'Ivy the Kiwi?' is challenging fun with images of storybook beauty

Screen shot from "Ivy the Kiwi?" Ivy the Kiwi , newly hatched, is looking for her mother. You can help by creating vines for her to walk, jump, and hide.
Screen shot from "Ivy the Kiwi?" Ivy the Kiwi , newly hatched, is looking for her mother. You can help by creating vines for her to walk, jump, and hide.
Posted: September 03, 2010

Ivy the Kiwi?

Reviewed for Wii; also available for Nintendo DS

From: Prope, XSeed Games

Age rating: Everyone

(comic mischief)

If you squint hard enough to see through the Wii's forest of ill-devised motion-control tech demos, half-baked mini-game collections, and one-trick peripherals, you might be lucky enough to spot a game like Ivy the Kiwi?, a sublime example of a game that homes in on one thing the Wii does best and then takes perfect advantage of it without any unnecessary fuss.

Ivy's premise is simple: Ivy, a freshly hatched chick, is lost and looking for her mother, and players are tasked with making that reunion happen.

Ivy presents itself as a sidescrolling platformer, but players have no direct control over Ivy: Instead, they point the Wii remote at the screen and use it to create vines that Ivy can walk on, spring from, and use as protection from traps and enemies en route to reaching a level's goal. Like a lemming, Ivy never stops walking, so a quick, steady hand is needed to create vines quickly and put them to good use.

If you've played Kirby Canvas Curse on the Nintendo DS, you have a good idea how this works, and it's no surprise that Ivy is appearing on that platform as well.

But while creating vines is easier with a stylus, it's considerably more fun with the remote. Ivy lets players "swing" the vines while creating them by swinging the remote in a circular motion, which in turn launches Ivy forward or upward. Players also can treat a created vine like a slingshot and launch Ivy toward enemies and destructible blocks. All of this is elementarily possible with a stylus, but the Wii controls are so natural and intuitive that the sensation of unfurling, swinging, and slinging vines feels surprisingly like the real thing.

The bigger screen also allows Ivy's magnificent visual presentation - picture an animated watercolor drawing presented as a living storybook - to dazzle that much more. Ivy is a minimalist work in terms of art, sound, and storytelling, but it's a marvelous example of how to do a lot with a little. If little Ivy doesn't charm you, little else can.

Like many of history's best 2-D platformers, Ivy's adorability belies how challenging its 100-plus levels eventually become. The game is generous with extra lives and endless continues, but in return, it asks players to complete levels without making a single fatal mistake. Simply doing that is a hardy (but very fair) challenge by itself, and the truly bold can test themselves further by trying to collect the 10 feathers scattered around each level and still reach the goal before the clock hits zero. Ivy grades players' performance on each level, and perfectionists can revisit completed levels at their leisure to improve their marks.

Beyond how well it accommodates both novice and skilled players, Ivy's biggest surprise might be its multiplayer (2 to 4 players, local only).

A co-op mode lets two players draw vines for a single Ivy, which turns Ivy into a terrific game that parent and child can play together.

Competitive multiplayer, meanwhile, pits four Ivys in a split-screen race to reach the goal first, which sounds completely ordinary until players realize they can draw vines in other players' quadrants and sabotage their progress. Instantly, a sweet story about a chick looking for her mama becomes one of the most cutthroat and hilariously fun multiplayer modes to grace the Wii this year.

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