There’s something about teaching and games that never quite works. 90% of the time, the games that try to hammer home a message just don’t deliver a satisfying game. There are certainly exceptions to the rule (like Particulars), but the vast majority of educational games fall into the same traps as their brethren before them, and Ninja Pizza Girl is one of them. There are rare moments where the potential is there, but for the most part, this is another example of why educational games struggle to deliver.
Ninja Pizza Girl follows Gemma, a sixteen-year-old pizza delivery girl working at her dad’s pizza place. As Gemma runs around the city, jumping from rooftop to rooftop like a good ninja, she encounters people from school and the occasional pants-less customer. As we deliver more pizzas, we learn more about the kind of person Gemma is, bullying, depression and all that good stuff. Teaching depression to teens through a game is a good idea, but the thing is, NPG isn’t very engaging.
If you’re going to target gamers, you need to make a good game, and NPG delivers generic platforming that feels more like a uni project than something special. Levels consist of racing against the clock to reach the customer’s door before their pizza gets cold, jumping across rooftops and bouncing off walls like a baller. Unfortunately, Gemma slides around like she’s oiled up her shoes, and her movements don’t flow into one another so much as they collide with each other. None of this helps when enemies start popping up.
As you start progressing through the game, you’ll encounter ninjas from rival pizza companies trying to mess you up. There are a few ways to deal with them, like sliding into them or dive kicking them, but I became a tad nihilistic whenever I saw them. I can appreciate the enemies being there to liven things up, but taking them out with the clumsy controls is nigh impossible without receiving a shuriken to the face first. It’s a shame that the gameplay is so disjointed, because there are brilliant moments from the narrative side of things.
I’m not saying that the writing is the most exceptional thing in the world, but when I encountered “No Pants, No Pizza!” a part of my face shifted to make a smile. The game is intentionally silly, and I like that. It’s a nice change of pace from, say, Particulars’ angst overload to deal with the topic, and everyone loves a good joke, right? It’s a light-hearted approach to a serious topic, but when things get heavy, the writing does slip up.
The main story is depicted through dialogue between characters close to Gemma, including her brother. The brother acts as a bit of a moral compass for Gemma as she realises that bullying might not be the best way to make others feel better. It’s here that things start to get a bit condescending to the player, because while Gemma has sudden changes in character from delivery to delivery, I didn’t. I’d liken it to Degrassi Junior High levels of ham-fisting, so it’s not the worst. However, it lacks the quirkier serious moments, like where one of the Degrassi girls gets sent to detention for accidentally watching porn. It feels a bit immature, but then again, it’s not like I’m a good frame of reference for that sort of thing.
I’m someone who’s hurtling into the mid of his 20s, so maybe I’m out of touch, but the whole game comes across as a very lame attempt to be hip with the kids. The font, the obvious conversations and the ease with which characters discuss their problems all send me back to my year nine health classes, which I shrugged off because I was 14. If you showed me this game back then, I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t have given it a second glance (like Degrassi) but these days I can appreciate things (like Degrassi). I can see the good in NPG, but it’s clouded with the typical problems of edutainment games. If it’s aiming to connect with teens, it’ll need to try a lot harder to keep their attention.
I want to like Ninja Pizza Girl, and there are parts of it that I do like, but it’s plagued by problems that aren’t unique. It tries to deliver a good message, but it lacks the engagement to deliver it properly. There are memorable moments of dialogue, but without a good game to back it up, it’s not as potent as it should be. It’s a good idea with flawed execution, and that could be said of any educational game, which is kinda depressing.