Ninja Pizza Girl attempts to serve up a 2D speed-runner topped with an important social message but the end result feels rather half-baked.
Ninja Pizza Girl takes place in a "not-too-distant" future in which the traffic is so bad that the only way of delivering pizza is to hire underpaid teenage ninjas to parkour their way across the city's skyscrapers (naturally). You take control of Gemma, a young girl working for her small family pizza business who must run, jump and somersault through a string of hazard-laden levels to make her deliveries before the timer runs out, all while avoiding the rival ninja employees of the monopolistic MeGaCo corporation.
But Ninja Pizza Girl isn't just a game about delivering delicious fast food. According to its developer, Disparity Games (a family-run indie studio from Australia), it's also designed to tackle issues such as self-doubt and bullying. In between each level, there's a brief hand-drawn cut scene in which Gemma chats with a customer or family member, usually offering them advice or some cheery words of encouragement. And when she's not helping others through their problems, she's learning to stand up for herself against the bullies of MeGaCo who repeatedly deride her and her dress sense.
It's certainly an original premise, but unfortunately the rest of the game doesn't really live up to it. Though Ninja Pizza Girl can be quite appealing to watch, it's not that much fun to actually play. Despite making repeated death-defying leaps and taking down enemies with slide and drop kicks, the gameplay itself is strangely void of any real excitement. It can also be pretty frustrating. Enemies frequently drop down suddenly from off-screen or jump out from behind a trash can at the last moment, tripping you up and losing you valuable seconds. These attacks are impossible to avoid first time round, making Ninja Pizza Girl more of an exercise in memorization than sharp reflexes.
The controls also feel rather floaty which is a constant issue in a game all about speed and pinpoint accuracy. You'll frequently end up jumping back the wrong way when you're trying to lift yourself up onto a ledge, and Gemma will also occasionally hover suspended in the air when up against a wall, or glide through solid objects.
Ninja Pizza Girl does do its best to spice things up with lots of multi-coloured effects and a pumping electronic soundtrack that ramps up as you go faster, but these elements add only to its aesthetic and little to the way it actually plays. I found this to be a little ironic for a game that's supposed to be about inner qualities rather than outward appearances. The interspersed cut scenes also feel rather weak. Their ham-fisted writing and moralizing tone means they serve more as a soapbox for the creators' own personal grievances, instead of contributing to any meaningful character development. This isn't helped by the fact that Ninja Pizza Girl is so short. There are twenty four levels, but they all take a few seconds to a couple of minutes to complete, so there's very little opportunity to get to know Gemma, let alone care about her personal struggles. Making matters worse is a weird bug that sometimes causes the game to auto-skip through its cut scenes, leaving you missing out on what's happening and not able to re-watch them without starting the whole game over with a new save file. The only way I found to fix it was to turn the game off and on again (never fails).
Once you've beaten Ninja Pizza Girl, which doesn't take long, you can attempt the speedrun mode for a place on the online leaderboards or go back through the story mode to gather collectibles to unlock some rewards such as concept art and director commentaries. This adds a little longevity, but it's hard to imagine anyone other than hardcore fans or trophy hunters taking the time to do either.
It'd be unfair to say that Ninja Pizza Girl is completely without merit, of course. When you're jumping from obstacle to object in time with the music, there's an enjoyable sense of rhythm to the gameplay. Levels can also be completed along various paths. If you fall and miss a ledge, you usually just end up safely on the one beneath and keep going, allowing for stages to be beaten in a number of different ways and opening up an explorative element to proceedings.
Ninja Pizza Girl fails to deliver either a potent anti-bullying message or a satisfying gaming experience. Unless you're driven to conquer its leaderboards or unlock all its secrets, you'll be done with it in a couple of hours. Order a real pizza instead.
- + Expansive levels that can be completed along different paths
- + Pumping soundtrack and an enjoyable sense of rhythm
- - Floaty controls and some jarring bugs are not a good mix
- - No real sense of excitement
- - Can be completed within a couple hours