A cyberpunk kid ninja freerunning is across city roofs, there’s always a Daft Punk beat behind the straining leaps she takes over yawning blackness below: one two, jump, land, one two, jump, land, duck, now admittedly, she pants, this Daft Punk soundtrack is because 2001 me is listening a lot to Discovery, and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger plays, often, everywhere…. one two, jump, land, one two, jump, land, duck – VAULT. VAULT.
But those were silly daydreams and twenty-seven year old me laughs at her and thinks, hah, sixteen year old me, now I can play two levels of a prototype side-scrolling action platformer Ninja Pizza Girl, a year before it comes out, and it’s the platformer you always speculated should happen. Here are my first impressions of a little teenage fantasy.
Set in a dystopian near-future, Ninja Pizza Girl is a side-scrolling action platformer that follows a teenage girl and her family Pizzeria’s struggle for independence against the uncontested might of the pizza mega-corporations. Follow Gemma as she navigates a world where slums teeter on top of skyscrapers, where people live out their lives without seeing the ground, where powerful mega-corporations exploit the skills and aspirations of the poor to maximise their profit margins. In a culture twisted by corporate propaganda, Gemma must fight to keep her ideals, her family and their business intact in face of the most merciless enemies known to any teenage girl – other teenagers.
The idea is that you have to run over rooftops to deliver pizza, using your teen ninja skills to overcome obstacles and enemies and Extremely Large Gaps. You are timed, though it seems currently to be incidental. You use A/D to run, space to jump and right click to slide and crouch. Jump actions also include bopping sneering teen ninjas who call you a loser on the head. Then you deliver pizza to some trouserless wonder, one of whom really resembles a grumpy, semi-naked man I once unpleasantly had to share a pizza restaurant with in Manila.
In short, all of the art is very evocative of a dark-scorched city dystopia. Ninja Pizza Girl’s world certainly is pleasing to look at. It’s like the neo-noir future I always picture when I read the title of that James Lee Burke book, Neon Rain (though that book is not about the future). The three-person team at Disparity Games is composed of Jason Stark, a veteran art director who has worked for Rare, Animal Logic and Microsoft, his wife, the animator Nicole Stark who was one of the first women developers in Brisbane, and their sixteen year old daughter Raven Stark, who, besides sounding like a dark-worded heroine from Game of Thrones does the 2D art in the game and all the promotional materials. With such an art focussed team it’s not a surprise that the game looks beautiful and that the animation (particularly of the bad-ass flipping over stuff) is wonderful.
In this year-early build my ninja girl is capable. I was supplied with the first two short tutorial levels, one that was composed of fairly simple boxes and pipes to jump over and under, slopes to slide down gracefully, air conditioning units to flip up and over. The second level included trampolines to bounce gleefully off, and a few fun wall jumps to help you get to a rooftop with ninja boys to defeat. Though the jumping and sense of freedom was rewarding, and the levels felt vast, controls sometimes felt slow to respond, or perhaps it is the animations that look a little stiff, and sometimes the context-sensitive edge-flips could have been faster. In short, the flow of the thing needs a little work, I think, for it to be a great game, and not just wish-fulfilment on my part. But it’s such an early prototype that I’m pretty sure it will get Harder Better Faster Stronger. And I liked the rave-vibe music. It was, as teen me would have said shrugging, pretty cool.
Most interesting of all is that the team is planning on tracking Gemma’s self esteem, not her health, so that when you are knocked down by ninja bullies your self-esteem is knocked instead. I think this is a touch of genius.
The cute teen humour though, was interesting – ‘I thought you were a ninja?!’ ‘I googled it!’ is sort of sweet, and it mainly just creates in me a sense of jealousy that, at sixteen years old, I couldn’t just have been called Raven and have sat around making videogames with my parents. ‘For honour. For Family. For Pizza,’ almost seems like a better House Stark motto, anyway.
Track Ninja Pizza Girl‘s progress here.