A fun platformer with a somewhat unfortunate name.
To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 10/22/17 – 12/1/17
My Difficulty: 8/10
Video: Kiwi Kraze Longplay
I haven’t traveled all that much in my life. I have only flown a few times and never over the ocean. I guess I have just as much fun staying at home playing all these NES games. New Zealand seems like it would be a lovely place to visit if I ever decide to go overseas. The country is beautiful and many notable movies have been filmed there. It stands to reason that it would also make a great setting for a video game. It also makes sense that a game based in New Zealand would use the native kiwi bird as the basis for the protagonist. Kiwi Kraze is a fun game that is often overlooked among the glut of NES platformers.
The NewZealand Story started as an arcade game both developed and published by Taito and released in September 1988. The game was later ported to a wide number of home computers and consoles worldwide over the next few years. The NES version of the game was renamed to Kiwi Kraze, A Bird-Brained Adventure! in North America and is the only version of the game that was renamed. Kiwi Kraze was developed by Software Creations and published by Taito, and was released in March 1991. In Europe, the NES port retained the name The NewZealand Story and was published by Ocean sometime in 1991. The NewZealand Story was later included in the 2005 compliation Taito Legends. New Zealand Story Revolution is a Nintendo DS remake of the game released in 2007. That game was developed by Taito and published by Ignition Entertainment in North America.
In Kiwi Kraze, you play the role of the Kiwi bird named Tiki. Wally Walrus has captured Tiki and all his friends, but Tiki was the only one who managed to escape. Wally then sells all the Kiwi birds to various zoos across New Zealand, so Tiki sets off on a grand adventure to rescue all his friends, including his girlfriend Phee-Phee. Tiki’s journey spans five separate worlds, each containing four levels. In each level, one of Tiki’s friends is locked in a cage and you must reach and free them to move on to the next stage. You win the game after you have completed all twenty stages.
Kiwi Kraze is a side-scrolling platformer game. On the title screen, you can press Select to choose either a one-player or two-player game. It is alternating play so it’s not that useful. You use the D-Pad to move Tiki around during gameplay. Jump by pressing the A button. You can control the height of the jump a little bit by how long you hold the button. When descending, you can tap the A button to flap Tiki’s wings which slows down his fall. The B button is for attacking and the default weapon is a bow and arrow. You can fire quite a few of these straight-shooting arrows at one time to quickly mow down a row of enemies. Pressing Start to pause the game also displays a mini map overlayed on the screen that displays the relative size of the level, your current location, and the exit location. There are no walls or anything else displayed on the map, but it can be a handy reference at times to gently guide you in the right direction.
There are two main mechanics that distinguish Kiwi Kraze. The first is that Tiki can jump up through any floor. This must be a Taito thing because this is also how things work in Bubble Bobble. You can even jump through walls from underneath. You only land on a ledge successfully if Tiki isn’t stuck partway within a wall. When airborne within a wall, you are only allowed to move laterally away from the wall. Otherwise you will fall through the wall back to where you started. I know I’m not explaining it very well, but when you play the game for a little while it starts to make sense. These details of the movement are important because it has a direct effect on the level design. Stages scroll in all four directions. Moving sideways is straightforward, but it is much easier to climb to the top of the level than to get back down. The level design takes advantage of this by creating many paths that look closed off at a glance, but can be entered through some shrewd jumping. The stages also contain many winding pathways and often include multiple paths to reach the end of a level.
The other important mechanic is that Tiki can fly around the stages. Kiwis are flightless birds and Tiki uses balloons to fly. These can occasionally be found on their own, but most often you will acquire a balloon by stealing one from an enemy. Shoot the enemy and then jump on top of its balloon to take it for yourself, but aim carefully because you can also pop the balloon with your weapon if your aim is too low. You can even jump on a balloon while an enemy is still standing on it, which will knock the enemy to the ground and let you take control. Balloons fall under Tiki’s weight and you hold the A button to slowly raise the balloon and move upward. You can still use the D-Pad for horizontal movement and fire your weapon while flying. Press Down while resting on the ground to dismount. You can also lose your balloon if it gets popped by an enemy projectile or hits a spike. Any case where you require a balloon to progress is accompanied by an enemy spawn point so that you can commandeer a new balloon.
Some levels contain water and Tiki can swim through these portions. He will don a snorkel while underwater and it’s pretty cute. At the bottom left of the screen, you will normally see your score counter alternating with your lives display. When underwater this display switches over to an air meter that slowly dwindles away. You swim with the D-Pad in all eight directions and the A and B buttons do nothing. Floating on the water’s surface allows you to breathe again, and you can also press the B button to spit water at an upward angle to attack enemies. Spitting water like this also refills your air meter much faster. For long water sections, you must find pockets of air and stop to take a breath before moving on.
There are many different kinds of enemies in Kiwi Kraze. Most enemies are not deadly to the touch, which is a departure from most platfomers. The ones that don’t hurt you will occasionally fire projectiles that do hurt. Bats are particularly sneaky because they toss out a projectile whenever you are directly underneath them, causing them to act like an enemy that kills you on contact. All other enemies telegraph their attacks in some way. Tiki is pretty fragile so a single hit kills him instantly, and you also lose lives by touching spikes and drowning.
One special enemy that can appear in any stage is the red devil. This is the invincible “hurry up” enemy that will chase you around if you are taking too long to finish a level. He can move freely through walls and you can’t get him to go away. You will receive an actual Hurry Up message prior to his appearance. Unlike most enemies of this type, he keeps a steady speed and you are able to keep away from him if you have enough space to maneuver.
