Yuji Naka’s work is nothing if not original. His games – featuring everything from jovial jesters to hurried hedgehogs – have delighted gamers for generations, inspiring many a modern designer in the process. Though currently detached from his most popular creation, Sonic The Hedgehog, it’s great to see the Japanese developer hasn’t lost his flair for creativity. Since waving goodbye to Sega and heading up new games studio, Prope, Naka has been responsible for such quirky titles as Let’s Tap and Let’s Catch on Wii. Now, the Japanese designer is back with what is arguably his most original title to date, Ivy the Kiwi?, a delightful platformer that’s sure to melt your heart…
Inspired by the paternal love felt towards his newborn son, Naka’s latest casts you as the all-caring guardian of Ivy – the hopeless hatchling and titular star of the game. Separated from her mother at birth, and with little means of protecting herself, it’s up to you to guide little Ivy home. How you’ll achieve this (as anyone who has played the fantastic Windows Phone original will tell you), is by scribbling vines across the touch screen, upon which Ivy may traverse.
Mechanically, Ivy the Kiwi? has made the transition from mobile to handheld with considerable aplomb. Here, stylus controls make for some truly satisfying platforming, while also allowing for a great deal of variety in strokes. Heights can be scaled with makeshift ramps, enemies can be trapped with simple barriers, and plucking at a vine sends Ivy hurtling through the air – obliterating just about any breakable block, or enemy, that stands in her way.
In many respects, Ivy the Kiwi? feels like the long-overdue tribute to Yoshi! Touch and Go, but the game is far grander in its scope. Where Yoshi! Touch and Go proved itself to be an amusing – but ultimately throwaway – slice of fun, Ivy the Kiwi? feels as though built from the grown up. You see, Ivy the Kiwi? doesn’t riff on traditional 2D platforming, but adds to the existing formula, with imaginative controls, labyrinthine levels, and a new-found focus on player choice.
Fancy playing the game as a straight-up platformer, dashing to exit-points against the clock? Or do you choose to play it safe, scooping up each of the level’s ten collectible feathers, and seeing off enemy threats for a jaw-droppingly-high score? Mastery – although frequently punishing – has you combining both approaches, and it’s one that should cater to just about every audience and ability.
At any rate, you’ll be dashing through levels at speeds to make even Sonic wince, and this is where Ivy truly comes into its own. While it’s certainly never enforced, getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ in as few strokes as possible becomes something of a secret obsession. Ivy can be ‘swung’ around tight corners with but a single vine, and while it takes a little getting used to, few games rival the feeling of pulling off a perfect speed run.
Occasionally, Ivy even throws a puzzle in to the mix to keep you on your toes. These rarely equate to anything more than finding a boulder that’s been hidden somewhere in the level, and using it to break through very specific blocks, but such instances certainly add spice to the proceedings. That you’re limited to a 300 second time limit adds to the intensity of the action immensely, making for some truly nerve-wracking gameplay.
Unfortunately, such tension is often the result of hardware limitations, not to mention clumsy design choices. Accidental vines can’t be erased, meaning that Ivy will often become trapped within levels – or worse, killed. Yoshi! Touch and Go allowed players to erase their hap-handed errors by gently blowing into the DS’ microphone, but Ivy the Kiwi? doesn’t offer anything of the sort, forcing players to scribble outside of the level to erase their previous vines. This is all fine and dandy on the earlier levels, but when Ivy begins to ramp up the difficultly towards the end of the game, you’ll be cursing like a madman.
If there’s another criticism to be levelled at Ivy, it’s that her unrelenting march becomes all too difficult to control during the game’s second half. Later levels are packed with enemies and obstacles, and you can’t help but want for a way to slow Ivy to a halt – if not to survey the area, then perhaps just for a mild breather. Ivy’s speed wouldn’t have proved such a problem had the game been released on HD consoles, but the DS’s limited resolution makes for a pretty inadequate viewing distance. A map on the top screen does attempt to remedy this issue, but its so small as to render it useless during the game’s more hectic stretches, while rarely showing anything other than the level’s exit point.
Despite the above, you’ll keep coming back for more. Ivy’s imaginative control scheme, beautiful story-book world, and catchy melodies will see you through every last one of its 100 imaginative levels. There’s even the option to play against 3 of your mates with just a single cart, racing each other to exit points, whilst collecting as many feathers and gold medals as possible. Put simply: Ivy the Kiwi? is one of the most original, generous and delightful games on DS. With improved controls, this could be a classic.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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