Ninja Pizza Girl Review
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• The review key for Ninja Pizza Girl was provided by the publisher, Disparity Games.
When I read that Ninja Pizza Girl was, “a serious game about bullying, emotional resilience,” I rolled my eyes . I’m always leery of games with any kind of moral or social message. Most of the time they’re pretty cringe-worthy, heavy handed, naive, and distract from the gameplay. Still, parkour ninja pizza delivery… I had to review it. What choice did I have?
So, I jump into the game, complete the first chapter, and… I was pleasantly surprised. The gameplay was great, the style was pretty much on point, the music was outstanding, and the moral was nice and subtle. You can watch me give my initial reaction in this First Look Review:
Still, that was only the first chapter. Could the rest of Ninja Pizza Girl justify my optimism? Well, if you’ve already seen the score, you probably know the answer, but play along with me here, and let’s find out!
Game Play and Mechanics: 7
The controls are fairly standard. You have left & right, along with jump and crouch/slide. Traversing the levels starts out fairly standard. Run forward jumping gaps and tall objects, and crouching or sliding under low objects. Jumping against a ledge at around head height causes Gemma to grab the ledge and flip onto it with a hand spring, which I could totally do in real life but just don’t wanna. Soon there are other obstacles and objects appear that either help or impede your progress. Trampolines that propel you into the air, fans that slowly push you skyward, falling platforms, and giant barrels that let you know it’s on like Donkey Kong, just to name a few.
And then there are the bullies. They shove you, throw garbage, hide behind crate to trip you as you pass, or drop from the ceiling to pounce on you. You can defend yourself by executing a dive kick, tripping them up with a slide, or just plain avoiding them. The goal the bullies is not only to slow you down, but to break you down mentally.
That’s because you don’t have a life meter, you have a self esteem meter. This is represented without the use of a traditional gauge, but rather by how bright and colorful Gemma perceives the world to be. Mistiming jumps and falling, being hit by moving hazards, and getting pushed around by bullies lowers Gemma’s self esteem, and will eventually break her will to continue. When this happens, the world goes grey, and you fall to your knees, and you have to dig deep to find the strength to carry on, in much the same way you do in real life. By rapidly hitting the A Button or Space Bar.
When your self esteem is too low, you have two choices. Raise it by taking a more exciting path in the levels, thus raising Gemma’s excitement, or in between levels, you can use the Scrap you find scattered about to either let Gemma create new outfits to express herself, or grab a TLC item like hot tea or video games. I think it’s clever that they turned something like taking your mind off of your stress into a game mechanic. Also, the Scrap adds to the replays value, since it’s not laid out on a logical straight path, and requires multiple playthroughs using multiple paths to find it all.
In addition to Scrap, you can also find QR codes that allow you to unlock cool extras under the Swag menu, like bonus art, developer interviews, and comics. The best Swag in my opinion falls under the category of “Game Craziness”. You can unlock Big Head mode, which is as cute as it sounds. Double Jump mode sounds like it would make the game too easy, but it’s a double edge sword. Sure, you can reach new heights easily, but the additional jump can throw your rhythm off, causing you to take a garbage can straight to the teeth if you’re not careful. Motivational Mode turns all of the bullies into Gemma’s personal cheering squad, as they shout that she’s the BEST! Around! Nothing’s gonna ever keep her dow-ow-ow-ow-own!
If no one gets that reference, I weep for the future.
Then there is First Person Mode. At first, it looks like it turns the game into Mirror’s Edge. Then you realize that it still used the same controls as if you’re side scrolling. It’s… strange. Yet, fun, in a, “Why am I doing this to myself?” sort of way.
I almost want there to be an achievement for activating ALL of the Craziness at once. Almost.
If there is one thing holding this category back, I’d say it’s the difficulty curve. Once I mastered the mechanics and controls, I didn’t really feel that the challenge each new level brought to the table was matching my progress. I’d say this started to occur to me at about the middle of the story. There was a gradual increase in the number of obstacles that I needed to clear in rapid succession, but it was minimal. By the time I reached the final level, I had no doubts that I was about to win.
This is partially made up for by the grading system that challenges you to beat your best time, which is the entire focus of Speed Run Mode. Still, not everyone will care about their place on the leader boards. Also, yes, you can increase the difficulty slider in the options menu, but remember, it’s the difficulty curve I’m referring to here.
Again, the gameplay is solid and enjoyable, with a lot of extras thrown in to keep players coming back, but the lack in scaling in overall difficulty does mute the sense of accomplishment somewhat, although that was far from game breaking for me.
Visual Style and Quality: 8
For me, the visuals in Ninja Pizza Girl are a good example of how fine the line is between good and great. Everything we see is fine work on it’s own. The character models, objects, etc. are all nice. Nothing is too busy, and the levels are laid out well, but when you break them down, most of what you see is made of simple geometric shapes. This could have given the game a look that was average. Mediocre even. However, there are little touches that add a dash of extra vibrancy, bringing the visuals to life for me.
