It’s been a long time since our hapless little national mascot and namesake has been centre stage in a videogame, not since 1988's classic arcade game, The New Zealand Story.
Ivy the Kiwi? heralds its second digital incarnation. The quizzical title perfectly suits a game that almost begs for affirmation, as if it doesn’t wish to impose on you in any way.
Like the kiwi, Ivy displays that plucky underdog trait we purport to so admire as a nation. She doggedly plows ahead on her desperate quest to be reunited with her mother, naively jogging headlong into all manner of predators and pitfalls. It’s your job to guide her inexorable trajectory with ivy vines, drawn using the wiimote.
The game is from "the creator of Sonic", Yuji Naka, also known for Chu Chu Rocket and NiGHTS into Dreams. In 2006, Naka struck out on his own, leaving SEGA’s Sonic Team to found Prope.
The simplistic gameplay mechanic is deceptive, and it belies a ruthlessly steep learning curve, becoming increasingly difficult in the later levels of the game. To Ivy’s credit, the game rarely punishes you with unforeseeable deaths. You’ll never be reduced to memorizing numerous patterns, nor will you be subject to horrible surprises.
Unfortunately, the offensive “FAIL” that adorns the centre of your screen when you do die is in sharp contrast to the unassuming experience the game otherwise imparts. Ivy the Kiwi?’s jarring failure message is why you should always strap the wiimote to your wrist.
Ivy is always surrounded by blocks. Obstacles are blocks, the floor is made of blocks. The same blocks. The entire game. Prope make up for this lack of variety with gorgeous, sketched 2D watercolour backgrounds.
The art direction of the titular kiwi, her mammalian adversaries and your sunflower guide (the less said about that the better) is the same cel-shaded style that has become a staple of Wii titles, one pioneered at SEGA in the Dreamcast era.
A filter applied to the edge of the screen detracts from this, however. Artistically pleasing, perhaps, but from a gameplay perspective it can be a source of frustration.
The music compliments both the art and overall playstyle of the game. Although hard to place, the soundtrack feels "old timey". The vaudeville piano that plays when you get an invincibility power-up tickled me in many ways.
But even with these elements all working in concert, Ivy the Kiwi still lacks variety. It’s a charming little create-a-platformer that will endear itself to you even if – like the real article – it never truly takes flight.