After spending years helping Sega create some of its most popular console releases during the Mega Drive and Saturn eras, Yuji Naka decided it was time to form his own development studio. His main goal was to create gaming experiences that appealed to a much broader audience. No better title could sum up this goal more perfectly than his newest creation Ivy the Kiwi?. Not only does the game feature the same level of charm and fun you'd expect from one of his titles, but it also features a unique control system that can be enjoyed by gamers of all ages and skill levels.
Your goal in Ivy the Kiwi is to guide Ivy safely to the podium at the end of each level. Since Ivy basically runs around on her own and cannot be controlled directly, you'll have to draw vines using the DS stylus in order to guide her through all of the many obstacles and enemies strung throughout each level, ranging from menacing rats to razor sharp spikes.
There are a number of ways to use the vines, including simply using them as a walkway for Ivy to run on or bouncing Ivy up in the air by rotating the vines in an upward direction. You'll even be able to pull back on the vines and then let them snap back to send Ivy shooting into the air. This manoeuvre can be used not only to take out enemies, but also to break certain blocks in your way. The game limits you to three vines on screen at once, so you'll have to carefully manage your use of them if you're to successfully guide Ivy through some of the game's trickier sections.
The Main Game mode is basically the story mode of the game and offers up ten different areas to tackle, each containing five levels. There are ten Red Feathers to collect in each level, not to mention medals to be earned based on the time it takes you to finish a level. If you feel like going back and trying to collect feathers you missed or earn a better medal, the game offers up a Stage Trial mode, where you can go back and replay any levels you've already unlocked in the Main Game mode.
If you're feeling like a little competition, you'll find the Multiplayer Mode right up your alley. In this mode you and up to three other DS owners can take on two different competitions against one another, including a race to the podium and a competition to see which player can pick up the most medals dotted around a particular level before the time runs out. These multiplayer levels are extremely well executed and even offer Download Play for adding additional players that don't own the actual game cartridge.
The simple and intuitive play control makes Ivy the Kiwi easy for anyone to pick up and play, yet offers enough flexibility to offer experienced gamers enough accuracy. The drawing and snapping of vines via the DS touchscreen is extremely responsive and works quite fluidly within the framework of the play controls and feels more precise, at times, than even the Wii Remote. Toss in the added replay value and a few unlockable surprises and you'll certainly never be at a loss for things to do throughout your adventure.
The storybook scenery does an amazing job of bringing the lighthearted fairy tale world to life onscreen. Each area looks like it was pulled straight from a canvas, and with ten different locales to travel through there's never a dull moment from a visual standpoint. Even the characters and enemies you'll encounter during your quest are nicely detailed and smoothly animated. It might have been nice to see a bit more variety and detail in the actual blocks that make up the foregrounds of the levels, but it's difficult to complain much given how wonderful everything else looks.
As enchanting as the visual presentation is, the developers have also managed to craft a musical score that somehow perfectly captures the endearing charm of each area you'll visit. Even with the tunes being alternated throughout the ten areas of the game, they never get even the slightest bit repetitive or grating. There are even a handful of cute sound effects to add even more spirit to the game's sugary sweet theme, but in the end it's the game's soundtrack that shines the brightest.
Ivy the Kiwi is the perfect example of the type of enjoyable and refreshing gaming experience that can be created when a developer isn't afraid to try something a little different. Not only does the game absolutely ooze storybook charm, but its simple touchscreen controls are easy enough for gamers of all ages to pick up and play, yet challenging enough to give even seasoned platformer fans a serious run for their money. In all honesty, it's one of the most unique and captivating titles to hit Nintendo's DS system in quite some time, and given its $20 price tag and slightly more precise control method, it's probably the better of the two versions if you're only picking up one.