Nothing can be more fun or rewarding than reuniting a lost baby bird with its mother.

User Rating: 9 | Ivy the Kiwi? WII
A baby bird has lost its mother. Are you a bad enough dude to reunite them? If you've graciously accepted this monumental challenge, consider Ivy the Kiwi? (the question mark at the end of the title is where it's supposed to be) your proving ground. The latest brainchild from Yuji Naka (the creator of Sonic the Hedgehog) explores unfamiliar stretches of territory to deliver a unique, unparalleled game experience that is sure to please audiences of every age; nothing too easy for veterans, nothing too difficult for the young ones, and everything purely innovative and refreshing inbetween.

Recently hatched from the polka-dotted egg firmly stuck on her rear end, the ambiguous Ivy discovers her mother to be nowhere in sight. So, naturally, she takes it upon herself to find her. But she can't possibly hope to succeed on her own---not with all those nasty obstacles, traps and wayward enemies standing in her way. The player is unable to control Ivy directly; a fact compounded by the realization that she plods along arbitrarily on her own two feet, moving automatically forward; oblivious to the dangers around and in front of her. Even worse, she cannot climb, jump or fly on her own. This is where you come in; the brave and sympathetic gamer. Your adoration for baby hatchlings need not apply, though it certainly helps.

As the unseen guardian angel of Ivy's inexperienced life, it is your solemn duty to help her negotiate the nefarious obstacles and clever designs of each of the game's 100 levels (called Chapters)-divided up into five areas each. And you do so by means of magical, elastic vines that you draw with only the company of your trusty Wii Remote pointed directly at your screen. Sharing the elasticity of a rubber band, these vines can be used in a variety of different ways. You can swing them around, stretch them to a comparable limit before snapping (everything has their limit, you know), and pluck them like a guitar string using the B button. As mindlessly fun as it is to play with these vines willy-nilly, it is important to bear in mind that they serve a crucial purpose in helping Ivy smoothly navigate the game's cleverly-designed stages. To prevent our feathered naivete friend from meeting an unfortunate fate (which only takes one hit from either a trap, a bed of spikes or an enemy scooting around the playfield), you must strategically draw vines that become makeshift bridges to help her traverse wide gaps, and ramps that allow her to effortlessly climb steep stair-like elevations. You might also draw safe covers overhead to shield the hatchling from potentially fatal water droplets and other falling hazards. If you pluck an outstretched vine while Ivy is directly overhead, you can launch Ivy like a firecracker to greater, unreachable heights as well as destroy collapsible obstacles (like rock walls) and defeat enemies in her line of hindsight. Just be mindful when making use of your vines; depending on your actions, they serve as much a curse as they do a blessing. (i.e. getting Ivy stuck in a tangleweb, or inadvertently launching her towards a spike trap) The basic context of the Wii Remote control scheme, when practiced to its utmost, acts only as a precursor to its surprising amount of sheer flexibility and innermost depth; yet it all comfortably conforms to a simple, easy-to-understand accessibility to gamers of all ages and skill brackets. But, just in case, a tutorial is available when you get Ivy to interact with the talking sunflower found at the start of some stages.

Many of Ivy the Kiwi(?)'s Chapters aren't impossibly difficult to complete if you don't factor the special feathers that Ivy finds throughout her perilous journey---as collecting ten of these at a time will award her an extra life. In many cases, you can simply beat the stage without ever collecting these valuable tufts, but the going does get a lot tougher from therein, so gathering as many play chances as possible is worth the extra effort. And in some cases, Ivy isn't completely vulnerable to the traps and enemies she comes in contact with (like rats and crows)---she can gain temporary invincibility if she happens upon a rarely encountered "star cookie"; an item almost remarkably similar to a certain mustachio'ed plumber's means of plowing through turtles and fire-breathing Koopas. Oh, and lest I forget, there's also a reasonably generous time limit that ticks down, so you'll need to be as quick as you are clever in reaching the podium at the end of the stage. You'll even earn a score for that level depending solely on how fast you clear it, but don't take too much of your sweet time unless you deliberately want to lose lives. Because that in itself is wrong on so many levels. Please think of the baby bird.

In addition to the main story mode, you also have the opportunity to replay any stage you've cleared as a time trial of sorts---meaning, you'll earn medals depending on how fast you can defeat a level. But there's a rub---you need to find ten hidden Red Feathers within the stage before being given any sort of chance at a medal ranking for that stage. While I find this requirement to be rather unnecessary, it does offer some incentive in going back to playing stages more than once. All of this, in its own end, serves as a nice diversion from the rigors of Ivy's mommy-seeking journey of self-discovery and stamps an approving seal to the replayability factor. It might have been nice if you were able to upload your scoring exploits to online leaderboards like you could in most other games. Furthermore, the inclusion of a multi-player mode further promotes Ivy the Kiwi? as a pretty fun party game---with up to four players embroiled in a race to see who can get their Ivy to the end goal first---by any means. (i.e. drawing vines on an opponent's play screen to mess up their chances.) It may not be a subtle stand-in to the likes of Mario Party or Mario Kart, but it works admirably well to a degree and can make due for some good times with family and friends.

The visual style of Ivy the Kiwi? is amusingly appropriate-laid out like a children's storybook---with charming, antiquated gameplay environments. From lush forests to quaint villages, there's a great deal of variety to be had in each stage, and the hand-drawn animated presentation (similar to the likes of older Disney cartoons) is a nice touch. Some of the music can be nauseatingly cheesy at times, but there are some songs that are worth noting---like the one heard during the Rainy Plains. It isn't all bad; hardly enough to turn the volume down. To its credit, it fits the theme perfectly.

Few tasks are ever as harrowing (or rewarding) as helping a baby bird find its mother, so if you feel you're ready for such an undertaking on your part, or are just looking for a fun and interestingly different gameplay experience, Ivy the Kiwi? foots the bill quite nicely. It's simply one of the most innovative and unique games to be released this year, and one you won't regret taking part in.