Ivy the Kiwi?

  • by Heidi Kemps
  • August 24, 2010 09:00 AM PT

Producer Yuji Naka helped created Sonic the Hedgehog, one of the most iconic characters in all of gaming, but his latest effort is a bit more subdued and relaxed. But despite her lack of speed, Ivy the Kiwi still stars in a terrific puzzle experience for the DS.

Ivy the Kiwi?

Most gamers will recognize Yuji Naka for his role in creating the iconic character Sonic the Hedgehog, whose many adventures were instrumental in keeping Sega competitive with Nintendo and its plump plumber. After helming several Sonic sequels and various other projects, Naka left Sega to form his own independent development team called Prope. Their first effort was the interesting Let’s Tap, a title that was more memorable for its use of the Wii Remote’s accelerometer than for its gameplay, and now they’re back with a new title called I’ve been closely following since its inception.

Called Ivy the Kiwi?, the title looked like a return to the sort of high-quality, character-driven platform games that defined the 16-bit generation and Naka’s career, but surprisingly, rather than recall Naka’s early work with Sonic, it follows in the footsteps of titles like Lemmings, Adventures of Lolo, and Solomon’s Key. Although it's a port of a mobile game released in 2009, the game holds up surprisingly well on the DS, fitting in naturally on the handheld with sharp, stylus based gameplay.

The story and motivation of Ivy is very simple: Ivy is a flightless kiwi hatchling looking to find her mother. Ivy’s saga is told in colorful, storybook-style graphics that have a warm, pleasant feel. It’s a very inviting-looking game, which befits its highly accessible game mechanics. Rather than controlling Ivy directly, as one would in a standard platform game, the energetic (some might say “suicidal”) Ivy dashes off on her own, her seemingly limitless energy keeping her in a state of perpetual motion. Your goal is to lead Ivy to where she needs to go by drawing vines on the screen. The vines serve many purposes: they can form bridges across spike-filled pits and ramps to help Ivy surmount high platforms (she is flightless, remember), and they can form blockades to seal away traps and prevent Ivy from going where you don’t want her to. They can even act as a means of propulsion: Swinging a vine line underneath Ivy can quickly lift her onto higher ground, and grabbing and tugging a vine Ivy is running on will turn her into a wall-smashing ballistic missile.

When rat enemies begin to appear later in the game, vines will also affect their movement: you can seal them away to keep Ivy out of reach, or fling them into the distance. (Just be careful not to pick any of them up in your frenzied bridge-building!) There are limitations, however: only 3 vines can be onscreen at once (drawing a fourth erases the earliest drawn), and drawing too long a vine will cause it to break and become useless.

Ivy the Kiwi?

The stages in Ivy are brief, and are under a strict time limit of 300 seconds. To complete each stage, you simply lead Ivy to the level’s goal structure – a task which is sometimes easier said than done. Each stage also has 10 feathers to attempt to collect – many of which are placed in challenging locations that take extra effort to reach. There are about 100 levels to the game, and additional mechanics and obstacles are introduced gradually throughout. The majority of them aren’t too tough – some might take a few tries, but most experienced gamers will be able to clear them without much of a hassle. But once you get to the later stages, life becomes a living hell for our cute little kiwi friend, and it’ll take totally mastery of the vines to ensure her survival.

Ivy the Kiwi? is plenty of fun, but it does have a few issues. I felt that the game was a bit short – I managed to blow through the majority of the game’s stages (save for a few of the challenging later trials) within a couple of days. I also had a few issues with the stylus controls. While the vines would behave the way I wanted them to the majority of the time, I still encountered a few instances of them cutting off in the middle of a draw, or being a few pixels off from where I actually wanted them to be – something that can spell doom for poor Ivy. The fact that Ivy is constantly moving and scrolling the screen sometimes makes drawing accuracy difficult, as well. It’s easy to put aside the occasional frustration, though – every time you’d want to get mad at this game, it works its charm on you and keeps you coming back for another go.

I really enjoyed my brief time with Ivy: it’s a well-made game with broad appeal (unless you’re a person who refuses to play anything that doesn’t have bullets in it). I’m glad to see Naka’s team making these sorts of titles, and I hope they’ll continue to produce accessible titles like this. If you’re expecting a mind-blowing retro-platform revival, you might be a bit disappointed. Ivy’s not quite the instant all-time classic that the original Sonic was – but then again, how many games can be?

PROS: Very easy to learn, accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike, cute as a button
CONS: Fairly lax level of difficulty for most of the game, sometimes inaccurate touch controls, might not be what some expect