emitting from said Aqua). Sounds easy enough and probably would be — if that were the sum of it.
Plenty of other pieces drop by to mix things up a bit: Bombs blow holes in the earth, allowing precious fluids to seep through, while downers serve as the inverse of the earth pieces, carving away any land they hit. Ice cubes, naturally, freeze any water they come in contact with — these can really help or hinder, depending on when they show up. Finally, to really shake things up, the developers have included an Earthquake feature — build up too much terrain, and suffer the consequences. You could say it’s all about the balance.
Just like so many of the best games (puzzle and otherwise), Aqua Aqua increases the difficulty bit by bit — though it’s pretty challenging right off the bat. However, the subtle intricacies and tricks for maximizing your score really begin to show through only after you’ve gotten a grip on the gameplay basics. For example, a fireball will evaporate all of the water it comes in contact with, making one large pool of water more desirable than several small ones — this is where those downers really make themselves useful.
Similarly, placing your fireballs at the appropriate points on the grid unlocks Bingo cards. Each card has benevolent properties including multiplying your score, making the pieces descend at a slower rate or even increasing the size of the landscape. It’s tricky yet tangible, and helps make the “addictive” tagline that’s tacked on to the packaging of just about every puzzler ever made fit this one quite nicely.
Those with a penchant for the puzzling (not to mention cute as candy characters) will find Aqua Aqua an excellent addition to the PS2’s still meager library of such games. The versus mode is excellent, and the depth and intricacy of the scoring system really go the distance in fleshing out what ultimately boils down to simple, satisfying gameplay. Make no mistake, this is not an easy puzzler, but you’ll probably dig it.