Release Date: June 12, 2012
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: PS3 / X360
What happens when you take a bubbly blonde cheerleader, give her a chainsaw, and unleash the zombie hordes of Hell itself? You get Lollipop Chainsaw, the latest crazy romp from Japanese designer Suda51 and Kadokawa Games. A game that is a fundamentally a love letter the 1950’s, 80’s, and 90’s, all at the same time. It’s crass, over the top and even a little perverted, but it’s still very original and provides fun in ways not seen recently. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect and its shortcomings can definitely lead to frustration and disappointment.
In the gaming industry today, it seems that developers are constantly trying to outdo each other when it comes to making the most realistic and gritty games possible. Lollipop Chainsaw flips that ideal on its head and instead travels back in time. Back when games were more concerned with providing short arcade-like experiences and less concerned with being taken seriously. If you remember playing classics like House of the Dead or those arcade light-gun shooters where enemies would never stop coming, then you will feel right at home.
The game puts you into the skirt of Juliet Starling, a typical American girl whose life is basically peachy. She’s head cheerleader at her high school, is extremely popular, and has a cute boyfriend that she adores mostly because he’s willing ignore her “ginormous butt.” But things quickly go horribly wrong when a zombie apocalypse suddenly hits her high school. To make matters worse, her darling boyfriend Nick gets bitten trying to protect her. So Juliet does the first thing that comes to her mind: she decapitates him and performs a voodoo ritual on his head to keep him alive.
It is around this point when you realize that, “Yes, I am playing a game by Suda51.” Lollipop Chainsaw only gets more ridiculous from there, as it reveals that this catastrophe was caused by an angry Goth who swore revenge after being bullied all his life. He unleashes an assortment of zombie demigods to wreak havoc and chaos, so it’s up to Nick, Juliet, and her trusty pink chainsaw to save the world; one stylish zombie decapitation at time. And trust me, this game has a lot of style.
From the comic book inspired menu screen, to the over the top finishing moves; Lollipop Chainsaw loves being flashy, which is certainly a good thing. This is most apparent in the game’s combat. Juliet has a wide assortment of moves at her disposal which are triggered by the game’s simple combo system. You have a quick pom-pom attack to stun enemies, a strong chainsaw attack, and low chainsaw attack, and finally a dodge move. Once you get the hang of it the combat ends up being very fast, hard, and entertaining; especially if you take advantage of the wonderful “Sparkle Hunting” bonus.
In a nutshell, once you hit a zombie enough with weak attacks, they become stunned. Get a group of three of more stunned, slash them all at once with your chainsaw, and something very special happens. The game goes into slow-mo, the background turns into stars, and you watch as Juliet gloriously beheads the poor zombies, all while cute little pink hearts come out of their necks. There’s even sections where Juliet actually starts pole dancing with her chainsaw, essentially creating a sexy whirlwind of death. These moments are quite satisfying and they show the game at its best. But while the combat is solid and fun, it does eventually start to wear thin.
This is mostly due to the game’s faulty pacing; it throws too many zombies at you, too frequently. This can eventually turn the combat into a chore. Breaking up the zombie slaughter is an assortment of mini-games that try to spice things up. Some are great and pretty hilarious, like putting Nick’s head onto a zombie body and having to make him dance to an objective by hitting the right button prompts. But then there are mini-games like “Zombie Baseball” which have you shooting enemies with a long range attack as Nick runs bases. Great on paper, but once you fail the game 15 times in a row because Nick can barely take a hit, it quickly becomes frustrating. The game’s camera can also cause problems at times, obstructing your view in cramped areas.
It also doesn’t help that each level in the game is ranked, and every time you lose one of these mini-games your overall score plummets. Instead of keeping things fresh, these moments feel more like roadblocks that quickly break the flow and enjoyment that the game is trying to keep up. The excessive amounts of load screens also contribute to this. Their frequency is pretty ridiculous, popping up when moving from one tiny area to another and even as you’re landing the finishing blow during a boss fight. It just makes no sense when the game itself isn’t that visually impressive or rendering a huge open world.
