Ninja Pizza Girl is a game about bullying and resilience. It’s a game about freely running and jumping across a city’s rooftops. It’s also a game about delivering pizza. Built by a family development team in Australia, Ninja Pizza Girl is a self-described ‘serious game’ dealing with themes not often broached on the medium.
Our story centres around Gemma, the eponymous Ninja Pizza Girl. Working for her father’s local pizza store, she is tasked with delivering pizzas across the rooftops of her city’s slums before they get cold. Throughout the game, the people you deliver pizza to have their own story vignettes that might play out over a few levels. While their stories are only short, these characters come from a diverse range of backgrounds and all are dealing with their own concerns that Gemma is determined to help with. It’s encouraging to see such a diverse range of people represented in the game, as short as their stories may be. Gemma’s story is interspersed with these character vignettes and an overall story arc following the struggle of a small family business and competition from faceless corporations. It’s kept fairly simple, probably to avoid a complex deconstruction of capitalism from distracting from the core character themes, but it’s more than enough to keep the game flowing from level to level.
Graphically the game is kept fairly simple. Environments are not complex, graphical effects are fairly subtle, and character models are somewhat basic. While this is not out of the ordinary for independent PC games made to play on the widest variety of systems possible it looks a little out of place on the PS4. For the most part the game maintains a consistent frame rate, however there are some moments of slowdown that can be bothersome when you’re just getting into a nice flow only to be thrown off.Music changes dynamically throughout gameplay, ranging from some softer piano-infused trance to high-energy dubstep when you get right into a flow. The sound levels at points feel a little inconsistent, with stage starting sound effects sometimes feeling unreasonably loud compared to the ambient music but this is not a major issue.
Ninja Pizza Girl plays somewhat similar to a side-scrolling Mirror’s Edge. Across rooftops Gemma must run and jump to reach new ledges and platforms, or slide under obstacles. As the game goes on, new gameplay elements are introduced to add a little more complexity to proceedings with things like wall jumps, jump kicks and other teenage ninjas. Gemma can roll at the end of long jumps, and successfully avoid obstacles and enemies to keep her flow going.
Gemma’s survival isn’t tied to a health meter or similar, but rather to her own positivity. While running Gemma feels energised and the world is colourful. She isn’t really hurt by long falls and hazards, she can shake that off, but they do kill her flow. Other teenage ninjas however do all they can to overwhelm Gemma with dark thoughts, which turn her world dark until she falls to her knees. Gemma can recover from this state to push on during a level, but her state of mind carries with her across the game. Starting levels with a negative state of mind will make the levels dark and drab, and make Gemma more susceptible to the taunts of other ninjas. Luckily, to combat this you can treat Gemma to some TLC in between levels. Things like bubble bath, a nice cup of tea or a copy of Assault Android Cactus can help boost her mood and give her the best outlook on the next delivery. While mechanically the self-esteem system doesn’t differ a huge amount from the standard health systems of most games, having Gemma’s own feelings affect gameplay is a refreshing and unique take on the system which both removes the questionable concern of our character being killed by enemies and hazards, and allows for a character that could be more relatable to people going through similar struggles.
The main criticism I can give to Ninja Pizza Girl’s gameplay is that there are some levels that feel overly unfair to push through. Most levels are well designed in that you can’t really fall off entirely and fail through missing a jump, but the placement of enemies during some sections can lead to frustration. Ninjas will leap down from their hiding places on the roof, or ambush you at the end of a long fall and when a group of them keep shoving you or throwing garbage at you it can just feel unfair. These moments were the closest I came to taking a break and turning off. Maybe the game is just making me empathise with Gemma’s struggles?
Ninja Pizza Girl is probably not a game for everyone. It’s a ‘serious game’, a game whose purpose is not primarily to entertain but instead to demonstrate how crummy the world can be for a teenage girl constantly facing a world seemingly intent on putting her down. Ninja Pizza Girl can still be satisfying to play purely from a gameplay perspective.