As a teenager, there were few things more frustrating than feeling like I had no control and that I couldn’t make my own decisions because everything had to be screened through mom or dad. Prope’s new game, Ivy the Kiwi?, flips the normal authoritative approach that we’ve become accustomed to in gaming (where we get to dictate all of the decisions) by forcing you to assume the same role as a parent would, that of a supervisor and guide through life’s many obstacles.
The story will feel very similar to anyone familiar with children’s books (a child/dog gets separated from its parents and must traverse an uncaring world in order for the reunion to take place, all while slowly figuring out the important things about life). In this game, our child/dog is a kiwi named Ivy. Not only has Ivy lost her mother, but she is also suffering from an identity crisis stemming from some unusual red discoloration that she suffers from. So, what we have is an estranged bird that can’t fly, who was abandoned at birth by her mother, and is also physically unlike any other kiwi; it’s no wonder Ivy has decided to not relinquish control to us.
Just like a child or an early adolescent, Ivy is stubborn and believes that she can find her own way around without the help of others, including the gamer. Ivy will start out every level walking in the direction that she faces and will not stop until she reaches her goal or succumbs to an early death. This is where your “guidance” will help Ivy. Using the Wii remote will allow you to create vines to the length of your choosing and how you move those vines around Ivy will ultimately decide if she can reach yet another level. You can create a simple bridge, or you can curve the vine to use it as a type of slingshot or springboard to push her to previously unobtainable heights. Along the way, you will be allowed only a couple more variations on this formula, but each acts solely as a way to guide Ivy along the course of her quest.
I have yet to become a parent, but I couldn’t help but feel that Yuji Naka and his development team intended to illustrate this very exhilarating and sometimes frustrating moment in life. Not being able to have complete control over the exact movements and decisions of Ivy was one of the most frustrating things that I have ever had to endure as a gamer, but eventually, it started to create a different experience that I haven’t felt before. Ivy goes wherever she wants to so that you have to start to play the parent game, allowing her to follow her own path while constantly looking out for anything that could hurt her. Once you understand that you can’t dictate every step of Ivy’s life, you start to find other ways to help her.
There are only a handful of times that Ivy the Kiwi? sits you down and teaches you how to issue a new sort of guidance command, forcing you to conform to Prope’s different standard of gameplay, which will eventually lead you to discovering new techniques. Parents always think that they know the only way that things should be done. The game plays on such a natural tendency by only telling us one way to help Ivy, but through the experience of each level and each hurdle that is crossed, we start to realize that each situation is different and only individuals that learn to adapt will succeed. However, life isn’t so simple because not only do you have to adapt, you also have to do it quickly, sometimes leading to results that aren’t optimal, and Ivy the Kiwi?’s level design exemplifies that sort of panic that we have all experienced.
Every time that Ivy enters a new level, the game pans, allowing you to see the end of the level and then the beginning, but while it seems very binary in nature, you will quickly find out how easily things can go wrong along the way. On the surface, all you have to do is get Ivy to the end of the level but spread throughout are power-ups, feathers that can result in extra lives, as well as score multipliers. So, on one hand, you have a responsibility as a parent to get Ivy to her mother as quick as possible. On the other, it’s your instincts as a gamer that further complicates the quest. Items spread throughout games represent more than a couple of pixels to gamers. They represent accomplishment and bragging rights. The priority that you set on having to accomplish two goals (the natural instinct to help a child and collecting items) becomes a central tension for the player. Some levels seem to intentionally make your life hell if you plan to collect all the items, almost suggesting that there should not be a choice beyons your priorities to Ivy. You can choose to guide Ivy through the gauntlet in order to feel more accomplished, or you can let her bypass as much ugliness as possible so she doesn’t have to be subjected to it. Whether or not you feel empathetic to Ivy’s situation probably will revolve around how well you can relate to her plight.
Time will tell whether Ivy is a likeable enough character or not, but no one can deny Yuji Naka’s other creation, Sonic the Hedgehog, as having a strong impact on gaming culture. At a glance, the characters seem very different in nature. Sonic is a dude with a bad attitude who does what he wants and always looks cool doing it, while Ivy is a feeble baby kiwi, who is constantly whining for her mother and naively wanders around forests. It’s in the style of gameplay though that you can see an evolution of Yuji Naka’s ideas. Sonic never really seemed to be in our control, but it was someone’s bright idea to make that a good thing by giving the character enough attitude that he could be paralleled easily with any teenager growing up in the Genesis years. Ivy seems to be the original intent, a game where you can choose how much to learn from it by letting go of total controll.
It is often the more frustrating and hard times in life in which one learns the most about one’s self and what to appreciate. There are times in media entertainment when frustrating is bad simply because of poor intent and sloppy presentation, but in this case, frustrating is good. Ivy the Kiwi? isn’t a frustrating game because of such sloppy mechanics or poor intent but because it forces you to rethink how to play the game. There are too many games that have created a standard that many believe to be universal in order to be great, but Ivy the Kiwi? strays from that standard, and if you give it a chance, it just might teach you something.