Most of the problematic mini-games and pacing issues are found in the first half of the game. Later on it gets a lot more interesting and fun overall, but you have to work to get to the good stuff which is a shame. In fact, the second half of the game is basically what transforms it from a mediocre experience, to something a lot more special. It almost as if the designers were holding back and were finally given free reign later in the game’s development. That’s not to say that early levels are bad, they’re just not as good. But they always kept me going for one simple reason: the boss fights.
From beginning to end, Lollipop Chainsaw has some of the best and most original boss fights you’ll find anywhere. Each encounter is a carefully crafted experience with bosses based on various genres of music. From the punk-rock zombie Zed whose obscenities turn into physical projectiles, to the auto-tuned master of funk Josey, who bears a striking resemblance to hip-hop artist T-Pain. All the bosses have distinct personalities, attacks, and soundtracks, and they’re easily the highlights of any level. Just keep in mind that it won’t take you take that long to dispose of them all.
Yes, Lollipop Chainsaw is a short game; at most it will take around 6 to 7 hours to finish. Thankfully, though, there’s plenty of replayability. Juliet collects medals from killing zombies and doing various tasks, and these can be used to upgrade her power and unlock more moves. This encourages replaying levels to get stronger, and since each one is ranked, it’s always tempting to beat both your own score, as well as those of other players on the online leaderboards. There’s also plenty of unlockables like nifty (and perverted) outfits for Juliet, music, concept art, and lollipops to collect. So while the main game is short, there’s still plenty to do once you’re done.
The music in the game is nothing to scoff at either; it’s a wonderfully weird mix of three parts. The boss music is handled by Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence, who also voices Zed. His masterful mixes of various genres are a pleasure to listen to, and adding him to the production was smart. Then there’s Silent Hill’s own Akira Yamaoka doing the game’s score and background music. He gives every level a unique and quirky style that fits the game’s atmosphere well. Finally there’s the game’s library of licensed tracks which range from 1958’s highly appropriate “Lollipop” by The Chordettes to Toni Basil’s “Mickey” which plays when Juliet goes into a special invincible mode. There’s even some Skrillex and Dragonforce thrown in… I’m not kidding.
The only thing left to really touch upon is the game’s writing. To put it simply, the writing in Lollipop Chainsaw is pretty much hit or miss. It seems to be the work of mostly James Gunn, the man behind works like the live action Scooby Doo movies and the disappointing remake of Dawn of the Dead. He tries way too hard to be funny with the game’s dialogue, and the end result is that most of his jokes fall flat. Sure there are some gems here and there mostly given to Nick, but that’s to be expected when he’s dropping jokes at every opportunity. What’s worse is that they’re mostly random nonsense and pop culture references; humor that I usually tend to enjoy, but can’t seem to in this context.
His writing also fails to really flesh out the main cast, and as a result Juliet ends up being a pretty forgettable character. It’s really a shame because Suda has some great ideas, he just needs to pick better writers or do it himself if he wants them to come alive. Even his previous title Shadows of the Damned had more witty and memorable characters and writing. Out of all the issues, this one in particular sticks out due to the fact that the game wants to be different and like nothing else out there. But by trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator with its writing, the game loses a lot of its charm and lasting appeal.
Suda51’s games, while not perfect, at least always attempt to provide fresh experiences in an industry brimming with sequels and safe ideas. And for that they deserve some serious recognition. I may be critical on Lollipop Chainsaw, but that’s only because I want it and games like it to be as good as possible. I see the potential, and I’m sure future games from Suda and his gang will only get weirder and more polished in the future. So while it may have its problems, it’s still a game that’s worth playing. Simply for the fact that it brings a whole lot of originality and uniqueness to an industry that’s in serious need of it.
- Stylish, amusing, and over the top
- Great, memorable boss fights
- Solid combat system with plenty of combos
- Fun, quirky soundtrack
- Plenty of extras to unlock
- Writing is hit or miss most of the time
- Excessive amounts of load screens
- Pacing issues, especially during first half
- Frustrating mini-games