Inspired art direction; smooth controls; only $29.99 USD
Rather short; increased chance of high blood pressure
The oldest platformers flourished because they were simple, and yet burst with personality, an immediately identifiable quality that made its way into every game. We could always tell Donkey Kong (1981), Castlevania (1986) and Mega Man (1987) apart from each other, and for good reason– but even considering the massive differences between each game, whether in terms of art direction or simple gameplay, when we played these platformers, we had a good time. They each gave us, in their own way, a sense of familiarity; the knowledge that, even in our worst days, the A button would always make Jumpman jump, Simon whip and Mega Man shoot. People talk about old games all the time and we either respond, or we don’t. Fortunately for our future conversations, Ivy the Kiwi? for Wii, developed by Prope (Let’s Tap, Let’s Catch) and published by Xseed Games (Retro Game Challenge, Little King’s Story), gives us plenty to talk about.
Nintendo EAD’s Yoshi Touch & Go (2005) and HAL Laboratory’s Kirby: Canvas Curse (2005) made light of our usual power trips by forcing us to relinquish control of our in-game avatars– having them walk and roll at a predetermined pace, endlessly oblivious to their surroundings even as we held our heads in disbelief. At the same time, they delivered the responsibility for Yoshi’s and Kirby’s lives literally into our very fingertips, as if to tell us that we did have the power to guide them– but only so much. With Ivy the Kiwi?, Yuji Naka– founder of Prope and co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog– dares us once again to take care of another bundle of cute, and though the eponymous Ivy the Kiwi is really just a collection of pixels on a screen, the stakes seem very high. Ivy has just hatched from a polka-dotted egg in a forest, and like P.D. Eastman’s baby chick, immediately goes off in search for her mother– a simple plot that is no less overarching in the construct of the game.
Ivy the Kiwi, like any other baby flightless bird looking for her parent, walks ceaselessly forward; her only hope to find her mother lies in our Wii remotes, which Prope has equipped with the uncanny ability to produce vines on the screen. By drawing vines on the screen, much like they drew clouds or rainbows in Yoshi Touch & Go or Kirby: Canvas Curse, players send Ivy around spiked platforms, through labyrinths of rats and ice-cold water and, worst of all, tunnels filled with crows. Players will draw and draw and draw for fifty levels in various locales, ranging from a simple home to a sprawling city– though nothing really changes short of the background image. Then, right as those levels end, Prope pulls out another fifty– remixed versions of the originals, with more obstacles –and players will probably do it all over again, because the sight of a sad kiwi is a very sad one to see.
And yet, though the only thing players know about Ivy is that she’s looking for her mother (and is quite depressed about her absence), the sad sight of Ivy falling onto spikes or buckling from icy water exposes some pent-up emotions, such as, let’s just say, intense frustration. In fact, as easy as the stages are in the beginning of Ivy the Kiwi? (and, for me, they weren’t– I am notoriously bad at platformers), the difficulty ramps up quickly and relentlessly, and Ivy is soon in grave danger every passing second. Prope’s heroine may be brave for one so young, but she certainly is helpless, forcing players to constantly wave their hands, Wii remote almost thrown out of their fingertips, drawing so many vines per second that they may barely even remember which way to go anymore.
Make no mistake: Ivy the Kiwi?‘s storybook-inspired visuals may have that nostalgic, knowable feel to them, and the art direction may certainly remind of happy days long gone, but it’s hard to imagine Ivy the Kiwi? being any more intense. While Yoshi Touch & Go allowed players to sharpen their skills over and over again on a map, the levels in Ivy the Kiwi? force a learn-on-the-go mentality, thinking nothing of letting players witness their charge’s failure time and time again, if only to let them learn the best ways to go about playing the game. (As well as making them feel rather worthless each time Ivy falls.) Certainly, Ivy the Kiwi? is not for the meek at heart, and definitely not for the weary– so much patience is required in both learning to play and actually playing (though it’s an admittedly blurry line between the two) that you feel as though you’re actually nurturing this dim-witted bird, patiently taking care of it in absence of its own mother. Of course, what with Ivy being completely oblivious to her surroundings, she doesn’t let on to any appreciation of your care– if she even realizes it at all. (Another metaphor for child-rearing? Couldn’t be.)
The difficulty is only exacerbated by ten feather pick-ups in each level of the game, hidden in areas that are usually filled with obstacles– pride boosters for perfectionists, and yet no less necessary for everyone else, as ten feathers make up one extra life. On the bright side, if any friends are available, even these feathers become that much more achievable– Ivy the Kiwi? supports drop-in, drop-out cooperative play, and one player can easily focus on pushing Ivy forward while another incapacitates enemies or covers up spikes, though it’s very easy to get so many vines on-screen as to hamper Ivy rather than help her. Still, the reflexes involved in going through the main stages alone very quickly caused me to wonder if all my years of playing video games had led up to this point– and though I failed time and time again to deliver Ivy to her mother (causing me to see sad kiwi after sad kiwi), I surprised even myself when I failed to turn off the Wii. Like Ivy, I kept going.
In fact, that’s precisely what Ivy the Kiwi? does so well. Yes, it’s difficult, and no, it doesn’t cover especially new ground, but Ivy the Kiwi? is different enough from other games in the Wii’s ouerve to make any player keep playing in spite of any difficulties. And so it’s odd that Ivy the Kiwi? seems so unsure of itself, with that question mark tacked on, as if to ask whether it can really sit at the grown-ups’ table. It shouldn’t have to ask at all. Like the platformers of yesterday, Ivy the Kiwi? has an engaging personality all its own– and it’s Ivy’s table where other games should sit.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.