Ninja Pizza Girl is a platformer and time-trial racer developed by Disparity Games. It follows the story of a teenage girl, Gemma, who runs her father’s pizzas to people all over her city. Her father’s pizzeria promises to deliver each pizza hot and fresh, so the race against the clock is on. Players help Gemma navigate through each individual pizza run as a level with a variety of paths to find. They will have to avoid or push through obstacles and challenges, including another group of teenage ninjas out delivering pizza (can I live in this world?). This other group is not kind or even friendly as they get in Gemma’s path and verbally bully her into a vulnerable state of depression that practically paralyzes her. It’s up to the player to get her back on her feet and steer her through the level to avoid these and other hazards along the way.
Gameplay is fairly standard in which players race to beat the clock and deliver the pizza. The levels have a variety of different paths for players to take, some requiring more careful jumps, others lined with a greater number of enemies. Players can also pick up certain items on different paths, such as recycled materials to purchase items at the shop, codes for unlockables, and powerups to give Gemma a bit of invulnerability. At the top of the screen, a clock is counting down. Once it reaches zero, Gemma will automatically restart the level with a new pizza. Gemma finds her way by following the directions of her brother in the form of directional arrows that light up the path. Players rarely have more than 2 minutes to run each level, and every second counts in order to get that higher rank.
Beyond the variety of moving platforms, breakable walls, and other obstacles, the most difficult to deal with are the ninjas. Players can jump on them to knock them out, slide through to trip them, or hop over and avoid them altogether. There are also different types of ninja to deal with, each with different attacks. The first few stand in the way and just run at her to shove her. Others will be more sly, hiding behind different objects or on roofs before ambushing Gemma. These hiding places are very well done, requiring players to memorize the levels more than rely on just their reflexes. If Gemma gets knocked down, or falls from a large height without rolling, nearby ninjas will stop, point, laugh, and say hurtful things in an effort to bring down Gemma’s spirit. The world becomes gray and dark instead of colorful, and she falls to her knees unable to move until the player button-mashes to bring her out of it.
Each level strives to tell a story, following Gemma’s perspective as she meets pizza lovers of all kinds. Some encounters tell a bit of a dark story when she encounters other ninjas. No joke, they are a really mean bunch; some of the dialogue startled me. My last comment on this is that the game itself doesn’t have startling depth or anything, but it takes the dark traumas of being bullied seriously.
There are also a number of unique levels that don’t follow the normal countdown, challenging players to keep a pizza warm by using some of the fire barrels interspersed within the level or pick up a number of recyclable materials before the time runs out.
Graphics are 3-D on a 2-D gameplay platform, giving some depth to the levels, but otherwise remaining simple. The game’s coloring, as well as the upbeat house music, darken and pick up depending on Gemma’s mood. When she’s depressed, the colors dull and she doesn’t move as fast. Running longer distances without stopping improves her mood as do certain powerups, making the colors more vibrant and picking up a little speed. The two will change dynamically depending on what happens within the game, whether Gemma is on a roll or struggling to get back on her feet. The player can also improve her mood between levels by using collected salvage to purchase new threads, swag, and other consumables.
The game features multiple levels split into different chapters, each progressing into a more and more direct confrontation with the ninjas, and with the pizza delivery conglomerate they are a part of. These different levels also offer replay value simply from the variety of paths Gemma can take in order to shave off the time. This is fairly important, as later on Gemma will face so many obstacles, it will be easy for her to miss the time limit, and get an F ranking. These multiple playthroughs also allow players to find more items, hidden unlock codes, and some unexpected paths that might gain higher ranks.
Ninja Pizza Girl is a lot of fun and easy to start playing. As the game increases in difficulty, the level of precise movement becomes more important, to the point that it is challenging to master. Jumping on enemy ninjas, for example, takes careful timing, whether with one jump or by doing a jump stomp. However, using these attacks becomes more necessary as the enemy ninjas are bunched together, requiring that at least a few of them get taken down. The challenge also arises from Gemma’s slightly awkward controls when it comes to moving her in a precise manner, instead of simply running as fast as possible towards the finish line. Otherwise, the game’s challenges are reasonable and plenty, and it goes out of its way to offer players a chance to sort of explore a level’s many different paths.
The game’s biggest appeal is in the versatility of the level design, making it possible to go through a variety of playthroughs in a single level, as well as the story and lessons it tells regarding bullies and fierce verbal abuse. The sensations that Gemma portrays feel realistic in which the bullying serves to enhance self-doubt; however, the bullying itself is a little difficult to watch sometimes. Though it is not done poorly, there is a bit of shock value to reading some of what they say, both within levels and during the story itself.
Ninja Pizza Girl is worth $12.99 on Steam, and is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. The price is well worth the amount of gameplay provided, especially with unlockables, commentary, and interviews from the team of developers. For more information, follow Disparity Games on Twitter or like the official Facebook page.