Format Reviewed: Playstation 3
Also For: Xbox 360
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Related Games: Killer 7 (Gamecube, PS2), No More Heroes (Wii), Shadows of the Damned (PS3, Xbox 360).
Some people say that the undead are far too commonplace in videogames today and those people are probably right given the amount of zombie slaying taking place in big-budget releases and indie creations alike. So the question is: is there room for another zombie killer? Well when the killer in question is a sexy lollipop-loving (in a non-filthy way) cheerleader with her boyfriend’s severed (but still very much alive) head hanging from her belt, you have to give her a chance.
The latest madcap game from the legendary Suda51, Lollipop Chainsaw follows the aforementioned cheerleader Juliet Starling on a crazy journey to save her high school from a sudden zombie invasion. Juliet might look like a sugary-sweet Barbie doll but she’s secretly (and conveniently) a zombie hunter like her father and sisters so it’s no surprise (or is it?) that she reacts to the mini zombie apocalypse by whipping a giant chainsaw out of her bag. Clearly this is one girl who you’d be extra careful with on a date. Thankfully, real-life handbags can’t conceal massive tree-cutting death tools.
|This is a game that regularly makes you wonder if you've taken something naughty.|
Straight away, it’s evident that Grasshopper and Suda51 have packed Lollipop Chainsaw with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humour and cheeky references to movies as well as a fat dollop of smut for good measure. Juliet’s school for example is called San Romero High which will raise a smile with any fan of zombie movies. Juliet herself is also reminiscent of the many teenage girls and sexualised heroines who have battled zombies in trashy B-Movies over countless years so the decision to go with a ditzy blonde wearing a miniscule skirt and tight crop top seems like more than just a cynical marketing trick by Suda51. It’s as if he’s acknowledging the existing stereotype then making a sly play on it by simply making Juliet as blatantly revealing and air-headed as possible.
Constant explosions, endearing humour and a dash of the old potty mouth further increase the playful tone of Lollipop Chainsaw and cement it as an adult game but also something not to be taken too seriously. For example, hacking zombies to bits with the chainsaw yields plenty of the red stuff but this ‘serious’ content is offset by the likes of Juliet saying “Woah…zombies suck dick at driving!” when commenting on a zombie-driven bus ploughing into a wall and exploding. The game flaunts this humorous and daring style making it impossible not to fall in love with Lollipop Chainsaw from the off.
“Zombies taste my chainsaw death!”
|This costs a lot of Platinum medals...|
It’s a simple but effective set-up (as well as probably the only place you’ll be able to batter zombies with pom-poms) but it does feel limited at the start of the game and this is because Lollipop Chainsaw’s combat is deceptively shallow to begin with. Flashier combos that mix up jumping, stun attacks and the chainsaw can be purchased from a store over the course of the game to gradually increase Juliet’s abilities for example. There’s always a small thrill in finally acquiring a bigger and stronger move and the drip-feed nature of the upgrades help keep the combat interesting while the player experiments and finds his/her favourite method of zombie extermination.
This isn’t all however as progress through the game’s chapters sees more core mechanics added to Juliet’s repertoire. Compulsory upgrades see our heroine’s chainsaw undergo some wacky modifications to shoot bullets or act as a motorcycle for instance. There are also quick-time events for escaping zombies, evading scripted scenery hazards or finishing off zombies in unique ways. Thankfully, the QTE’s in Lollipop Chainsaw are all fairly lenient and shouldn’t infuriate unlike in some other action games.
You can also use the decapitated head of Juliet’s boyfriend (Nick) to attack enemies via the use of a ‘Nick Ticket’ which activates a roulette wheel. Depending on the selection, Juliet can use Nick’s bonce to throw or shoot at enemies, generate items/coins or even stun enemies for a quick decapitation. Nick Tickets are brilliant for getting out of tight situations and are a nice interactive back-up.
|One of Lollipop Chainsaw's nuttier-than-peanut-butter bosses.|
What this all means is an initially basic way of chopping up zombies that gradually expands until the player has plenty of options at their disposal. There are times when Juliet is forced to use set methods to get through an area (such as the gun for flying zombies…yes, flying zombies) but in general, it’s fun to play around and settle upon your own preferred way of clearing the screen.
