Ivy is a confused hatchling on a quest to find her mother, and all that stands in her way is about 50 side-scrolling levels of platforms, spikes, and hostile creatures. Left alone, she'll walk forward, oblivious of dangers in front of her. You send her safely through each level by drawing vines on the screen that you can anchor on both ends to make a ramp or incline or, more commonly, swing into Ivy pinball flipper-style to propel her into the air.
This method allows you to control Ivy's motion, but is chaotic enough that you never feel quite in control. Every spike on the screen, every rat, and (especially) every horrible crow is extremely dangerous. There's always the chance that you'll place a vine too hastily and send Ivy right into it, or worse, throw Ivy directly at her doom. There are two ways to dispatch enemies: either by pulling on the middle of a vine and launching Ivy, spinning like a drill, into the enemy, or finding a boulder in a stage (used primarily to solve certain environmental puzzles) and bouncing or rolling it into the offending critter.
Even though you don't lose much progress when you fail, and even start in the same stage when you've lost all your lives and have to continue, I found that the difficulty of the later levels, combined with the general tension of Ivy's precarious situation, put me right on edge. Let me put it this way: at one point in the game, I was pretty sure my review was just going to be a picture of a crushed Wiimote. Luckily, I was finally able to triumph over a hellish gauntlet of birds and spikes. Also lucky: my grip isn't that strong.
The difficulty (and intensity) of Ivy the Kiwi? is belied by its appearance. Ivy uses a hand-sketched, lightly-colored style to create its world, giving the whole thing a "storybook" vibe -- and goes so far as to include an actual storybook in the game, which is adorable. The unique look is charming and, usually, lovely, though some of the backgrounds cross the line from "handmade" to "messy."
Though the "main" game is fairly brief, consisting of 50 stages, I could imagine getting a lot of time out of this game. For one thing, completing it unlocks a second mode in which you have to find keys hidden in each level in order to reach the exit. In addition, each stage is littered with red feathers, often in hard-to-reach locations. When playing through the first time, it was all I could do just to get through the level, but now that I've had some bird-tossing practice, I want to go back and attempt picking up those feathers. There's also multiplayer, which allows even more vines to be placed on screen collaboratively (or on separate split screens for competitive play).
There's a kind of elegance to this game that you don't really see anymore. Not in the way I play it -- there's nothing elegant about frantically filling the screen with vines and flinging a baby bird around randomly -- but in the simplicity of a game built around one strong gameplay mechanic that never grew tiresome.
This review is based on a pre-release disc containing the final Wii version of Ivy the Kiwi?, provided by XSEED.