The lighting plays a major role in giving the game it’s look, adding to the feel and mood of each level. Details like glowing holographic advertisements, and graffiti help flesh out the near-future theme of the setting, but are used sparingly enough to prevent the world from feeling cluttered. Honestly, it almost seems like the use of extra detail was deliberately paced to match the flow of the game.
Also of note, the mood of the visuals are also match the flow of the story arc perfectly. That’s something I did not expect from this title. Visual story telling. I don’t want to spoil things here, but I’ll give you one example.
Like many protagonists, Gemma eventually reaches a point where it seems that not only is everything lost, but that she’s directly responsible for it. What follows this plot point is a level designed to perfectly capture Gemma’s emotional state, and the felling that her entire world is falling apart. It’s radically different from every other level in terms of theme and style, and yet, in the context of the story it fits in perfectly.
This is what I mean about the difference between good and great. It’s not what elements Disparity Games used, but how they used them that elevates the visual style. It takes what could have been a simple series of obstacle courses, and transforms them into an emotional journey that you can see and feel.
Sound Quality: 9
Whenever I misjudge my speed, or the distance from one platform to another, and completely eat pavement when I crash into the ground, there is a very solid thud that makes my shins hurt. I don’t like it when my shins hurt, so this encourages me to avoid miscalculations. Effective sound effects: CHECK!
When I’m just flying through the level, and the screen is getting more colorful, the lighting more vibrant, and I just know I’m about to hear the bass drop, I’m on the edge of my seat, trying to guide Gemma over the toughest obstacles I and find. I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to lose my rhythm. I want to keep Gemma in the zone. Effective music: CHECK!
It’s not easy to make sound a part of the gameplay, and not just part of the setting, or worse yet, an extra tacked onto the game. Yet, Disparity does this quite nicely.
Story Elements: 8
I’ve said this in the First Look Review, but I really appreciate that the story isn’t heavy handed. It’s not full of clichéd slogans about not letting bullies hurt your feelings, and just being yourself. Gemma doesn’t magically find an answer to her issues, and during her story arc she takes an emotional bruising. She feels rejection. She feels anger. She feels guilt. She feels isolation. She feels like a teenager really would feel. And yes, she will eventually overcome, and she will grow. Not because a supporting character spouted some cleverly written line of sage advice in her general direction, but because she internalized everything that the world was throwing at her, good and bad, and learned to define herself as a person.
The narrative is told through both gameplay, and short, comic book style cut scenes that move the story along at a brisk pace, without feeling rushed. Through these scenes, we learn about the people in Gemma’s life, her customers, her friends, and her enemies. We see her struggles, and how she reacts to the struggles of others, and watch her slowly grow and mature, as her sense of empathy and self worth are tested.
Ninja Pizza Girl is by no means dialogue heavy, but there is just enough there to carry you along for Gemma’s journey. And again, the visual style of levels, and even events within the levels, are as much a part of the narrative as the cut scenes.
The story could have easily gone so very wrong. It could have been too preachy. It could have been too overshadowing of the gameplay. It could have tried to think for you. Yet, it didn’t. Because of that, not only does the story not overshadow the gameplay, in my opinion, it enhances it.
Fun Factor: 8
You’re a pizza delivering ninja.
What? You need more? You are a NINJA, that delivers PIZZA! How could this not be fun?
Well, yeah, like anything else, this could have been a great concept that went completely wrong, but by this point in the review, you know that didn’t happen. The action is fluid and fast paced, supported by creatively designed levels with multiple paths, solid visuals and an excellent sound track.
Replay Value: 8
Disparity was smart in using level design, unlockables, and a leader board to encourage repeat playthroughs. Going back to levels you’ve already passed for the purpose of exploration or beating your best time is just as fun as beating the levels for the first time. Finding a new path and discovering something that was just barely off screen the last time you ran a level is very satisfying, and I admit that I want to find every piece of Scrap and QR Code hidden in the game. That’s a tribute to thoughtful game design, and, dare I say, respect for gamer’s that will be spending their hard earned cash to experience the thrill of Parkour Pizza Delivery.
There is a lot of fun to be had in Ninja Pizza Girl. All of the elements seem to be thoughtfully crafted to make a very solid game, that tells a meaningful story. Not only did I enjoy it, but it got me thinking that Gemma is the type of character that I want my 8 year old daughter to see. Not because of her gender. I’d feel the same way if I had a son. It’s because Gemma is very, very human. She experiences highs and low, just like we all do, and in the end, no one fixes everything for her. Instead, she draws on her experiences, and the support of those around her, to navigate her struggles, and decide how she views herself, and who she’s going to be.
And then she runs off to deliver pizza while pulling off some sick moves, Bruh!
Ninja Pizza Girl retails for $12.99US and is available on Steam.