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Ivy the Kiwi? (iOS)
Game Reviews

Ivy the Kiwi? (iOS)

Improved touchscreen controls and beautiful high-definition visuals help make this the best version of Yuji Naka’s platform/puzzle hybrid adventure.

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Yuji “Sonic the Hedgehog” Naka’s fiercely adorable – and adorably fierce – auto-run gem comes full circle as Ivy the Kiwi? returns to the mobile market, courtesy of developer Prope. Sadly, this wonderful little platforming-puzzle mix has been largely ignored on whatever platform it popped onto, starting with a Japanese-only Windows Phone release followed by a stint on both Nintendo Wii and DS consoles. Now Ivy’s hatched on Apple’s iOS family of devices, and I do mean family, as Naka’s absolutely gorgeous game runs smoothly on an impressive lineage of Apple’s phones and tablets, all the way back to the relatively ancient 3GS – proving once again that beautiful art transcends most technological jumps.

As much of the iOS version has remained relatively unchanged we’ve similarly reconstituted much of our original review for the game’s Wii and DS versions, published way back in August 2010. Of course, any significant differences have been noted. Those curious Nintendo users can read the full review right HERE!

A straightforward platformer in the strictest sense, Ivy the Kiwi? follows Newton’s first law of motion – Ivy tends to stay in motion until she’s acted upon by an outside force. Similar to Kirby: Canvas Curse for the DS, it’s less about controlling Ivy than influencing her, as she’ll simply dart about in a straight line (Lemming-style) until she hits an object, then turn around and keep going. This is where you – the player – come in as you’ll be playing the role of Ivy’s unseen protector, armed with the ability to draw multiple vines across the screen to help push, nudge, and even slingshot the hapless bird towards the end of each stage. These vines can also be anchored to expand them into impromptu platforms, incline levels, and even trampolines. You’ll also help direct her towards the smattering of feathers and carrots scattered across the varying levels.

Of course, there’s a whole host of critters and environmental hazards that threaten to make Ivy’s trip home a short one. One touch from them and you’re dead, and heroes don’t come more fragile than our dear little Ivy. She might be just a bird-brained (literally) baby, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be a lethal bird-brained baby. Luckily, you’ll be able to defend her using the same tools as navigation – strategic vines. Well-timed vine launches can send her hurdling towards the enemy, taking them out in spectacular drill-style fashion. Certain levels will have boulders that can be manipulated, either with vines or by having Ivy pushing them forward into enemies.

You’ll soon discover that Ivy’s worst enemy is often herself, as navigating the increasingly difficult levels is almost never as easy as it looks, and one wrong move can mean instant death. Learning the game’s fundamentals is one thing, but conquering the 50+ levels (and further bonus ones) not only requires nerves of steel, but a complete synthesis of both mind and matter, as simply guiding Ivy towards the goal will soon involve navigating complex mazes and multiple platforms, and those who can’t think on their feet (and guide the remote with their hands) will soon find their trip in this dreamlike world a short one indeed. Enemies like rats, crows, and water droplets may require near-perfect timing to overcome, but failure isn’t an option if you want to help reunite little Ivy with her long-lost mother.

Looks can be deceiving, and few games sport a veneer so thoroughly disarming as Ivy the Kiwi?. With its beautiful hand-sketched visuals that look like they’ve fallen right off the artist’s easel, the game’s look and feel ooze warmth and gentleness. The soundtrack is a pleasant mix of equally dreamy and mystical tunes, and when paired with the unassuming visuals, the game becomes the perfect foil to undermine just how challenging it can be, especially for a generation of gamers who may have forgotten what true difficulty is. What’s here is used for maximum impact, and Heaven help those parents who mistakenly purchase this for their less-experienced brood, as they’re in for a grand lesson about never judging a book (or game) by its cover, no matter how irresistible it may be.

Paired with Retina displays, Ivy looks better than ever, allowing us to fully appreciate the stellar hand-drawn artwork in crystal-clear high-definition perfection. I was pleasantly surprised to find this was among the very first games to take advantage of the new iPhone and iPod Touch 5’s larger screens, meaning there’s a little more Ivy to go around.

So what’s changed between Ivy’s journey from console to iOS? Not much, minus the absence of Wii remotes and stylus, as drawing those helpful vines is handled with your fingers now. This is a major improvement, especially on the larger-screen iPad, as it reduces the friction between the physical weight of the Wii remote to nothing, and is even more responsive than the DS version’s stylus controls. True, with less real-estate the iPhone/Touch version can feel slightly more stuffy, but with practice you’ll have nothing to blame those countless deaths and failures on, other than your own ineptitude.

There’s full Game Center support for all the usual Game Center stuff like achievements, scores, etc, though none of the Wii version’s manic multiplayer seem to have made the transition – but no big loss there. Bizarrely, there’s now a host of available costumes to dress our featured friend in while she darts across the screen, including ninjas, aviators, and even a pumpkin. They’re not free, of course, as you’ll have to pony up extra dollars through IAP for the privilege. Unnecessary, but I guess Prope gotta eat.

In a way, Ivy the Kiwi? was always a touchscreen game held back by the constraints of traditional gaming, and in this way her arrival on iOS feels like a second-chance at the success that’s managed to elude Yuji Naka’s best game since his Hedgehog days. We saw this happen with Scribblenauts Remix and if there’s any cosmic justice in the universe, the same will happen with our precious little Ivy. Be forewarned, though, that underneith the game’s exquisite storybook artwork and dreamy soundtrack lay a crushingly difficult platforming/puzzle hybrid, one who’s difficulty may have played a role in its lack of acceptance with all but the most dedicated fans. The new touchscreen controls help considerably, easily making this the best and more enjoyable version yet.

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About the Author: Trent McGee