I’ve always wondered what it’s like to make a self-consciously ‘weird’ game on the Xbox. I’m talking about games like Hypnospace Traveller and Tux and Fanny – and now Why Pizza?. It’s not like you can just toss one of these games out: they take years and years to make. So what is it like to live and breathe something so bizarre for that long a period? And how do you make sure the weirdness keeps its edge?
Because Why Pizza? is as mad as a bag of weevils. Somehow, for a game that’s been made over years, it’s mad in a slightly distracted way, as if it picks up something it finds interesting and then gets diverted by something else that’s shiny. That’s meant in both a positive and negative way: this is a game that seems confused by its own absurdity, and doesn’t quite know what to do with it.
Why Pizza? is kind of, sort of, a platform game. There is a 2D level in front of you, and a door at the end where a pizza needs to be delivered. In between there are platforms, wall-jumps, elevators and pits of death: all of the usual ingredients of a platformer.
But there’s a slightly wayward, convoluted edge to these levels, as they wind in different directions. Follow down one of its paths, and you might find a collectible and some of the game’s coin currency. Down another path, there might be a quest-giver, feeling like they’re lost from a cutesy RPG. These are birds, bears and other animals, all with slightly askew but mundane tasks for you. Someone wants a cake, while another wants you to apply for a job for them. Complete the tasks, and a nugget of reward is made available to you.
This laid-back, ‘do how much you want’ approach is actually rather good. Levels can be as long and short as you like, and there’s a technicolor density to the secrets. If you choose to, you can get reasonably lost in the flotsam and jetsam of stuff.
Down other paths of the levels there are tools – a pickaxe, a bomb, a box to be shredded in one of the level’s box shredders – and they can open up paths in a pocket-sized Metroidvania style. These open up more quests for you, or you can just leg it to the exit and skip all the side-questery.
It may not seem so odd from that description, perhaps, but the real quirks come from the controls and the art. Because manhandling the main character in Why Pizza? is like trying to control a giraffe with its skeleton removed. Your character (and you have a choice of them – more on this later) is extremely head-heavy, with a large pizza, banana or jar of mayonnaise on an extended neck, lolling about and generally getting in the way. And your legs tend to crumple under the slightest pressure.
This is one of those deliberately hard to control games that Octodad has a lot to answer for. Being able to control your main character is more than half of the challenge. Your head is controlled with the right-stick, and your arms – particularly when holding a pickaxe – are swung around with the momentum of your character. It’s the head that takes the longest to master, though, as the simplest things become difficult. Looking to jump from ledge to ledge in a tall elevator shaft? That’s going to be difficult, as your head is too big to fit into alcoves, contorting round to be under your feet, pushing you off platforms, and generally toppling you when you least want it to.
It is, without a doubt, a colossal pain in the arse. But not in the ridiculous Octodad, Goat Simulator or Mount Your Friends way, where the gonky movements get everyone laughing. In those games, failing is accounted for, and the levels are simplified so you can lunge and sprawl around. Failing is hilarious in those games, as your errors are amplified to look as stupid as humanly (goatly, octopussly) possible. But in Why Pizza?, the shambling is simply frustrating. It doesn’t feel fun, it doesn’t look funny, and the levels would have been devious enough without lugging a giant pizza slice around on your neck.
At least, this was our opinion roughly halfway through Why Pizza?’s thirteen levels. Because, bizarrely, Why Pizza? gets bored with the mechanic and stops using it after level six or so. Up until that point, the levels would toss out platforms that could only be reached by using your head as some kind of zipline hook. And a pickaxe would be tossed into your hands to watch you flail about, trying to hit rocks with it. Shafts would need careful folding in and out of your head. But then Why Pizza? gets distracted by a passing butterfly.
The result is that the second half of Why Pizza? becomes a generic platformer. Instead of wrestling with the physics, the emphasis, unfortunately, is on the ‘generic’ of that phrase. It’s a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. While we sat here complaining about the awkward first half, the second half stripped out the awkwardness and left us with something unmemorable. It’s short levels with conveyor belts, key-doors and other hallmarks of an MOR platformer.
Thankfully, the art style occasionally swings in to save the day. It’s somewhere between an Adultswim late-night cartoon and the doodlings of a child, and the only colours they have to hand are a pack of highlighters. Grab a collectible and a giant-faced goon squirms onto the screen. Spike Milligan-esque creatures stumble about the level. Best of all are the main characters that you get to choose from. You can be a pizza, sausage, banana and more, and each has a slightly different cumbersome quality to it. We’d recommend the sausage, as the neck’s a bit shorter and it has a habit of tucking between your legs (ooh matron), rather than get under your feet.
But by the end of Why Pizza?’s short life, having completed it in a couple of hours, we had ridden the wave of control-frustration in the first half, before idling through the meh-ness of the mediocre second half. Why Pizza? is a half-and-half pizza; one side that we had to eat with a spoon, the other side a plain old margherita. We’d have rather had a meat feast for this little platformer’s full length.
You can buy Why Pizza? from the Xbox Store
- Looks like a Spike Milligan cartoon coloured by Dr Seuss
- Levels are dense with sub-quests
- Has a wicked sense of fun
- The gangly head mechanics are a constant downer
- Strip out the weirdo controls and the platforming is bland
- Doesn’t last much longer than an hour
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Sometimes You
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 22 June 2022
- Launch price from - £4.19