Last year’s mobile game from Prope has returned for a Wii/DS combo release, though interviews have revealed that the Wii version preceded all other concerns – and it definitely shows.
Prope Studio founder Yuji Naka’s life after Sega is easy to typecast as one focused on the control side of gaming – the way we interact with the medium, not simply via the use of new peripherals but in exploring the way tactile actions and video output work together to create new experiences. Last year that focus had me tapping on a cereal box to vibrate a WiiMote with the release of Let’s Tap, but where that release came across more as an interesting technical demonstration, Ivy the Kiwi? is less on the esoteric and more about playtime with straight-forward appeal.
More over, Ivy feels like a return to form, a game of crafted levels designed for an instantly iconic character that is unavoidably as cute as a box of puppies, and finds a welcome place alongside other Naka creations such as Sonic the Hedgehog or Nights into Dreams
Focusing on the Wii release first and foremost, Ivy is a compelling example of simple controls allowing for one of the most natural uses of the WiiMote I’ve yet encountered.
Searching for her mother through a series of contained stages, Ivy runs like a turbo-charged lemming, dependent on the player to manipulate the environment to help her reach the three-tiered platform at the end of each stage. That simple agenda asks that the player use only vines to aid her, via two buttons – the A button to pull a vine into creation, and the B button to stretch and pull it back like a slingshot.
The result leaves me feeling a bit like Spider-man, creating vines anywhere on the screen I please, up to three at a time, and using them to build ramps or create bridges over spiked pits and other hazards standing between Ivy and the finish line.
The magic is in the manipulation of the vines, even in the simple way the player can stretch them out to the point of snapping – and they do snap if you get greedy with the distance. When thinking of fluidity, I’ll often mention a game like PixelJunk Shooter, and yet everything within that release is accomplished via analog sticks and button taps, with Ivy’s WiiMote controls leaving me plenty to reconsider about how I use that word.
Ivy’s world is stiff, built of blocks and squares that make a programmer’s life easier, with Ivy herself an animated but not particularly springy creature. She’ll certainly jump with enthusiasm at the end of each stage, her egg shell dressings bouncing as she does – but during a stage run she is a bullet, simply running the path forward until redirected by obstacles.
And yet the player can consistently and organically create a sense of life with those vines, opening new pathways yes, but also sweeping her up while pulling vines into creation, flinging her higher, confining her to areas, or spinning her in any direction they please.
Pulling on vines invites her into the net, which when released, fires her from the sling-shot and causes her spinning screw attack to take out any villainous birds or mice as well as bash through blocks. Occasionally she needs a boulder to break through tougher spots, and even there the player can sweep the rock into a vine and fling it wherever they please.
And sitting on the couch with an outstretched arm barely moving to bring this chaotic jungle gym to life, it’s earnestly surprising just how much life sparks and crackles from the screen, as much from the color palette as the action I’m directing – when I curse and lean forward with my serious game face after dying repeatedly, some old school memories come flooding back to join the new but familiar dance Ivy offers.
Along the way I shed the major concern nagging at me from the outset – Ivy’s stages could quickly blur into a repetitious chore. The game is tightly knit, with five stages per level and 100 stages in total.
I won’t suggest that the changing environments of each level dramatically keep tedium at bay on their own. Rather, the openness of the stages continually feels fresh, with the core simplicity of the design creating pathways up down and all around, and the vine manipulation necessary to explore these areas keeping the game from every reaching the tedium that seems so unavoidable in the pitch. Ivy also layers the obstacles, slowly bringing together nuisance predators and environmental hazards that increasingly call on faster reflexes still capable of moving Ivy forward while keeping her safe.
There’s a straight-forward two prong offering that allows for gamers simply wanting to reach the end, and those willing and eager to track down every last feather or stay alive longer to top the scoreboard. If the latter sounds more like your agenda, than Ivy’s levels are a playground, offering pathways that loop around the end goal and create a very natural progression despite the effort sometimes required to run the full course.
The game also offers a multiplayer versus mode where players race toward the goal, nurturing my tendency for being a jerk by allowing up to four to race while creating vines on each others’ screens to slow down the competition. That ability also extends into the story mode, with a second player able to add some co-op assistance via quick vine saves.
The DS release doesn’t allow for the co-op, instead offering two versus modes – racing to the finish line is complimented by medal finding as a consolation. Focusing so much on the Wii release, it’s hard not to see the DS version as more of a portable consolation prize – not necessarily less of a game, but one that doesn’t shine with the same vibrancy of the Wii release. The dividing line is in the controls, where the stylus is plenty capable but more constricting to a hand given bias from the free and easy impression made by the WiiMote.
My long term affection belongs to the Wii release, though I don’t believe more mobile gamers would be under-served by the DS version.
I’m still going to tell you to go with the Wii release, but the important idea here is that you don’t let this treat of a title pass you by.
*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review on both platforms