Ninja Pizza Girl
Developer: Disparity Games
Publisher: Disparity Games
Release Date: Sep 30, 2015
Ninja Pizza Girl is a strange game, and I wonder if the vision of what they wanted to create conflicted with what they were able to create.
Before I get into a critical analysis of it, let’s get into what Pizza Ninja Girl is. The game is a 2D sidescrolling platform game where every level is on a timer. You play as a Pizza Girl who has to deliver pizza in a certain timeframe or it gets too cold and you have to restart.
Mechanically, the game feels more like an Infinite Runner style of game, the genre of platform games where you don’t control the forward movement of the character and instead are more in control of the precise inputs for jumping and everything else. It isn’t that kind of game, because you do press forward and backward to run in those directions, however. While I prefer platform games that do allow you to control the movement of the character, it almost feels unnecessary in this title since there’s no analog control for speed; press a direction and off you run. If you fall, it just puts you on a different track which, for the most part, makes the typically most dangerous enemy of a platform game, gravity, not as much of a big deal in the game. The largest concern for the player is time, though, and falling is a problem because it can put you on a path that takes more time to complete. There are obstacles to vault, gaps to cross and walls to jump off of. The game throws some stationary enemies into your path. Some of those enemies also throw projectiles. As the game progresses it finds new ways of adding more obstacles and enemies into the levels.
Sounds alright so far, right? As a platform game there’s nothing here that’s reinventing the wheel, or even really trying to do so, but it remains competent. The level design too often introduces a new thing, like wall jumping or jump kicking boards to break, and then doesn’t do a great job combining those things together so that the levels feel like they’re progressively evolving with the challenges introduced. However, the levels continue to get more difficult, so it is still provides an increasing challenge. If that was all the game was, I’d count it as one of a million largely forgettable platforming games.
But wait, there’s more!
I’ve been struggling to figure out where to even begin. The game features a pizza delivery girl who delivers pizza from her family owned restaurant, with pizzas made by her father. Her brother, who is in a wheelchair, helps her navigate the rooftops because this is a future where pizza is delivered miraculously intact by people who use parkour to vault their way to their destination. Like Mirror’s Edge with pizza and self-pity. I’m frankly more amazed that the pizza still looks like a pizza at the end of one of her runs more than I am that she could make these jumps, but hey, that’s hardly the most ridiculous thing a game has asked me to accept.
You might ask, well, where do the ninjas come into the title? You see, there’s an evil corporation that only cares about profits (and not people) that also delivers pizza, and their delivery people dress as ninjas. The pizza girl’s brother in the story mentions that she should be able to take them on, because she knows ninjitsu, right? I can see why he’d think that, given the title of the game. Turns out that no, she’s a pacifist and has only watched ninja videos on Youtube. Our titular Ninja Pizza Girl is not actually a ninja.
So what will happen is that, during her deliveries, stationary ninjas will appear and will shove her down if she doesn’t slide tackle them or jump kick them while running. I guess that is how a pacifist deals with ninjas. There are also snowball throwing ninjas because, fuck it, why not ninjas who throw snowballs even though there’s no snow, so that you have to vary your attacks a little. Maybe they’re throwing balls of dirt, or pizza dough, or maybe I’m thinking way too hard about that. If one of these ninjas, who spend more of their time trying to stop her from delivering pizzas rather than making their own deliveries, knocks her to the ground, they laugh at our Pizza Not-Ninja Girl. Screw up enough at running into these assholes and/or miss enough jumps and the main character sinks to her knees and is filled with self-doubt.
While I think that dealing with self-doubt and depression is a great thing for a game to tackle and think there might be mechanically interesting ways of expressing that through an interactive medium, this game does not do this in an interesting or well done way. What happens is that, in a platform game that is timed, where missed jumps already lead to longer paths, it punishes you by making the character sink down to her knees, and you have to mash the A button to get her to stand up again. This forces you to lose several precious seconds as the character literally kneels down, doing nothing while the timer ticks down. If it was supposed to make me feel for the character, it instead succeeded in making me yell several expletives at her that were way worse than anything the game did. Mashing the A button did not make me feel like I was giving her a boost to get back up again, it made me feel like I was mashing the goddamn A button.
This emotional roller coaster the character is on through the main story affects the color palette of the screen as well; it is more vibrant when she is doing well, and drained of color when mistakes are made or when she gets knocked down. The darker it is, the more likely if she takes a hit she’ll fall to her knees in button mashing anguish. Through my playthrough it also appeared that the colors dipped for no reason. I’d be heading on the right path, making great time, but then the colors would dip to the point where I had no clue why the hell it was doing so. I thought maybe I was running the wrong way, only it was exactly the direction the game indicated, so who knows?