There are several different items in the game. Some levels hold extra lives in the shape of a tiny Kiwi bird. The most common item you find are apples. These are dropped by defeated enemies and are worth 500 points each. If you come across a secret room, apples there are worth 5000 points. You need 100,000 points to earn an extra life. Sometimes an enemy will drop something other than an apple. These items are either different weapons or magic items.
There are three different weapons Tiki can use. The default is the bow and arrow which you can reacquire if you collect the red arrow powerup. The bombs are a downward-moving attack, and I find these have limited usefulness. The best weapon in my mind is the green laser gun. This gun fires straight shots like the arrows, but they move quickly and can also travel through walls. It’s great to blast an enemy on the other side of a wall so you don’t have to deal with them later. You keep your weapons until you lose a life or exit the stage.
There are four magic items. The magic book is a single-use screen-shaking attack that defeats all enemies. The magic watch freezes all enemies in their tracks for several seconds. Likewise, the magic staff gives you invincibility flashing for a little while. Perhaps the most interesting item here is the magic joystick. This gives you direct control over either your current or next balloon. You no longer have to toggle A to either rise or fall, rather you use just the D-Pad to move precisely in all directions. If you dismount the balloon or pop it, you lose the powerup. There are some locations where you can take shortcuts with some precise movements that are only possible with the magic joystick.
There are also different balloon types that have slightly different capabilities. The most common one looks like the head of a sheep, and you will use this one most of the time. There is a tall, red balloon that is very slow to accelerate upward, however the tradeoff is that this is the only balloon that is immune to spikes. Another balloon looks like a green ostrich and it accelerates the quickest. The last balloon looks like a carriage. This is the very first balloon you find naturally in the game, but you also get it automatically after you die while on a balloon. All balloons appear to have the same horizontal movement.
Most worlds end in a boss battle. The very first fight is the cleverest one, where you get swallowed and have to defeat the boss from the inside. That concept was also used in one of the bosses in Yoshi’s Island on the SNES, but Kiwi Kraze does it here first. The other bosses play more like a shootout and you have to land a lot of attacks to take them down. One world uses a complicated maze section in lieu of a boss fight. There is a least a little variety here, as well as using a different type of challenge than what is derived from the level design.
Hidden within some levels are warps. These are invisible and are revealed by shooting their location several times. If you are firing arrows that vanish in mid-air, keep shooting. Then hop into the warp block to go to a new place! Some of these will lead to special rooms where you can find apples and maybe extra lives. Others take you to a location one or more levels ahead. You normally see a map of New Zealand with the level number before each stage. Take a warp, however, and you don’t see where you end up. Like extra lives, these are hidden in out of the way places. I only found a few of these and I’m sure there are many more that I didn’t find.
You begin Kiwi Kraze with three lives, and they can go by quickly. You can continue with a fresh set of lives, but you can only do this three times before being bumped back to the title screen. It’s the kind of game where you progressively learn the levels and usually get a little farther the more times you play. Kiwi Kraze has a wrinkle to this to make it more challenging. Typically, when you lose a life, you resume play from right where you died with an invincibility period. That safety net goes away when you reach World 4. For the rest of the game, a death sends you back all the way to the start of the stage. I was able to beat World 3 within my first few tries and then the rest of the game felt like wading through mud.
This was my first time playing Kiwi Kraze. I know the term is overblown these days, but I have considered the game a hidden gem. I bought my copy in the back half of collecting licensed NES games and it was one I was looking for specifically once I knew what it was all about. My cart is a very clean copy too, courtesy of a seller on Nintendo Age. I played through the first world right away and knew this was a game I would really like. But, it went back on the shelf like most others and I didn’t get into it until now.
You might have noticed from the start of this post that it looks like I spent nearly six weeks playing Kiwi Kraze. Those dates are not what they seem! I had a little bit of free time on a Saturday afternoon and spent it on my first couple of attempts at the game. That following Monday was the beginning of the year-end tournament of an NES contest hosted on the Nintendo Age forums. That tournament lasted four weeks and I didn’t play Kiwi Kraze at all while that was going on. It didn’t take much to pick back up from where I started. I still needed around ten tries or so before I beat the game. Then another few days went by before I could record my full run.
I really like Kiwi Kraze. I think it’s a fun game with a lot of character. There are just a couple of things about it that I’m not entirely sure how I feel about. First off, the hitboxes seem a little off. Any balloon you ride on becomes the focal point of contact, and you can scratch your head on some spikes and enemies and not be hurt. Without the balloon, that kind of contact gets you killed. At least it feels that way. It’s just something you have to be actively aware of during play. Your instinct while on the balloon is to protect Tiki, but it needs to be on the balloon instead when gliding around spikes. The other thing is that the level design has a different feel that I don’t experience much. Most games like this rely on a larger 16×16 pixel tile, but the levels in Kiwi Kraze are based on tiny 8×8 tiles. This give more space for very detailed structures and challenges that are more puzzle-like. So you have these dense little areas connected together with wide open spaces where you can fly more freely, since the levels are still reasonably large. They chose to incorporate many narrow tunnels to connect all these pieces as well, not to mention the ability to jump through any floor like I already mentioned. I think it’s neat how it all comes together, but I can also see how this kind of design might be off-putting to someone else.
If you like platformers, cute characters, or both, I think you should try Kiwi Kraze. It’s a brightly colored game with neat, intricate design. The graphics are highly detailed with many neat drawings and backgrounds that add character. The downside here is that some of the tiny spikes don’t stand out. This music is catchy, which is no surprise given that the Follin brothers ported the music to the NES. However, they chose to use one song for every level in the game. It’s a good song, but it can get stale. The maze-like design might leave some players frustrated too. This is a flawed game for these few reasons and others, but I can easily look past them. I was really excited to spend some time with Kiwi Kraze, and I still have good feelings about this game now that I’ve seen it all for myself.