Saturday, September 17, 2011

Third Rate Game Play: Ivy the Kiwi?

Game: Ivy the Kiwi?

System: Wii

Developer: PROPE
(Let's Catch, Let's Tap)

Publisher: XSEED Games

Player: Alex (and together for MP)

Experience: Played up to 4-1

Over the last few years, a number of development heads, best known for creating and building up some of the biggest franchises of yesteryear, are leaving their respective big-time publishers in favor of creating new, smaller development companies. One example is that, over time, Sonic the Hedgehog’s three “fathers” eventually left Sonic Team and Sega, with Yuji Naka being the last, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yuji Naka joined Sega around 1983, when the company was hiring programming assistants. His first game would be Girl’s Garden for the Sega SG-1000, and from there, his programming skills helped build Sega classics such as Phantasy Star and its first two sequels. However, what really pushed Yuji Naka upward in Sega was the programming behind Sonic the Hedgehog; the other two leads for Sonic were Naoto Ōshima, who designed the characters, and Hirokazu Yasuhara, who created the stages. Naka continued his work with the Sonic franchise, moving to work with Sega Technical Institute on collaborated projects Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. As development moved onto the Sega Saturn, it is believed that the Producer-promoted Naka and his development of NiGHTS into Dreams caused friction between STI and Sonic Team, eventually resulting in Sonic X-treme’s cancellation.

While in the Producer seat for Sonic Team, Yuji Naka helped produce Burning Rangers, Phantasy Star Online, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, and every Sonic Team project until 2006. His only listed directorial role since the promotion was for Chu Chu Rocket! During this time, the other two core creators of Sonic left, with Yasuhara leaving to Naughty Dog and Ōshima creating his own company Artoon.

While Sonic Team was producing Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) for PS3 and Xbox 360, Naka announced his departure from Sega and the creation of his own development studio, PROPE. Since its inception, PROPE has developed a number of games for both Nintendo platforms and other handheld devices. The company’s first major releases were Let’s Catch and Let’s Tap for Wii, the latter of which was split up into multiple games on the App Store a year later. Under the iPROPE sub-label, PROPE had released 10 Count Boxer and Fluffy Bear onto the App Store before Ivy the Kiwi? was released. Ivy began as a Windows Phone game, but the main version happens to be on the Wii.

Publisher XSEED Games was founded in late 2004 by ex-members of Square Enix USA. XSEED’s main goal is to provide unique gaming experiences to American audiences, including a number of games from Japanese developers who are looking for budget publishers. Before Ivy the Kiwi?, XSEED Games had begun working alongside Marvelous Interactive, and the publisher had brought over such games as Little King’s Story, Flower, Sun and Rain, and Half-Minute Hero. The company also published a number of games in the Wild Arms franchise beforehand.

“Play the latest game from the creator of Sonic!

Pillowed on a pile of leaves in the middle of a dark forest, a baby bird is breaking out of a curious egg. Her bright orange head and beak poke out the top of a polka dot shell and she cries for her mother. The forest animals watch her curiously, but apart from them there is no one to claim her. Still trapped in the shell except for her head and feet, Ivy begins walking through the forest calling out for her mother. She meets many other kinds of birds but none are like her and she wanders searchingly for traces of her kind until she finds a glowing orange feather. With a clue now in beak Ivy sets out to follow the trail that will lead her to her mother.”
“One of the ideas was to have consumers be curious about the game. It also plays a role in the game's story, on what Ivy really is. We wanted to have a bit of a deeper meaning… The perfect scenario is to have the customer wonder why there is a question mark, and then after playing the game and seeing the ending, figure it out and say 'oh, that's why there's a question mark.' You'll understand the meaning of this when you see the whole story. We tried our best to put a lot of meaning in a small detail. If you finish the game and find that you have more emotional feelings toward the game, I'll be really happy.”
-Yuji Naka, Producer (Destructoid)
“This project initially started among some of my young employees; they were just doing experiments, and I saw the game, and thought it was a real interesting concept, so we decided to make it into a company-wide project. As someone that's been involved in games, at first I didn't think it would work using a pointer in an action-type game, but just by making two points [in creating the vines used to guide Ivy along], you can control the character somewhat freely, so that was a big discovery for me.”
-Yuji Naka, Producer (1UP)

Ivy the Kiwi? is an arcade title in which players help guide the newborn bird Ivy through multiple worlds in search to find her mother. As stated in the Official Word, she has no idea where her mother is, and being mostly in an egg, she cannot fly. So, she continues to walk onward in hopes to reach her destination, with or without your help.

