2010 was the year Sonic fans dared to believe again.
Admittedly, no-one was expecting great things from Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing – a generic kart racer which would be inevitably pipped to the post by not being Mario Kart. But with the Galaxy-infused Sonic Colours and the retro-inspired Sonic 4 on the horizon, the betrayed inner-child of many previous Sega console owners allowed themselves to hope that this time things would be different, that only a cruel god would allow Sonic and The Black Knight to happen twice in one lifetime.
The resulting games were largely successful, compensating for the problems of this century’s Sonic rather than outright overcoming them, but the true successor to the Sonic of the 16-bit era seemed not to be in the output of Sonic Team, but in the lesser-know Ivy the Kiwi? – the ‘brainchild’ of original Sonic the Hedgehog programmer Yuji Naka. Combining an indie pioneer spirit with a simple gameplay mechanic, Ivy was the ideal heir to Sonic’s anthropomorphic throne and now that she has graced Wii, DS and DsiWare, DTG thinks it’s the perfect time to see if this flightless bird can run rings around her spiky forebear.
In fact, similarly to Sonic, it’s when Ivy’s running that she’s most confident. Lifting a trick from Kirby Power Paintbrush, Ivy runs lemming-like toward the level’s end and the player’s control is in the vines you draw around her. Blocking, lifting and firing, you navigate Ivy through an obstacle course of spikes and rats (but no spiky rats) with the aim of the fastest time and the most collectables. On the DS the vine drawing is especially responsive and the organic controls will be intuitive for most. Unfortunately, as the challenges develop it’s the same simple control scheme that lets the game down. As you hurriedly draw a vine to block Ivy you find you’ve unintentionally pulled back and fired an existing one, and often vice-versa. It’s a ridiculous oversight that could have been corrected with a hold of the ‘L’ button to differentiate moves, and yet it’s disproportionately harmful to the game-life as later levels will see you beaten by a misread input as often as you are bested by the puzzle-platforming.
Aside from the core game dynamics there’s little other distractions to occupy you when you inevitably quit the main game out of frustration. A time-trial mode allows you to improve your time and collectables but since times can be achieved in the main game and given the lack of rewards for topping them there’s little incentive to brave those levels again. The design of the game is just as anaemic, as the unobtrusive music, washed-out sepia tones and basic story of one chick’s quest to reunite with her mother has an indie charm initially but one that wears out as the levels progress and you begin to yearn for a flash of colour, a change in music or in fact any kind of deviation at all.
Ivy the Kiwi? doesn’t so much try something new as make a second attempt at a game even Nintendo failed to nurture interest in on their own handheld. Perhaps that was their first mistake. As it stands Ivy is an unusual platformer in a field of tragically familiar ones, and on those merits it’s worth playing. It doesn’t cultivate the same repetition and experimentation of the greatest simple-mechanic games, but it’s an interesting concept executed with a high level of finesse and one that’s well worth supporting given the lack of indie developers on Nintendo’s handheld. Still, she’s no Hedgehog.