When you start playing Ivy The Kiwi?, the game’s dusk-colored storybook presentation, chirping titular baby bird, and bouncy repetitive score seem to promise a pleasant, old-school time. Then you accidentally lead your adorable avian ward into a set of spikes for the seventh time, and the word “FAIL” appears onscreen like an accusation. That’s how old-school Ivy really is—though it’s old-school in an unexpected way, considering that its designer, Yuji Naka, is the proud programming papa behind Sonic The Hedgehog. Ivy has more in common with the simple, manic pleasures of Naka’s Chu Chu Rocket than Mario’s old rival.
After hatching from her egg, Ivy sets off to find her mama, and it’s your task to see her safely there. You don’t control Ivy, who moves perpetually on her own, but you use vines drawn with the Wii remote to guide her around blocky obstacle courses filled with spikes, rats, birds, and, um, drops of water that kill her instantly. Victory comes when she reaches a pedestal labeled “goal.” The game has a steep learning curve, as getting accustomed to the physics of your elastic vines takes experimentation and patience. You can use up to three at once, but the key to success is creating momentum with the vines rather than using them as leads and stops. The vines can also be used to slingshot Ivy by pulling them like rubber bands, which is especially useful when the game starts throwing breakable walls at you. Once you’ve got it, you can fling Ivy about the game’s stages with gleeful abandon.
The difficulty curve in Ivy The Kiwi? is steep. At the beginning, just reaching the goal without touching spikes is a challenge, but just as the controls become instinctive, more complex obstacles appear. Rats move in horizontal paths; birds move in vertical and horizontal patterns; the drops of water introduce careful timing, etc. When the stages aren’t introducing new threats, they’re complicating the process of actually reaching the goal, evolving the linear courses into vertically oriented mazes, or requiring you to manipulate a boulder for wall-breaking, in addition to Ivy. The 50 stages comprising the central story mode represent an expertly scaled challenge, hard enough to frustrate, but manageable enough to satisfy. But the game is lacking in its secondary objectives. The hardest parts of each level are collecting the 10 feathers scattered about each stage, but there’s little incentive to collect them. You get an extra life for every 10 acquired, but you also get extra lives as points naturally accumulate, so the bonus isn’t the carrot on a stick it should be.
While the story mode’s brevity betrays Ivy’s roots as a Windows Phone game, the 50 extra challenge stages and competitive multiplayer modes flesh out the package nicely. The four-player races offer some nice backstabbing pleasures, though they don’t equal those in Chu Chu Rocket. Special note should also be made of Ivy’s storybook presentation. While simple, the scratched illustration graphics and music are entirely pleasant; Ivy looks and plays like an arcade game from the world of Professor Layton. While it isn’t a classic like Naka’s Sonic Team classics, it is a simple pleasure that’s hard not to like.