When it comes to adorable animals as video game protagonists, Ivy is one of the more hardheaded of the bunch, and not just because she still wears part of her eggshell as a hat. This plucky little bird runs tirelessly in search of her mother, and it's up to you to help her on her way and keep her safe from harm. You do this by stretching, swinging and snapping taut vines that you conjure from thin air, creating ramps, flippers and slingshots to help Ivy navigate her storybook world. While the gameplay and level design remain approachably simple throughout the game, the difficulty curve increases steadily, and the game demands quite a bit of quickness and finesse as you near completion. Though some aspects of Ivy the Kiwi might make you wish for a bit more complexity, this charming platformer still stuffs plenty of appeal into a reasonably priced package.
Ivy the Kiwi begins with beautifully illustrated pages from a storybook that set up your adventure. Having (almost fully) hatched to find herself alone in the forest, Ivy takes off at a run in search of her mother, and you are dropped into the first stage. Each stage is built with stationary blocks that hang in midair in front of a static background, but both elements are slightly animated. This effect combines with the frosted edges of the screen to create kind of an antiquated, illustrated look. The visuals, along with the looping music for each level, give the presentation a simple, familiar charm. In a way, the abundance of blocks feels like a missed opportunity, given the potential for fully fleshed-out, detailed environments. Yet the simplicity resonates well with the gameplay, giving the overall package a pleasing sense of harmony.
There are two basic elements that set the stage for all the action in Ivy the Kiwi. One is Ivy's constant motion; she runs to the right until she hits a wall or a steep ramp and then turns around and runs back to the left, heedless of any danger. The other is your ability to conjure vines out of thin air. By pointing your remote at the screen and pressing the A button, you create the starting point for your vine. Continuing to hold the button down, you can move the endpoint of your vine wherever you like. Releasing the button anchors your vine in place. You can have only three vines onscreen at a time, and stretching the vine too far causes it to snap.
As Ivy charges through stages, you must use vines to help her stay on track. This can be as simple as creating a ramp so Ivy can get up some stairs, or extending a bridge so that she doesn't fall into a pit. If you create a vine but don't anchor it, you can swing it up underneath Ivy to launch her into the air like a pinball or gently lift her up one set of stairs and down another. Using vines kinetically is a lot of fun, though you have to be careful that Ivy's forward momentum doesn't carry her somewhere dangerous. Developing a feel for how to move Ivy around using vines is easy, thanks to the gentle difficulty curve, and experimenting with extra-quick or super-smooth motion is amusing. As you become more proficient and get in tune with Ivy's speed and weight, moving the little bird along becomes a rhythmic and satisfying experience.
Vines keep the rain off Ivy's brightly feathered head. (Credit: GameSpot)
Yet stairs and pits aren't the only obstacles in Ivy's world. You also have to steer Ivy around perilous hazards that cause you to fail the stage at the slightest touch. Sharp spikes take up residence on horizontal and vertical surfaces, while icy water drops fall from the ceiling to the floor. You can insulate Ivy against these threats with well-placed protective vines, or you can time her progress such that you nimbly avoid them. There are also rats that patrol some stages, and you must be careful not to sweep them up onto your vines, lest they run into Ivy and take away one of your lives. The final danger is birds, which fly in vertical or horizontal patterns and are immune to vine manipulation. Nimble avoidance is always an option, but Ivy can also eliminate both birds and rats using her spin attack. You pull off this move by stretching the vine she's running on like a slingshot and then letting go to launch her into the air.
Ivy's slingshot attack can also be used to break through certain blocks that impede her progress, though other blocks require more destructive power than a little bird can muster. Many stages have a boulder lying around and, if you see one of these, odds are you should bring it along with you. Ivy can push a boulder in front of her and steamroll enemies, or you can use vines to trap Ivy in a corner and fling the rock around yourself. Though there isn't a great variety of hazards and environmental obstacles, Ivy the Kiwi leverages these few elements to create a fairly robust array of challenges. Completing 50 stages takes more than a few hours, bringing a delightful, heartwarming reward and unlocking more challenging versions of every single stage in the game.
Careful with that incline, now. Wouldn't want Ivy to bump her head. (Credit: GameSpot)
This thoughtful structure offers incentive to casual players and challenge seekers alike, the latter of whom can also strive to top the score leaderboards for complete play-throughs, or earn medals by playing stages individually. To earn medals, however, you must first collect all 10 feathers found on each level. In early levels these feathers are generally found along your way to the finish, while later on they become trickier and trickier to acquire. Those who need a little help (or just want a little company) can have a second player join them at any time. With twice as many vines onscreen there is more potential for protecting Ivy, as well as a greater tendency for Ivy to get all tangled up. If tangling is more your speed, there are a bunch of splitscreen multiplayer stages that up to four players can compete in. Players must guide their own Ivy towards their own goal, but getting to the end is much tougher because your friends can draw vines on your screen to obstruct you. Though things often get a bit too tangled, there is some frantic amusement to be found here.
Ivy the Kiwi does a good job of using simple gameplay mechanics to create a layered, engaging adventure. Experienced players may find it quite easy in the early going, but there is a solid, satisfying challenge to be found in many of the later levels. Even though the blocky levels may make you yearn for more detailed, vibrant environments, the presentation still strikes a nice chord that is likely to please. Very reasonably priced at AU$39.95, Ivy the Kiwi has a good mix of charm and challenge, with unique visuals and clever gameplay that make it quite appealing.