Keep moving forward, little Ivy.
Ivy the Kiwi?, the latest title from Sonic the Hedghog creator Yuji Naka, simultaneously offers a brand new experience while keeping some familiar elements from other beloved games. A puzzle-action-platformer, Ivy the Kiwi? takes a stab at several different genres, succeeding more often than it fails.
The titular bird plays the role of the classic "ugly duckling", a character who is different from the rest of his family, and thus sets off to find his real origin. The story is a minimal element of the game, told only at the very beginning and very end of the main game in storybook-style cutscenes. Ivy's only real character trait is that she constantly runs forward, and it's up to you to help guide her to the exit of each stage.
Memories of Kirby Canvas Curse rushed in initially as I created vines to guide Ivy through the stages. As I began to get the hang of the game, it struck me that what I was basically playing was a hybrid of Kirby Canvas Curse and the Target Smash stages from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The stages in Ivy the Kiwi? are all fairly small, and are meant to be finished in under five minutes; most of them will be finished in two minutes or less. Each of the stages contains ten feathers, none of which are particularly hidden, and thus the crux of the gameplay revolves around making sure you've combed over the entire stage to get all of the feathers before you head toward the exit.
Unlike the "draw your own platform" control style of Kirby, Ivy uses nothing but straight-edges, and no more than three at a time. Using the Wii Remote, players draw vines on the screen to give Ivy a path over various obstacles - some of which are lethal - and help control her speed. There is some basic item management in the form of a boulder that can plow through weakened walls. Players must bring the boulder through the stage alongside Ivy, which can create some headaches as the boulder does not have the constant forward momentum that the character does. Navigating both Ivy and the boulder through a corridor featuring enemy birds, spikes, or poisonous droplets becomes a staple of some of the later stages, and is quite difficult.
The game does have a fairly even difficulty scale over the 50 stages in the main game, with the first 30-40 feeling fairly simple, and the last 10-20 being considerably more challenging. There are perhaps too many easy stages, as I blew through the first half of the main game without having any real fear of losing all of my lives, and yet when I got to the final world in the game (each world contains 5 stages) I found myself dying at least 5-10 times on each stage.
After the main game is complete, 50 new bonus stages are unlocked which are all slight variations on the main game. Each of the bonus stages includes a key which must be found before the exit can be reached. These stages are more difficult, but not significantly different from their main-game counterparts.
The game contains up to four-player split-screen multiplayer, as well as two-player co-operative play in the main game. I was unable to test four-player versus split-screen play, but the two-player versus game mode simply had both players competing for the same goal in the same stage. You could see how far your opponent was ahead of you, but their character didn't actually show on the screen. The lack of any real tweaking of the game for multiplayer was a bit disappointing, but if you have a few friends who enjoy the basic mechanic of Ivy the Kiwi? you could have a lot of fun competing for best times.
The art style used here deserves special mention. It is very well done, with every asset in the game looking hand-drawn and carefully sketched, including the fantastic background art. Unfortunately, the entire game is colored with a shade of brown that makes the art blend together, making some of the difference in backgrounds seem negligible. The game has a storybook-style presentation that is mainly noticeable in the opening and end-game cutscenes.
Ivy the Kiwi? is a real winner in the action-puzzle genre, striking the right tone of simplicity while keeping the game's difficulty moving along at a nice pace. The 50 stages in the main game won't take you too long, but there is ample replayability in trying to beat your own scores and going through all of the bonus content. It's not an incredibly deep experience, but if you like challenging your own reflexes and looking at pretty backgrounds, this game might very well be up your alley.