You take control of Ivy, a little bird who has hatched and found herself alone with no motherly figure present. Distraught by this, Ivy sets out in search of her parent over more than a hundred perilous levels filled with spikes, rats and other beasties. Ivy runs steadily and automatically across the levels from the get-go and it’s the player’s job to guide her by drawing vines to help her navigate, á la Kirby Power Paintbrush or Yoshi Touch and Go, in order to stop her from dropping to her doom, at the hands of enemies or otherwise. Drawing vines is rather inventive too, and they have many properties that allow you to control Ivy’s forward momentum with ease. When she is walking across them you are able to pull back on the vine and use it as a slingshot to propel Ivy across large gaps and cover large distances; it also allows her to take out enemies, as otherwise she is fairly defenceless. The vines can also be used to flick the chick by drawing a vine but not releasing until she is upon it, swinging it upwards when she comes to the end of the tether, allowing her to jump short distances. When all these abilities are used in conjunction, you can find your way through even the trickiest of levels - though not with ease, mind you.
Ivy the Kiwi?’s level design, like its controls, remains fairly simple, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The easiest way to explain the layout is a cage of blocks, with pits, jump spots and secret alcoves adjoining that progress forward at the rate Ivy does. This alone may not seem particularly inventive, but can get devilish pretty quickly. However, the natural progression of the game more than prepares you for this, as the difficulty of the levels slowly ramps up without the player noticing too much. It’s only when you go back to the earlier levels for the collectables that you realise how far you have come as you complete them with amazing ease. Speaking of collectables, there are ten leaves to snap up throughout each level, but they are not needed to progress through the story whatsoever; the only requirement is that you reach the podium at the end. Only the most astute of players will be bothered to go back and collect all of the leaves, the ones that want that extra challenge and completion indicator next to their name.
Ivy the Kiwi? also boasts a local multiplayer mode which focuses around two modes in which the player can battle it out with three others. First is a race to the podium, and second is a competition to see who can collect as many of the medals scattered throughout the levels, the winner being either the first person to collect all of them or whomever holds the most when the time runs out. There is also the ability to use DS download play for those who don’t actually own a copy of Ivy the Kiwi?. Whilst the multiplayer doesn’t have that much depth to it and may not totally hook you, it’s a funny little addition that brings an element of competition to the title.
However, there are some problems with Ivy the Kiwi?. First and foremost, the vine system. It works well for the most part, and the fact that you can only draw three vines at a time forces you to be strategic with your moves to get the most out of them. The problem comes when you are navigating tighter spaces, as you can often misdraw a vine. This is fine on titles such as Yoshi Touch and Go, as you can blow into the DS’ microphone to remove them - unfortunately there is no such feature in Ivy the Kiwi?. You cannot remove your drawn vines easily, and the only way to do so is to draw more vines to cause the others to disappear. Suffice to say this can become a real problem and can get quite frustrating if you are trying to get yourself out of a pit/trap/enemies’ clutches, and it’s just downright fiddly as you hit other vines you have drawn just to remove a previous one. The game’s visuals are another little snag, in that all the levels look similar with no variation on themes. That is not to say that the hand-painted watercolour style is bad by a long shot, but the repetition does get tiresome.
On the whole, Ivy the Kiwi? is a solid title. It is very easy to pick-up-and-play thanks to its simple controls, but the level design can become so devilishly tricky that it will have even the hardened gaming veterans stabbing at the screen in frustration. Due to this fact it is a bit of a Marmite title; you’ll either love it or hate it. It has more than enough to keep the player going with its hundred or so levels, each more challenging than the last, the musical score is soothing and never once gets repetitive. Ivy the Kiwi? is just different, and because of that, it works; it’s a good example of a developer who has made a risky jump, and it pays off wonderfully in its own charming, chirping way. If you are looking for something fresh to play before the 3DS comes out, look no further - you’ll be laughing your way through the early levels before cursing your way through to the end.