Ivy the Kiwi?

Vineland.

Version tested DS

If the rumours are true, at the heart of Sonic the Hedgehog's creation was a desire to simplify things: Nintendo had laid out the template for platformers, and now SEGA was going to refine it. So where Mario used two buttons, Sonic would use only one. While the plumber liked to dawdle, the hedgehog, for the most part, preferred a breathless dash to the finish line.

If you're looking for any signs of the influence of Sonic's daddy Yuji Naka in his latest game, then, this sense of focus is perhaps the most likely candidate. Slow-paced and gently melancholic where Sonic was frantic and aggressively cheery, Ivy the Kiwi? is still an exercise in thoughtful economy: a platformer of sorts with almost no fat on the bone.

Ivy's a chubby little bird with rust-coloured feathers and an expression of fretful hope that wouldn't look out of place in a Schulz cartoon. Having spent the best part of a week with her, I can also confirm that she's utterly incapable of looking after herself, too.

Unable to fly, unable even to jump, Ivy plods along constantly and with a mechanical mindlessness, waddling from left to right until she hits an obstacle - at which point she turns around and heads back the other way. To escort her through the game's gamut of 2D mazes 50 forming the initial campaign, with another, far trickier, batch as a bonus your job is to guide her past spikes, drops and baddies by drawing a series of vines to hem her in and keep her from harm.

There are a couple of enemies to avoid and a limited range of obstacles to overcome, but for the most part, Ivy the Kiwi?'s as straightforward as it is beautiful, its delicate visuals invoking a world of sparse prettiness that could have sprung from a Victorian children's book. While the game throws in a handful of new techniques throughout the journey, much of the fun comes from the way your use of the basic tools evolves.

Levels tend to be short and sweet, encouraging experimentation as you shepherd Ivy past a dozen little danger points, and pretty soon you'll discover that the vines you can conjure have uses beyond employment as platforms and ramps. You can twang them to bounce Ivy over spikes or, quite often in my experience, into spikes and you can use them to send the bird into a kind of spin attack to blast through blocks and knock out the game's few foes. You can use them to put up temporary road-blocks to keep Ivy still while you plan your next move, and most satisfyingly, if you pull it off properly you can whip them around while they're being drawn to give her a more controllable upwards boost when you don't have enough room to bust out the whole trampoline act.

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