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Ivy the Kiwi plays as unusually as it looks. Simple vine stretching controls on both DS and Wii turn a basic platform game into a real puzzle as Prope prove once again that they are kings of the avant-garde.
Ivy the Kiwi is all the more interesting because it comes from Sonic programmer Yuji Naka. After leaving Sega in 2006, he founded Prope and quickly gained a reputation for quirky games. We were quite taken with both Let's Tap and Let's Catch.
Let's Catch is an interesting example. Although it's essentially a catching game using the Wii-mote, it features characters who slowly tell you their moving stories about childhood trauma, family breakdown and loneliness. This turns a fine party game into something much more engaging.
While Ivy the Kiwi doesn't play to these themes as much, it still stars a young bird lost in the woods - the stuff of fairy tales. In the game you are trying to return the diminutive hatchling, Ivy, back to her mother. The little bird is so distraught that she constantly runs left or right in panic.
This is where you come in. By using the DS stylus or Wii-mote you can stretch leafy vines across the screen and guide Ivy to the end of level goal - getting her one step closer to home.
This simple act drawing vines is all the control you are granted - and slowly turns out to be all the control you need. As you play on though, you realise there is more going on here than first meets the eye. The vines can be drawn to provide a convenient platform - that much is obvious, but if you leave your stylus on the screen you can keep hold of one end and lift Ivy up into the air.
This creates a sort of sweeping motion where the little chick can be projected around the place. Combine a few of these motions in quick succession and you can essentially fly Ivy anywhere you want. Although it's simple, it is also feels like a natural way to interact with the game.
This simple act of vine drawing is all the controls you are granted - and slowly turns out to be all the control you need.
Once you have let go of both ends of the vine it is fixed at both ends. You can then pull it back in the middle to create a catapult for Ivy. If judged correctly this can propel the small bird spinning into the air, something that also enables her to bash through blocks in her way.
The combination of these different controls - drawing, dragging and catapulting - are put to the test by levels that slowly become more puzzle-like as you proceed. At the start I simply charged through each stage, but soon realised I needed to collect all ten feathers - as well as go after the hidden bonus coins for extra credit.
Getting a handle on the simple controls not only grants access to hidden areas of each level but also opens the door to a variety of special moves. For instance, at the end of each level you place Ivy on a podium, the higher you reach the more points you get. However, if you use a vine catapult to fire her to the finish block you get a further multiplication of your score.
Although it starts out much like any platform game, the controls and requirement to collect each feather soon start turning Ivy the Kiwi into more of a puzzle game. My kids had their hands on the game first and really enjoyed the different ways they could interact with the little bird. But it wasn't until I had a go and showed them how you could get to all those hard to reach places that their eyes really lit up.
With its hand drawn wood-rubbed visuals, and simple game play many will take this to be a kid's game. In actual fact though there is as much here for the experienced gamer as there is for the beginner.
It's all very unusual and engaging stuff.
It's all very unusual and engaging stuff. What's more you can try the first ten levels of Ivy the Kiwi on both DSi-ware and Wii-ware. You can then choose between the Wii and DS full versions. Although the Wii game has a nice four player mode, the DS's tactile controls have the edge for me. The games are otherwise identical - both levels and story.
I really enjoy playing unusual games like this on the DS. Ivy the Kiwi reminded me of Soul Bubbles and how well suited the system is for this sort of thing.
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