Players do not control Ivy, who walks continually until she hits a wall and turns back around. Instead, players have to guide Ivy by drawing vines across the world which she can use to climb or be thrown onto higher ground. As the game progresses, players can use the ivy as a slingshot and send the chick bolting across the sky like a rocket. The vines can not only control Ivy but can also protect her from enemies and obstacles which populate the rest of the storybook-designed worlds. While the goal of each level is to land Ivy onto a pedestal at the end of the path, there are also ten feathers located around each level which can boost scores and potentially unlock extra content down the road.

Outside of the main game, there is a multiplayer option in which up to four players are tasked to guide their own Ivy to the exit. Unlike the main mode, however, players can draw their vines on other players’ screens, causing progress problems and potential sabotaging for increased competitiveness.

The game in this episode is the Wii version, although the game is also available on DS.

PROPE has continued its game development on the iOS platform as well as Nintendo-based platforms. Since Ivy the Kiwi?, PROPE released a number of unique games on the App Store, including Just Half (in which you must cut the screen as close to 50% as possible) and PD –prope discover-, a short first-person adventure game in a large floating castle. Outside of iOS, PROPE is developing Family Fishing for Wii via Namco Bandai; XSEED will also be publishing this game in the US this holiday, albeit without the fishing-pole accessory. PROPE is also producing an action title Rodea the Sky Soldier via Kadokawa Games for both Wii and 3DS; while no US publisher has been named, XSEED’s relationship with PROPE appears to be healthy enough for a publishing deal in the future.

Just before Ivy’s release, XSEED Games announced a collaboration with Nihon Falcom to bring over a number of games in the Ys series (Ys Seven, Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and Ys I & II Chronicles) and The Legend of Heroes: Trails to the Skies for the Playstation Portable. Along with that, XSEED has been announcing smaller projects over time, including CyberConnect2’s adventure title Solatarobo: Red the Hunter, expected for release September 2011 for the Nintendo DS.

Ivy the Kiwi? does not appear to have a sequel planned, but shortly after the retail releases of Ivy the Kiwi?, XSEED and PROPE published Ivy the Kiwi? mini for DSiWare. This version lacks the multiplayer modes and extra content in the main game, but it is available for a cheap 500 DSi Points.

After playing a bit of the game for himself, Alex decides to show off the adventure for about a half hour or so before he and Tony take multiplayer for an impromptu spin. While at the beginning, he hunts a little for the feathers, Alex decides to go off and just try to get further into the game with the time he is given, which does not get him too much further.

Ivy the Kiwi? is a nice little title with a unique game mechanic, but its length and more passive gameplay might work against it. The original Japanese version of the game lacked as much color as this version, and I feel it benefited with that extra tweak. The game’s music and sound effects were not of the quality one should expect from a game at this day and age, which is a shame. Furthermore, those not willing to take the time to collect the feathers or get the best time will likely find the game to be short.

Thankfully the multiplayer mode was great, and it made me see how hectic the 4-player modes would be with three people constantly trying to sabotage your adventure while you try to do the same to them. As you find in the video, even with two players the humor and intensity grows quickly as the games progress.

The episode was pretty good in light of this, but there are moments of inactivity from the both of us, so it starts slow but accelerates perhaps a little later than I would have preferred. Still, it was a nice game with a quiet, modest atmosphere around it.

This episode was filmed last year, and it was originally in SD resolution, thus the black bars upon uploading.

3RM Says: Is Ivy a bird? Or is she a fruit? Why am I even asking these silly questions?
Why can't I stop asking questions? Can someone help me?

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