Ninja Pizza Girl. Ninja. Pizza Girl. As names for games go it’s one of the most uninspired I’ve ever come across. It’s like calling Super Mario “Jumping Plumber Man”, or Crash Bandicoot “Shorts Wearing Marsupial”. Behind the ridiculously lazy name, however, is a game with a strong message. A game that is also rather good.
Playing as Gemma, the titular Ninja Pizza Girl, your task is simple: deliver your father’s mouth-wateringly tasty pizzas as fast as you possibly can, because no one wants cold pizza, right? Unfortunately though, your father’s Pizzarrific pizzas are so good that the unscrupulous MegaCorp has noticed a drop in sales of their own bland yet heavily-marketed pizza creations, drawing some unwanted attention. With their delivery ninjas already giving Gemma a hard time as she goes about her business, things are only going to get worse as MegaCorp seeks to regain their lost market share.
With a focus on momentum and Gemma’s agility, Ninja Pizza Girl plays out like you’d imagine a 2D Mirror’s Edge game would. You run, jump and slide across rooftops, verandas and walkways, constantly vying to keep your landings smooth and movements fluid. If you want to obtain the best ranking on each of the game’s 20-odd levels you’ll need to do so too, as there’s little room for error. Many levels also feature helpful objects to reach higher ground such as trampolines and powerful fans, adding a nice touch of speedy vertical exploration. It may seem like a strange comparison, but the structure of the levels actually reminded me of games like Sonic The Hedgehog; their multi-layered nature providing you with multiple route options depending on your speed and skill. Handily this keeps the levels interesting to return to, which is good because you’ll need to revisit each of them multiple times if you want to unlock all the extras Ninja Pizza Girl has to offer; the many collectables spread throughout acting as a currency with which fun gameplay modifiers and new outfits can be bought.
Adding increasing challenge to the levels as you progress, MegaCorp’s very own delivery ninjas often stand in your way. Some simply patrol their turf, hurling rubbish at you from a distance. Others hide behind boxes, waiting to trip you up. The peskiest though, are those who cling to objects above, ready to drop down on you with their full force. You have a couple of options to deal with them – an unruly dive kick or simply sliding into them can knock them down – but the best option is to try and avoid them altogether. Sometimes, however, avoiding your enemies is all but impossible, and with your combat options being rather limited, it somewhat mars the experience a little. The dive kick, for example, doesn’t feel intuitive, and often the enemies just feel too well hidden as you dash to your next delivery. Being dropped on or tripped over by enemies that were near impossible to spot when moving at speed is not fun and can spoil the perfect run rather easily. Regardless, by memorising enemy placements your performance can be improved and fun can still be had.
What’s truly unique about Ninja Pizza Girl is its emphasis on conveying an anti-bullying message. The narrative spins a tale that centres on Gemma’s woes at the hands of bullies, and, as a teenage girl with low self-esteem that feels the weight of the world on her shoulders, she is quite fragile. Her mental state is worked quite nicely into the gameplay too. MegaCorp delivery ninjas poke fun at her when they knock her down, rude clients dishearten her, and losing momentum or fudging a landing breaks her spirit. As she becomes more depressed, the world loses colour. Become too low and she’ll slump to the floor, prompting you to hammer a button to muster up the willpower to carry on. It’s nothing ground-breaking, sure, but it does manage to make you feel for her as well as strive to raise her happiness by performing better. You can also lighten her mood by partaking in retail therapy between deliveries, but I’m not quite sure that should be promoted as the answer to bullying!
Graphically, Ninja Pizza Girl doesn’t impress, but it gets the job done. The environments you race across are interestingly gloomy but lacking in flair, and character models are rather basic. The only real eyesore though is the atrocious graffiti-style font used in the game’s menus. Performance is consistent across the board, however, and the brisk pace of the action means you don’t have time to nit-pick over the finer detail of the visuals anyway. Audio wise, it’s a shame that dialogue is not voiced but the game’s soundtrack is consistently enjoyable, helped by the fact that it is reactive to your performance. Perhaps Ninja Pizza Girl‘s biggest turn-off for many will be that you can complete its story in around two hours. There’s an additional speed run mode but it’s pretty basic, which leaves the only lasting appeal to be chasing the highest rank on each level and finding all the collectibles. Some players may be happy with this, and there are some amusing extras to unlock such as a first person mode (that isn’t actually first person), but most will find the content a bit lacking.
Overall though, Ninja Pizza Girl is a thoroughly enjoyable game while it lasts, despite a few frustrations. Its biggest achievement is that it manages to capture the essence and momentum of Mirror’s Edge on a 2D plane, but it should also be applauded for its clear anti-bullying message. If you’re looking for a platforming experience with a quick turn of pace then be sure to check Ninja Pizza Girl out. It may be a little rough around the edges, but it’s a wholesome experience that deserves your attention.