Stretch a vine too long and it will snap; draw more than three, and the oldest will disappear. With such tightly-controlled options, Ivy the Kiwi? is one of those games that offers the pleasure of real mastery. The only problem is that the central design is perhaps a bit too economical at times.
Chances are that you'll be relatively competent with most of the game's tricks by about halfway through the initial batch of levels. After that – unless you have the speed-run gene – you're just reacting to the occasional design wrinkle as the maps get more devious, or you're zeroing in on collectables and power-ups, such as feathers that count towards an extra life, or something that looks a bit like a piece of toast and confers invulnerability for a few seconds.
And while Naka's latest is elegant, it isn't perfect. The small playing area of the DS combined with the tiny mini-map means planning ahead in any kind of detail can be difficult. As such, the game puts reaction before strategy, and the results are often exciting. Sometimes, however, it's Excitement's dim-witted and dungaree-clad half-brother Frustration that turns up instead, as a wall of spikes comes at you from nowhere, or the helpful boulder you'd been hoping to plough through a line of rats with bounces over your head and into the distance.
The vines themselves can be a bit annoying, too. While laying them down is no problem whatsoever, if you want to get rid of some in a hurry – and you will – you'll have to frantically sketch more while they queue up to be cancelled out. Yoshi's Touch & Go got around a similar problem by allowing you to wipe out all of your creations at once by blowing into the microphone; that would have been handy here, too.
With single-card competitive multiplayer, all those bonus stages and a score attack mode for completed levels, Ivy the Kiwi?'s a generous proposition, but it still adds up to a game without a huge amount of variety. Ultimately, having Yuji Naka on board has been both a blessing and a curse: it's helped to lift the profile of a quiet and unassuming little offering, but it's raised expectations, too.
Look beyond the famous name, however, and Ivy the Kiwi? is a fresh, if limited, spin on the 2D platformer. If you're a leaderboard junkie, there's plenty of replay pleasure to be had as you chase down the best times for each level and find all the secrets. For everyone else, this remains a sweet-natured distraction that will last for a good few bus journeys, even if it won't necessarily linger in the memory too long after you've reached your destination.
7 / 10