Winter is here and the Starks need your help.
No, not those Starks. Jason and Nicole Stark, along with Raven Stark (one of their four daughters and contender for best name ever) are the family team at the heart of Disparity Games based out of Noosa on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.
Ninja Pizza Girl originally slid under my radar, in the shadows. Until I heard the part about bullying and emotional resilience. I read Jason’s article for Polygon entitled “What’s the scariest thing in the world? Ask your teenage daughter” and found it enlightening.
The article tells of Raven spicing up her dad’s then-basic platformer idea with the concept that the ‘baddies’ wouldn’t be killer robots, but other teenagers whose attacks are to taunt and bully the main character, Gemma, and “make you feel like crap”. It’s an interesting concept dealing with an issue that many teenagers face but that isn’t often tackled in video games.
I took a closer look, played the pre-pre-pre-alpha demo, and found a beautiful 2D game reminiscent of Sonic and Mirror’s Edge. Most interestingly, the health system is emotional. Gemma runs and does awesome parkour moves and gets into the zone of ‘flow’ with cool neon lines trailing off her. Her biggest obstacle are other teenage ninjas.
Whenever Gemma stuffs up a landing with the other teen ninjas around, they laugh at her and call her names, dealing her emotional damage, reflected in the greying of the vibrant world. They also push her down, throw garbage at her and just generally be jerks.
The most powerful moment of the early demo for me was in two parts. First, the screen was drained of colour and it zoomed in to Gemma falling to her knees as she succumbed the bully’s taunts. Honestly, I felt some of her anguish. And the bullies didn’t stop taunting her. But then… I urged myself to continue, mashing my controller and she slowly stood up, colour filling the world again, standing strong and proud. Now that, felt awesome!
“Sometimes the world is bright and happy and full of awesome stuff. Sometimes it’s grey and crappy. But it’s important to remember that it’s not the world changing, it’s you.” – Jason Stark (Source: Polygon)
It’s refreshing to see a game that deals with issues like this. As it stands, with the two-level demo, the graphics – including Raven’s comic art – look good and the gameplay is fun. Smooth controls in a free running game are a must. As the demo is pre-pre-pre-alpha, I’m hopefully the gameplay will only be further streamlined and improved from here.
One thing that’s tricky to tell from the demo is the depth of the game’s story. I like it already and I hope it continues, going deeper and exploring ways to deal and cope with bullying other than dive kicks and running away. The Kickstarter page says the game will have a “deeply-woven story [that] explores bullying, emotional resilience and the importance of boundaries.” Sounds good to me.
Ninja Pizza Girl looks promising and if the Stark family can deliver, this game looks like it could be something special that explores themes rarely dealt with in video games.
You can support the Starks and Disparity Games by backing Ninja Pizza Girl on Kickstarter.
22/07/2014 EDIT: I just had to update this post when Disparity Games added the awesome Includification stretch goal, which would make the game accessible to many more people. Here’s text from the Kickstarter update.
Stretch Goal Two – Includification
From the start we wanted to make Ninja Pizza Girl a game that was as accessible to as many people as possible. This stretch goal allows us to really push that with special features to allow people with mobility, vision and cognitive difficulties to play Ninja Pizza Girl. We’ll even include special control schemes that allow people with no use of their limbs to play the game using a head mouse or similar peripheral. This is the stretch goal that excites us the most and we hope you like it too. Everyone deserves to experience being a hero, please help us make this a reality!
Here’s hoping they reach the funding needed for this stretch goal and make Ninja Pizza Girl one of the most accessible games ever.
If you’re interested, back the project or boost the signal on social media.
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