Ivy the Kiwi? Review
Ivy the Kiwi? box art
System: Wii, DS Review Rating Legend
Dev: Prope 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: XSEED 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Aug. 24, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-4 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

Since Yuji Naka of Sonic the Hedgehog fame left Sega in 2006, he hasn’t done much in the vein of platformers, instead using his new development studio to explore other (read: casual) avenues of game design. The collective surprise from among the gaming community for Naka’s Ivy the Kiwi?, then, was big news, at least for the legions of gamers who grew up chasing rings and running through loop-de-loops in the 16-bit era. I actually had a chance to try out Ivy at E3 and was pretty impressed with the results.

Ivy the Kiwi? screenshot

Far from a Sonic clone, Ivy is one of those “forward motion” puzzle-style platformers that have seen a bit of a resurgence lately in games like Bit.Trip Runner, Mirror’s Edge iPhone, and the indie favorite Canabalt. Generally, I’m disappointed with platformers that constantly propel you forward, since I enjoy being able to stop and embrace all the nooks and crannies of a game’s design. But Ivy is an unassuming and spirited little game that’s also quite enjoyable, much like the examples noted above, even if you’re not allowed to stop.

Ivy herself is also one of the cutest game mascots on the Wii. Though a certain kawaii factor might turn off some more hardcore gamers, this little bird is too adorable not to love instantly. It’s bad enough the game opens with storybook drawings of Ivy running around still in her eggshell, spilling big teardrops everywhere as she runs this way and that, looking for her lost mother. But rather than coming off as unnatural or overly sugary (the fate of too many cutesy games to count), Ivy’s feel is heartwarming and genuine rather than forced.

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The point is, Ivy has a quaint set of sensibilities, from the charm of its presentation to its aesthetics and mechanics. The world Ivy inhabits is made up of simple pencil sketched backdrops and stylized cel-shaded levels and characters, something like a post-Kindergarten Yoshi’s Island with a heavy emphasis on line shading. The Wii renders Ivy quite well, so well you’ll probably wish the game had a zoom option so you could better admire its artistry, though all of its simple effects are subtle and probably not taxing the hardware too much, the game is still pretty impressive to behold.

Ivy the Kiwi? screenshot

Gameplay is also relatively simple: running forward through a series of levels, you have to protect Ivy from various dangers and obstacles. The only way to achieve this is by stretching out protective vines that Ivy can run along, half-fly from one object to the next (think Yoshi’s floating jump), or slingshot across a stage with. Vines are drawn on-screen with the Wii Remote and can stretch or be manipulated in real time as Ivy makes her way across them.

The catch is you can only use three vines at once, after which the first drawn disappears, making it essential to keep an eye on where Ivy is in relation to these temporary passages at all times. Bouncing Ivy from one vine to the next is also a skill you’ll need to master, particularly in relation to her relative speed and the vines’ reactive physics. It seems like programming the vines to feel and behave accurately would be a big challenge and certainly one the game’s fun factor would hinge on; luckily, Naka and Prope nailed it.

Ivy the Kiwi? screenshot

Screenshots / Images
Ivy the Kiwi? screenshot - click to enlarge Ivy the Kiwi? screenshot - click to enlarge Ivy the Kiwi? screenshot - click to enlarge Ivy the Kiwi? screenshot - click to enlarge

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