Review: Ninja Pizza Girl serves a slice of life

Those that keep track will already be aware of Disparity Games and their title Ninja Pizza Girl. Chances are they’ve even played it, seeing as how it was released on Steam last year, but with a console release taking place this week for this Queensland-based developer, it’s time for a fresh look at the game.

Australia has been blessed in terms of gaming, particularly in relation to the vibrant indie scene. In spite of the spotty support that the local industry receives from the government, it feels as though there is a significant amount of local talent spread across the continent. Those that follow the dealings of those involved, whether in the industry or not, will already know many of the titles that have been made on these shores.

It’s not that we’re devoid of big game developers ourselves, but as they invariably close, it’s often the domain of those companies without the namebrand recognition to carry the mantle – at least until the powers that be come to understand the biggest medium to emerge in the lifetime of anyone who currently draws breath.

It would be easier to list out names like Hipster Whale or Flat Earth Games, drop references to games like Assault Android Cactus, Submerged or Mallow Drops, and even mention those like Meghan O’Neill or Morgan Jaffit, but if you’re already following the Australian dev industry (or indie dev in general), all that hands over from me to you is a state of awareness. This is the company and calibre that Disparity Games stands alongside.

ninja-pizza-girl-ravenNinja Pizza Girl is a parkour pizza platformer, where players play as Gemma, delivery girl extraordinaire, who works for Pizzariffic Pizza. Much like Disparity themselves, the pizza shop is a family operation focused on making delicious pizza in a world saturated with the tasteless cardboard offerings of a soulless mega-corporation. It’s hard to not take subtext from this premise and apply it to the broader spectrum of indie game development.

As the audiences have grown, the room for risk has all but disappeared from the menus of larger developers, while still very much a staple of studios like Disparity.

Aside from this differentiation between the family restaurant and the multinational conglomerate that makes up the overall narrative, a significant amount of story focuses on the way people interact with each other.

How Gemma treats others, how they treat her, and even how she treats herself are covered by the various levels, and almost all under the context of delivering pizza.

To even better exemplify the power that words have over us, the enemies faced by Gemma are other ninjas. Unlike those of lore, these ninjas aren’t out to end her life, but to subdue her spirit. They trip, push, and hurl garbage at Gemma as she navigates the city skyline, hurling insults and mockery at her in place of shurikens or darts.

ninja-pizza-girl-gloomyAs these attacks persist and her own mistakes mount, the environment might seem a little gloomier, or a tad less encouraging. It is. The barrage of assault has as detrimental an effect on Gemma (and the atmosphere afforded to the player) as the harder moments in life do to our own days.

That these attacks are not at the end of a sharp object does not affect their efficacy – in game terms they’re as intuitive as their orthodox counterparts, and possess the same feel, yet their difference adds to the theme and reinforces that notion of hostility itself damaging us.

As your movements speed up and you get into a better rhythm, the game also responds to the flow by showing signs that you’re stringing a great succession of jumps, bounces and the rest together. What you do and how you do it will affect how you experience the Ninja Pizza Girl world. Aside from the lighting, the music that plays through the game will adjust to reflect how well you are playing. It’s possible to get back into the zone with collectables or a string of nice moves, so as you improve, it’ll seem like Gemma’s mood lifts too.

The additional options around unlockables and difficulty reinforce that Disparity Games sees Ninja Pizza Girl as a game to be played by all, not beaten by a handful. A change of difficulty and a way to recharge also give a little brightness to Gemma’s world, blurring the lines around what is part of the game. The whole experience is about taking players on the journey laid out, and passing that message on regardless of their proficiency.

Those that want a challenge are still able to up the ante, but for those that might be discouraged by a timer that expects them to be a little better than they can be, they have a way to play it through.

ninja-pizza-girl-runWhile the game is good, there’s a defining level toward the end of the game where the camera shifts, where the narrative elevates the game to somewhere special for Yours Truly.

The level runs slowly by design and presents a moment in Gemma’s life that many can relate to – not because those same circumstances have arisen before, but because her attitude toward herself mirrors the anguish we might put ourselves through, when the only thing that felt right was to run.

We know as we play that she has it wrong about herself, and it reinforces that in those same moments in our own lives, we were wrong about ourselves.

It doesn’t stop her feeling that pain, and neither did it for us, but it’s easy to gloss over the thoughts once they’re behind us. In a way, Ninja Pizza Girl makes us confront our own attitudes to others, but just as importantly, to ourselves.

A review code for Ninja Pizza Girl on Xbox One was provided by Disparity Games, who I also follow on Twitter. I have also met or otherwise interacted with some of the other indie developers mentioned by name, company or game.

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