You can probably count on one hand the number of video games where the premise revolves around delivering pizza. Aside from Spider-Man 2 from the GameCube era, which involved delivering some pies as Peter Parker, not much else comes to mind.
Ninja Pizza Girl aims to be the pizza-delivering game to end all of them; let's see if it delivers on that front.
Our adventure in Ninja Pizza Girl revolves around the story of Gemma, a young lady who delivers pizzas for her father's small restaurant. What he lacks in grandeur he makes up for in taste — while rival pizza company MegaCo has a big hold on the industry, Gemma's father's pizza is loved by all that experience it.
Gemma apparently lives in a rough neighbourhood, as her daily work involves running around the city's rooftops. Thus, she is a pizza delivery ninja, and has to deal with rival ninjas from MegaCo. This leads us into the gameplay, which feels almost like a 2D Mirror's Edge. Movement focuses on running (without stopping!), sliding, jumping over obstacles, and bouncing on trampolines.
It's clear that the game wants you to go fast, as slowing down causes the screen to become washed out. Keep moving, and not only will colour return to the world, but the music also ramps up. Once you've reached peak speed you'll enter Hyper mode. This is where Gemma is in her element, complete with cringe-inducing dubstep music that sounds like it belongs in a 360 no-scope montage.
Controlling Gemma, overall, is fairly solid. She has some momentum problems, including sliding ahead when you let go of the control stick and being incredibly hard to turn in midair. Aside from an extremely irritating slow-mo sequence near the end of the game, which feels like Gemma has heavy weights on her shoes, the movement is passable for what the game demands of you.
Since you're tasked with delivering pizza, and Dad's pizza has to be enjoyed at a piping-hot temperature, most of the difficulty in Ninja comes from the time limit. You can certainly make a few mistakes on your way to the goal, but stop moving for long and you'll find yourself running out of time. Most levels run for two minutes or less, so there's never too much to replay when you fail.
The only other element of challenge in the game comes from rival ninjas, which are a bigger problem. Sometimes they walk back and forth waiting for you to come by, while other times they hide behind objects or on the ceiling above you. Bump into one and you'll be briefly knocked down; this totally kills your momentum, and is made all the more frustrating by shaky hit detection.
You must press either B to slide into an enemy, or press A twice to jump and do a lock-on kick. The former is usually more desirable since it loses less momentum, but if you don't start it well in advance of an enemy you're bound to be hit. This is made worse by enemies being quite difficult to see a lot of the time, especially when the screen is grayed out as discussed above. It wasn't rare to be blindsided by three enemies in succession, none of which we saw coming. A similar problem is difficulty in distinguishing the foreground from the background, which is present through the whole game.
Aside from reaching the delivery spot, each stage also includes collectibles for you to find. One looks like a party streamer and instantly boosts you to Hyper mode, while the others are recycling symbols and QR codes. We're not sure of the significance of either of these, other than Gemma referring to "scrap" once in the story.
Only a few QR codes are present in each stage, and are used to unlock extra content like comics and cheats. The recycling symbols are more common and are used to buy new outfits for Gemma or "TLC" — items like tea and chocolate that you have to give to here when she "feels down" sometimes after a level.
These collectibles, while presenting an extra challenge for completionists, bring up a big problem with the game. Simply put, Ninja Pizza Girl's gameplay isn't built around them. On the one hand, the game wants to be a fast-paced ninja game that tasks you with blowing through the level as fast as possible. The pickups, however, are often placed in spots that you must slow down or even stop to reach. This, combined with the time limit, means that most players won't bother to grab them for fear of losing their speed or running out of time.
As a whole, the levels are okay. The setting never changes from the city rooftops, making things feel samey after a short time. On the technical side, when you play through a stage for the first time it seems as if there's only one path through. However, the game is good at giving you alternate routes and safety nets, which let you continue on a less exciting path when you fall, instead of dropping into a pit. Combined with the out-of-the-way collectibles, though, you'll feel like you're only seeing part of the level when you play it, which is a strange choice for a game supposedly built around speed - the idea is no doubt to encourage replayability, but the effect isn't successful.
In between stages, the game's little story plays out. It initially revolves around Gemma being disgusted that the buyers aren't wearing pants when they receive their deliveries, but quickly turns into an anti-bullying rhetoric. However, this ends up feeling half-baked.
Gemma spends the first half of the game helping people. She comforts a girl who is afraid of heights and turns friends into a couple in a generic "she would never feel that way about me" deal. The second half of the game features the rival ninjas more prevalently, who make fun of Gemma. After a while this starts to get to her, which leads to consequences. It's a nice motif, but ends up feeling unfulfilled. This isn't helped by the rather cheesy dialogue, containing some grammatical errors.
The graphics and sound follow the same pattern. You'll see that this is a Unity-made game upon starting it up, which is also evident from the graphics. Gemma's cartoon sprite looks nothing like her character model, the city is bleak with not a lot of texture, and the menus use a strange font that's hard to read. The music, aside from the aforementioned dubstep, isn't too bad and fits the dark city theme well. Nothing is particularly offensive here, but we weren't thrilled by anything, either.
One neat feature of Ninja Pizza Girl is the ability to customize the difficulty. You can choose between five presets (we played on the standard), or tweak it yourself with three aspects: time allowed in each level, amount of bullying from rivals, and how fast the game runs. You can certainly lax the time limit a bit here if you're having trouble completing levels in time, but it doesn't really solve any of the game's problems. Expect to spend about two hours getting through the story levels.
Like yesterday's pizza that just doesn't taste the same when heated up in the microwave, Ninja Pizza Girl is a decent game that doesn't excel in any area. The story has a nice sentiment but is loaded with cheese, while the physics and controls occasionally make you slip off platforms in tense moments. On the ninja front, the graphics and enemy placements can cause you to bump into obstacles and kill your flow, while the collectibles feel out of place.
You could certainly do a lot worse than Ninja Pizza Girl, and we can't call it a bad game. For its launch price, however, it's just too bland to recommend. You might want to give it a try if you're hankering for a fast-paced platformer, but there are better deliveries elsewhere on the eShop.