Medals mean prizes
As previously alluded to, new combos can be purchased from a store but there are also many other items of interest to save up for. Gold medals buy new moves, lollipops (Juliet’s form of health packs), Nick Tickets and permanent stat-boosting items. Rarer platinum medals can be exchanged for artwork, music tracks and new outfits, most of which are highly impractical and scandalously light on material but sure to please the lecherous gamers.
Medals are earned by destroying certain pieces of scenery and – obviously – killing zombies but big money can only be gained by exploiting Lollipop Chainsaw’s ‘Sparkle Hunting’ mechanic. Sparkle Hunting is activated by decapitating at least three zombies at once with more simultaneous kills reaping larger rewards. Sparkle Hunting is also the only way to obtain the elusive platinum medals and you’ll need lots to access the best i.e. skimpiest outfits and collect all of the art and music. It’s the perfect excuse to replay completed levels and get better at rounding up weakened up zombies before trying to strike down as many as possible with one swing of Juliet’s chainsaw.
|This must be what they mean by school kids being influenced by violent media.|
Sweet or sour?
So: zombies, funnies, delightful wackiness and an entrancing female lead – surely a perfect game? Well…almost. With so much love (and possibly dubious substances) put into the design of Lollipop Chainsaw and the gameplay itself proving satisfying, it’s a shame to say that the general structure doesn’t hold up as well. Progression is extremely linear with a clear path always in plain sight and very little scenery interaction outside of the scripted QTE’s. More often than not, Juliet simply needs to kill all of the zombies in an area to move forwards which becomes extremely repetitive in a short space of time.
Doors and obstacles are dealt with via interacting with the same QTE events such as sawing a metal shutter open or hammering the square button to kick a gate inwards to name two examples. At first, these are pretty cool but before long you’ve seen them all and their constant presence is almost tedious even if there is still everlasting entertainment value from seeing a cheerleader cut an obtrusive car in two with an enormous chainsaw.
It’s a short game too spanning just seven stages. Sure, you need to replay in order to collect everything and there are several difficulty settings to challenge but it doesn’t change the fact that the story ends quickly as enjoyable as it is.
|Haven't we all wanted to do this to our teacher's desk when we were at school?|
The saving grace of Lollipop Chainsaw however is the game’s pacing which sees amusing cut-scenes, funny dialogue or unpredictable wackiness used liberally to break up the linearity and repetition of the zombie killing. This and the desire to see just what on earth is going to happen next cleverly mask an arguably thin game and deflect attention from the shortcomings. It’s a familiar tale of style over substance but Lollipop Chainsaw does a good job of charming the player and making the negative criticisms seem decidedly negligible.
Ultimately, there’s just too much to like about Lollipop Chainsaw to get hung up on the bad points. The comic-book style graphics and menus fit the game like a snug glove and the music is similarly pitch perfect with a pleasing blend of rock riffs, licensed music such as Toni Basil’s Mickey and the dangerously catchy Lollipop by The Chordettes which – let’s face it – had to be in this game. There’s also a mini-game where Juliet runs over zombies in a combine harvester to Dead or Alive’s You Spin me Round – surely a standalone reason to play Lollipop Chainsaw.
In an industry increasingly dominated by sequels and identikit games, titles like Lollipop Chainsaw are a welcome breath of fresh air and deserving of your attention. It’s by no means a perfect game but Lollipop Chainsaw joins the likes of No More Heroes and Killer 7 in Suda51’s portfolio of future cult classics that the mainstream gamers tend to ignore first time around. Short but oh-so-sweet like an actual lollipop, Lollipop Chainsaw is a far more interesting alternative to Generic Space Marine Death Match 5: Online Edition and well worth checking out if original, off-beat games pique your interest.
+ Loveable humour and signature Suda51 quirkiness.
+ Enjoyable gameplay with more depth than initially meets the eye.
+ Plenty of replay value.
+ Excellent art, design and audio choices.
- Can be linear and repetitive.
Overall Score: 4/5
Darkstalker90 Says: “I’d been keeping a close eye on this ever since it was first announced and as a fan of Suda51’s previous work, I have to say that Lollipop Chainsaw has really delivered. I’ve completed it several times now and am currently plugging away at unlocking everything. I’m really pleased that original games like this still get the green light and I’d absolutely be all over a sequel if Suda and Grasshopper ever decide to do one. One of my favourite games of the year so far”.