It came to my attention the other day (as if I could have been missing it, but whatever) that I have an absolutely ginormous Steam backlog. Humble Bundles, summer sales, and things generally going for cheap has led me to have a huge library of games I’ve never even installed, let alone spent any time playing. I mean, some of them I actually can’t play because I have nowhere near sufficient hardware to do so, but whatever. I’ve decided that it’s high time that I did something about this.
My bright idea for dealing with this problem is a new feature I’m calling ‘Roughly An Hour Reviews’. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: I pick a game out of my Steam backlog, install it, boot it up and spend about an hour playing it. By the time I’m done, I’ve got a decent little first impression of whether it’s something I’m likely to want to keep playing – and as an added bonus, I can use that first impression to create something I’ve not done very much of up to now: a proper game review. Well, one based on a very brief first interaction with the game, but still. Actually, there’s a point: I’m not going to be able to go into much detail about late-game stuff, or give you the full background on the developers’ story and so on, so please do treat this just as a snippet of what the game has to offer rather than a full-on review as we know ’em.
My first selection is a nifty little title by the name of Ninja Pizza Girl, which just from the opening screen seems to be living up to its moniker by successfully being a game about a ninja pizza girl.
You’ll notice there’s a dedicated ‘speedrun’ option, which is pretty cool, but I figured I’d stick with ‘story’ mode for a first look. I didn’t really know anything about this game before booting it up, but I think it’s turned out to be roughly what I was expecting: a sort of side-scrolling Mirror’s Edge-like semi-parkour thing.
Controls are simple: just run left and right, jump and crouch (or slide or roll), so there isn’t all that much for me to say about actually picking up and playing the game. It’s certainly nicely done for such a simple concept (as it sort of has to be, really – think Bake Off, where bakers who go with simple recipes really do need to get everything right, since they can’t hide behind flair), but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The story begins with Gemma (our character, the eponymous Ninja Pizza Girl) working her delivery job at the family shop, with the only real plot given before mission number one being ‘we need to deliver this pizza pretty quickly so you should probably go fast’. Fine by me!
Running through the stage, I find that it’s actually really satisfying just moving and jumping and whatnot: there are enough slightly alternative pathways to find that you do actually feel you’re making an impact on Gemma’s ability to deliver delicious pizza. She does roll when falling from a height, which surely ought to destroy the pizza, but I guess that would be an annoying mechanic; the only other game I’ve delivered pizza in would be Spider-Man 2 (I’ve only just learned from looking for videos of it that there are speedruns in a category called Pizza%, which is awesome), and it was quite annoying in that game that you couldn’t do certain things for fear of smushing the delicious pizza. Come to think of it, this is sort of like an entire game built out of that one minigame. It was famous in its day for its excellent music, and I’ve got to say that one of the highlights of Ninja Pizza Girl is its music too.
What’s perhaps a bit simplistic in terms of gameplay mechanics and visuals (the art style’s nice, but that’s about all I have to say about it) is more than made up for by the music in this game. You can hear an example of some of it in this trailer for the game, but I think this is one of those games where you have to have the experience of playing alongside the soundtrack to fully appreciate the tracks. See, as Gemma runs along she picks up speed, and eventually she’ll either hit a speed trigger or pick up a collectible (I’m never paying attention when it happens, so I’m not quite sure), and she’ll suddenly jump to warp speed. The music’s a nice chilled bitpoppy sort of electronica dance wave as you initially jog along, but gets more intense as you go faster until it suddenly drops into full-on pizza dubstep when Gemma hits max speed. There’s also a really sweet funky bassline that plays when you reach your customer (who is not always wearing pants).
Progressing through the game, I’m finding more to like about it as it introduces new stuff with each level. After a few successful deliveries, we find ourselves on the turf of Mega Pizza Corp (or something), who have their own pizza ninjas. They can’t directly hurt Gemma, or certainly they can’t kill her, but they can slow her down – and when they do, they’ll laugh cruelly at her until she gets back up. I wouldn’t say the game gets dark, as such – at least not yet – but it certainly starts to introduce a few themes around bullying, depression and other problems in the life of a teenage girl (pizza ninja or no). Gemma’s aunt is apparently getting too old to make the runs, which isn’t a big plot point yet but might turn into a thing, and some of Gemma’s customers are people she knows from school; they’re not always very kind to her, and she isn’t always very kind to them (intentionally or not, her brother does call her out on it).
After a few missions, she’ll find herself ‘feeling down’, and we have to buy her some new clothes or sweet treats to cheer her up. I’m not sure what effect this has on gameplay, or whether it is even actually tied to anything in the mechanics or is just completely separate, but I did notice that Gemma seemed to take longer to get going as I progressed, and the music and visuals were much less cheery until we built up some speed.
I think this game is going to unfold in a really cool way, actually. It looks and feels like a simple little indie platformer, but it’s turning out to be a story about a family business fighting against big corporations, a young girl finding herself and trying to be a good person in a world where it’s hard to know what that means, and also a ninja delivering pizza, so what’s not to love?
Since I’ve not played the whole game, I can hardly do that thing reviews do where they give games scores, but I can at least give a bit of a judgement on whether I’m likely to keep playing in future, so let’s conclude with that.
Verdict: Planning to come back to this one and deliver more pizza soon, but the real appeal will be learning more about how Gemma deals with her problems and emotions. Also, that OST. (Seriously, you can buy the OST separately on Steam and you totally should.)