Ninja Pizza Girl has charm. Exactly the kind of charm you would expect a game called ‘Ninja Pizza Girl’ to possess. If you come to this title expecting anything other than ‘PizzaRiffic’ Pizza and Ninja antics, I am afraid you may be disappointed. The game follows Gemma, daughter of the eccentric owner of PizzaRiffic Pizza. In the futuristic, cyberpunk world in which the game takes place, Gemma must run, jump, tumble, and kick her way around town delivering pizza and providing memorable customer service. Gemma is a high-school age, dutiful kid, who cares deeply about her father being able to keep his independent restaurant afloat. In this futuristic world, that task is harder than it sounds. Rival ninjas employed by mysterious pizza megacorporations roam the streets, constantly trying to humiliate and trip you up. Luckily, Gemma is assisted by her brother, Tristan, who provides Gemma the navigation information she needs to find her customer’s apartments, as well as the motivation necessary to continue in the face of adversity.
One of the first things I noticed about this game was its impressive soundtrack. As speedrunners are quite simple mechanically, great sound can do a lot to make a game such as this more immersive. But be warned! If you are not a fan of electronic music, particularly dubstep, this soundtrack is not for you!
Ninja Pizza Girl starts you off with fairly standard speed-run mechanics. Jump , slide, attack, and wall-jump your way to victory. As you progress through the game, a variety of new mechanics are introduced. This gradual introduction of new obstacles is well-timed – every time you think you have the game figured out, something new is introduced to keep things fresh. The nice thing about Ninja Pizza Girl as a speedrunner is that failing to clear an obstacle doesn’t result in instant death – instead, runs are timed. This makes the game a lot more forgiving than something like Bit.Trip Runner, in which every single screw-up means going back to the beginning of the section. Additionally, each level features multiple paths that lead to your goal. This means that even if you fall 50 metres down the level you can just keep running – instead of having to climb back up to the path, or re-start the entire stage. The core gameplay of Ninja Pizza Girl is lots of fun, but the movement does feel a little rough at times. Obviously, falling over during your run can feel jarring – that makes sense. My problem was with wall jumps and changing direction. Some levels required this, and the way your pace slows as your change direction can break the flow a little.
Ninja Pizza Girl was made with the intention of addressing serious issues – particularly bullying and self-esteem. These themes start to emerge during your second adventure, with each adventure being split into several speedruns, and each adventure having its own episodic story to be told. What unites these adventures is the journey of Gemma’s self-discovery through teenagehood – a quest we all must embark upon, and one that is usually experienced with a hearty dose of rebellion and angst. Part of Gemma’s father’s ‘PizzaRiffic Pizza’ customer service credo, is to always try and help the customer. In striving to fulfil this expectation, Gemma helps customers with a range of personal problems, and must contend with the antics of other teenage ninja pizza runners – all of whom seem to work for some giant pizza megacorporation, and all of whom seem to be jerks. These stories are told through graphic-novel-style cut scenes, and the dialogue is great. The writing feels like very genuine sibling banter, and the tongue-in-cheek humour is sure to give you the giggles. In line with this feel, the character art featured in these scenes is highly expressive and fun, although some sections look like they could do with a little more polish.
The cyberpunk future of Ninja Pizza Girl is clearly expressed through its lovely environments, and like most speedrunners, the environment changes depending on how well you are doing. Speed and success will see the screen light up, and the music become more funky and intense, while lots of mishaps will see everything become greyer and slower. In line with the bullying and self-esteem themes, being tripped up by rival ninjas will see Gemma start to lose confidence. Everything will become very grey and Gemma will slow down – eventually coming to rest in a position of defeat on her knees. Luckily, through the power of resilience, Gemma is able to get back up every time and continue on her all-important pizza delivery quests. The message this reinforces is a very positive one, and it is refreshing to play a game that is invested in spreading helpful messages.
This lovely little speedrunner strives to be something more than just a speedrunner through story, themes, and humour. It is most of the way there, but some aspects of the game still need polish.
The plights of Gemma’s customers are interesting to watch develop, the characters all feel like funny caricatures of people you are sure to encounter during your teenage years. While these subplots are a great addition, and help to set Ninja Pizza Girl above other games of the genre, it is more likely to be the gameplay than these mini-plots that will keep you running.