This effect is cumulative as well I think, and the game makes one super strange contradiction. Prior to cutscenes, there are random quotes, and one of those from the Evil Corporation is about trying to get people to buy stuff to feel better. Which makes it so strange that collectibles in the levels are used as currency to buy stuff just to make the main character feel better, and it in fact instructs the player to do so in the loading screens. I can buy her a bubble bath or a new outfit to raise her spirits, which, aside from being a really weird and unnecessary addition to the game, seems like the game both mocks the idea of buying items for a better sense of self-esteem while making buying items to increase the character’s self-esteem a part of the game. What the hell?
The game is split into different smaller, story chunks under a larger narrative. The next part will contain spoilers, as it’s impossible to separate my complaints with the story without discussing many details of it. If you don’t want spoilers, skip to the end.
Still with me? Alright, like I said, the game is split into smaller chunks with small narrative arcs which exist within the larger tale being told. The first is about a fellow classmate of our Pizza Girl who is afraid of heights, even though she lives in a skyscraper. The Pizza Girl gives her crap about having safety railing on her patio, and says her brother didn’t need it after he was two years old. At this point I should point out that the game doesn’t mention if her brother was born paraplegic or if it was the result of an accident due to his parents removing the safety rail from their skyscraper patio when he was two years old. Later, she feels bad about mocking this person’s fear and goes back to make it up to her and show her how not to be afraid. She does this by running over rooftops. Not sure what that’s supposed to accomplish; I don’t think someone afraid of spiders is suddenly going to be cured from that if they watched me play with a bunch of spiders.
All of the stories are goofy like this, while some are downright bad. There’s a segment where you help someone show their love for another person by delivering them 450 degree hot spicy pepper pizza (since nothing says love like a pizza hot enough to melt your face). In the story, the father of the Pizza Girl and owner/chef of the pizza place tells her that he’s not even sure if the pizza is edible. Strangely, in the next chapter, it uses a quote from him saying that ‘Love is an extremely hot pepper pizza,’ despite the fact he doesn’t ever say this and in fact tried to talk the Pizza Girl out of the delivery. On top of that, in order to keep the pizza warm, you have to stop and reheat it along the way through the heat generated from trash barrels that are on fire. Not only does this seem against the idea of running against the clock to keep stopping, but it also means the Pizza Girl is delivering a romantic, inedible pizza that has been reheated by trash fire. None of this is presented as self-aware comedy; in fact, I got the Romantic trading card on Steam for completing it.
The main antagonist is the evil rich pizza corporation, who are so generically evil that they make Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase look subtle. The company is willing to commit arson over a .001 loss in profits and doesn’t care about pizza ingredients or customers, they just want that money. Also, while I like the idea of better diversity of characters in video games, I also want that diversity to be quality representation, because if it’s done poorly it can be even worse than not including it at all. Take a transgender character in the game that gets pizza delivered to her. She compliments the delivery girl’s clothes and laments that her transition surgery was so expensive that she still only had men’s t-shirts, only for the Pizza Girl to assure her she is a woman and for the woman to respond how she’s been waiting for someone to tell her that. The dialogue is more ham fisted than an anthropomorphic pig with bacon wrapped around their knuckles. It felt strange that a person who had undergone gender reassignment surgery would tell their pizza delivery girl all about it, much less be seeking affirmation from them. When it comes to positive representation of diverse characters, this game is about on par with the Burger King Kid’s Club.
Aside from the main game, you can also play speed runs of the levels and have your time added to a leaderboard. What I don’t understand is why the leaderboards aren’t just connected to the story mode in the first place. I would’ve probably replayed levels for a better placement if presented with such at the completion of the level. Instead it’s off in a separate mode where none of the times from the story mode are available, so I have to re-do every one. There’s also an option to do all of the levels in the game at one time in an overall run.
Also, just to get one last gripe in, I really hated the music in this game. At one point my wife walked into the room to tell me to mute whatever I was doing because it was giving her a headache, to which I said “Yeah, me too.” and then turned the volume down. I would’ve muted it, but I felt maybe the later levels would’ve had better music, and then I would’ve felt bad about saying something. However, I can say with confidence that I hated the jarring annoying music of this game from beginning to end.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Ninja Pizza Girl is a mediocre platforming game with levels set on a timer where a central game mechanic is the character stopping to feel sorry for herself. She’s a Pizza Ninja Girl who admittedly isn’t a ninja, but she’s seen some Youtube videos about ninjas. The game mocks the idea of buying things to feel better while advising you to buy the character things to make her feel better. The game has a diverse cast of characters who appear to be more caricatures than well done representations. It’s not good, in other words.