Without its wrapper, Lollipop Chainsaw is nothing we haven’t seen before.
It’s a 3D beat ’em up with waves after waves of zombies rushing at you and, yeah, that may seem like the same old stuff we’ve played in other games. For the most part it is. But there is something striking about this game, a kind of incendiary non-PC humour that runs right up your funny bones and embeds itself deep deep inside you.
Juliet is your typical high school cheerleader, she worries about her weight, dotes on her varsity boyfriend and is a trained zombie slayer. If that sounds a bit like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer but with zombies instead’ to you, don’t worry, the two really have nothing in common besides cheerleading and slaying scores of the undead. It’s actually nearly absurd how far in the other direction Lollipop Chainsaw takes the idea.
Varsity boyfriend Nick is an early casualty in the game’s introduction, he gets bitten in the heat of a zombie confrontation. So Juliet only has one option; to chop off his head and reanimate it with some kind of magical incantation, because somehow she can do that. He ends up providing an easy excuse for constant upskirt shots in the cutscenes, being attached to Juliet’s waist with a cord.
Make no mistake, this isn’t the game to bring home to momma. Every inch of it is crawling with salacious, sexist-driven humor. On several occasions when helping NPCs escape the horde of zombies, they’d make a flippant remarks about Juliet’s tits or how sexy she is. I came away from the game feeling a bit like a dirty old man, but maybe that’s partially why I enjoyed it. If you’re willing to dive hard and fiercly into the absurd, the game’s embrace of crude, disturbing narrative will be a welcome tone.
The controls are basic: Low chainsaw hits for grounded enemies, high chainsaw hits and pom-pom strikes for standing enemies. It’s pretty basic for the most part and it can get very button mashy, especially early in the game, before better combos are unlocked. Once you have unlocked a few combos, it’s easy to pick a couple and just spam them repeatedly, despite the wide selection. Though initially fun, drawn out encounters get tedious.
A sense of power is lacking from the gameplay. Juliet feels like a Barbie doing Tae Bo in combat rather than a trained zombie hunter. Perhaps it’s her poppy and cheery dialogue, her persona seems to complete ignore what’s going on around her and sometimes take glee in it.
However, when you punch the ‘hyper’ button, things ramp up. “Mickey” by Tori Basil blasts out of the speakers and zombies become one-hit kills. You feel like a badass, as you line up gangs of zombies, decapitating several at a time, racking up medals in “Sparkle Hunting mode.” It’s this kind of stuff making the game fun, if stupid fun.
Racking up medals allows you to upgrade moves, stats like health and recovery and unlock content lie additional costumes and character art.
The game features a selection of terrific licensed tunes. You can customize your during-gameplay soundtrack with a variety of tracks, from metal to funk to punk. It’s terrific music.
Though it’s bare-bones at the outset and feels familiar territory, by the game’s end you’ll have all kinds of equipment and abilities to diversify the combat. Eventually, there’s no shortage of ways to mow down zombies, even Nick can play an important role by turning into a whirling ball-and-chain or dispensing items to save you in a clutch.
You might need to rely on those Nick abilities once in a while, as levels are long, VERY long. Some stages overstay their welcome, not helped by them being very linear. You’re pushed from one hallway to another, ordered to kill the appropriate amount of zombies then moving on. In fact, it’s so blatant as to put an actual counter on screen as you’re doing so.
There are multiple minigames tucked in between zombie hallways, a potentially great idea if the they didn’t just feel like largely dismissible fluff. One of them consists of chainsawing zombie-heads into a basketball hoop, another of blowing up baseball-zombies as Nick rounds the field’s bases. These serve mostly as distractions from the meat of the game.
One of my biggest gripes with the game was the quicktime-type events in which Juliet would stick Nick’s head on top of a zombie’s decapitated body so you could press buttons in sequence to get him to open doors or clear debris. It’s a change of pace from just brawling with zombies, but grinds the action to a boring halt for a few seconds.
The game doesn’t want you to look away from the screen, but it doesn’t know how to keep your attention. It features the same tedious encounters over and over. Oddly, some of my favorite spots in the game were when I was away from the action long enough to hear the banter between Nick and Juliet, which was often funny. Though I was just running down hallways as it happened, it still made me chuckle. That’s thanks to the dialogue being written by James Gunn, credited with the initial screenplay for the Dawn of the Dead among, numerous other films. It would’ve been better had they played this element up instead of filling time with minigames.
Levels are capped off with some of the most fantastic boss-fights I’ve ever played. They aren’t against huge hulking behemoths like in God of War, but each has a distinct style often tailored after an old musical niche. They also vary greatly in their attacks and how they adapt to yours. The first boss came out swinging with physical curse-words, for example by calling Juliet a “fucking slut” and having the words materialize and attack me. What the hell is THAT?
That’s really why I came to the show on this one, the bizarreness of Suda games. Lollipop Chainsaw feels like it’s wholly in its own universe because of the apparent normalcy of a zombie invasion in Juliet’s world. Juliet is with defeating five dark purveyors, holdovers from an alternate dimension, and scores of zombies which are leaking into this world through a dimensional rift. So why is Juliet and her entire family already trained to be zombie hunters? why does Juliet know how to reanimate dead head Nick? To these questions the game gives a resolute middle finger. Who cares? It’s just mindless fun anyway.
That’s what makes this game worthwhile. It’ll be just a guilty pleasure for some, but those who appreciate a game willing to fly its freak will fall hard for this one. I know I did.
It does lack in length though, making it a hard sell at full price. Clocking in at five or six hours, it feels like a commitment cut short by developers. Just as I was really getting into it, it winded down. It’s too bad, as despite itself it succeeds.
When the price sinks slightly it’ll be a lot easier to recommend, but until then, this might be one reserved for the kooky (like myself) willing to splurge for something more raw than most games these days.
- The soundtrack is excellent
- Bizarre humor really drives the jokes home
- Bosses are really creative and cap off levels well
- Levels feel really lengthy and tend to overstay their welcome
- Minigames aren’t fun
- Short five or six hour experience is expensive at full price