The entire premise of Lollipop Chainsaw is absolutely nonsensical: a sexy, chainsaw-wielding cheerleader fights off the undead – all without ruining her hair. Those unacquainted with developer Grasshopper Manufacture‘s previous endeavors may view the game as over the top and ridiculous. But to everyone else, this is just another crazy trip from creative director SUDA51.
Lollipop Chainsaw can best be described as an assault on the senses. While Grasshopper Manufacture’s latest is by no means the prettiest game ever, it’s filled with plenty of visual effects that bombard player eyes, while an impressive soundtrack (composed by Akira Yamaoka and Mindless Self Indulgence front man Jimmy Urine) blasts alongside protagonist Juliet’s adventures. There’s quite a bit to take in, and it certainly makes for an engrossing adventure.
As mentioned, our protagonist is Juliet Starling – a cheerleader for San Romero high school. Juliet has just turned eighteen, though that’s probably just so players won’t feel uncomfortable with all of the up-skirt camera angles. The character comes from a long lineage of zombie hunters, and everyone in her family – except for her mother – has some experience in maiming the undead. When a zombie outbreak is unleashed on her school, it’s up to Juliet, her family and her boyfriend Nick – who is now a decapitated head (due to unfortunate circumstances) – to fend off the undead hordes.
If it’s not already clear, story isn’t the main focus of Lollipop Chainsaw. The game is intentionally campy, but it pays off big time in the amount of charm radiating from the title. Players won’t get a deep look at the human condition, but Juliet’s tale is satisfying enough from start to finish. Narrative aside, Lollipop Chainsaw is all about the gameplay, and for the most part, it succeeds quite well.
Juliet has two types of weapons at her disposal – her pom poms and her chainsaw. The pom poms are best used to stun zombies, while the chainsaw is effective in close encounters. The combat works – though it’s initially held back by some awkward button mapping. Juliet’s chainsaw has two attacks, high and low, which are mapped to two different face buttons. This wouldn’t be much of an issue if the X button (that’s A for you 360 owners) wasn’t used for low attacks. The problem could have been alleviated if the dodge button (circle/ B) were swapped with the low attack button – or, more importantly, if the game at least offered alternate control schemes.
But that’s really a minor problem, as players will eventually get used to these controls. A larger issue, in terms of combat, is collecting new combos. In the prologue, Juliet doesn’t have a single combo at her disposal and can only use very simple attacks. Of course, much like other hack and slash titles, new combos can be purchased. However, unlike most hack and slash games, Juliet’s combos can only be purchased at “Chop2Shop” terminals, meaning players can’t upgrade their powers whenever or wherever they want. In addition, new combos cost a fair amount of medals (more on those later) to purchase. Players should amass a sizable repitoire by the end of the second level, opening the doors to some great gameplay – but gamers will no doubt get antsy waiting for more satisfying combat options.
In order to test out their newly purchased combos, Lollipop Chainsaw throws plenty of zombie types at the player. Most games are comfortable with recycling the same enemy types throughout the game, but Lollipop Chainsaw introduces new zombies in each level, mixing them in with the rank and file from previous stages. Each of these zombies differ in both aesthetics and combat techniques, giving plenty to mix up the action.
As hinted, each time the player kills a zombie, they will earn medals – which can be spent on new upgrades or items at Chop2Shop terminals. Killing three or more enemies at the same time will activate Sparkle Hunting, granting players a medal bonus. The amount of zombies killed in Sparkle Hunting will also add on to the player’s score – so those aiming to get all of the trophies will want to Sparkle Hunt often. Gamers can still kill zombies in their preferred method, but those who care about score will want to herd zombies for a good ol’ Sparkle Slaughter.
And of course, every zombie horde needs a zombie ringleader. Each stage in Lollipop Chainsaw ends with a boss fight, and these are quite possibly the highlight of the game. Players will fight the Dark Purveyors, who take a form relating to different musical styles. Prologue aside, each of the boss fights is well thought out and differs greatly from the last. Much like regular zombie minions, there’s no recycling going on here, keeping new encounters fresh and enjoyable – without making lengthy encounters feel tedious.
It’s unfortunate then, that the game’s humor doesn’t quite click so well. SUDA51 has always enjoyed an eccentric sense of humor, but it’s just not conveyed as well in Lollipop Chainsaw. There’s a lot of vulgarity but little of it is grounded with actual purpose or clever delivery. Fans of SUDA51 will easily remember the Big Boner level from Shadows of the Damned – which succeeded in its clever execution. However, when zombies fly at the player saying “I have to poop,” it’s a lot less funny and comes across as though Grasshopper is trying too hard.
As a result, some of the funniest moments are those shared between Juliet and Nick. The dialogue is clever and, at times, hilarious – at one point, I was laughing too hard, and had to actually pause the game. This is because there was less focus on just yelling out words like “vagina” and “jizz” and more on some well thought out dialogue. SUDA51 has shown in the past that vulgarity is laugh out loud hilarious, it just doesn’t work so well this round.
Even when all is said and done, there’s still plenty of fun to be had in Lollipop Chainsaw. The game is filled with replayability, there are extra costumes to unlock, a ranking mode, new difficulties, and two endings. On top of that, the combat (once combos are unlocked) offers plenty of fun that will have players coming back for the experience alone. It’s a solid title, but one that never quite reaches its full potential due to some weird design choices. One thing is for sure though, gamers won’t regret the experience – assuming they don’t play it around prudisfamily members.
Lollipop Chainsaw is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the PS3 version for review.
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