Review: Lollipop Chainsaw
Lollipop Chainsaw... more like Lololpop Chainsaw, in truth. What? It's true. Juliet Starling is Lethally Blonde.
- Worth The Time?All the time, every time.
- Things LovedThe humour is top-notch. The colour and vibrance is psychedelic. The quirky nature is charming to say the least. The boss battles are unique and interesting. The combat feels right. The collectibles are awesome. The style and presentation of everything is perfect.
- Things HatedSometimes it tries too hard. It's definitely not a game for everyone. Can get frustrating at times.
- RecommendationThere's three things this game has a lot of: Comedy, zombies and up-skirts. If you love any of those, then buy this game.
- Name: Lollipop Chainsaw
- Genre: Action Comedy
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
- Publisher: Warners Bros Interactive
- Price: R 500
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
At first glance it might be pretty difficult to place Lollipop Chainsaw. You would be forgiven for mistaking this game for a cutesy, fluffy, [other really nauseating words here] sort of game akin to Barbie or some shit. But in doing so, you wouldn’t be further from the truth.
See, Lollipop Chainsaw is a game of its own that I’ve struggled to firmly place alongside something else. It’s got two very contrasting core themes; that of zombies and a pending apocalypse (kind of), and that of cheerleaders and a blonde innocence in the protagonist.
Juliet Starling is celebrating her eighteenth birthday and on her way to school, discovers that her high school together with the rest of town has gone undead, after a jealous shut-out named Swann decides he’d like to take over and exact revenge on all those who rejected him. Juliet however, has a secret: she comes from a family of zombie hunters. Wielding what can only be described as the most fabulous chainsaw in existence, she sets about the task of first finding her boyfriend Nick and then stopping Swann.
When she eventually finds her boyfriend, what greets her is a zombie who ends up biting him, forcing her to… and I’m being serious here, decapitate her boyfriend and place his head on a plaque using magic that allows him to stay alive as she carries him around with her.
And that’s just the beginning of the madness…
To call this game a trip would be an understatement. To call this game a Suda51 title… would be just about right. If you played Shadows of the Damned last year then you would instantly recognise a lot of this game. The style of humour, the quirky side-kick character, the deeper underlying mechanics in play, hell even the graphics, game engine and subtitles look identical in places. This feels like Shadows of the Damned in pink.
The story has been co-written by Hollywood veteran James Gunn and while at times it goes for your heartstrings, for the most part it’s just downright silly, though very well strung together nonetheless, with Suda’s influence available for all and sundry to see. It won’t last you forever but that’s not really the point of the game in any case. It still manages to be entertaining enough in its own rights to justify more playthroughs after the first is complete, and you’re going to need those.
The thing about Lollipop Chainsaw is that while it’s a singleplayer game with a story mode, at its core it is actually a score attack game. Each chapter is represented by a stage and depending on how quickly you run through them, could take anywhere between forty minutes to an hour and a bit to complete. There are six of these, seven if you count the prologue. Finishing the stage the first time through unlocks that stage for ranking mode, which keeps count of various things and then ranks and compares your final score to that of the world, friends, and Juliet’s Dad, which you may consider to be the in-game gold star ranking.
To that extent multiple playthroughs are not just an option but encouraged. It’s score attack meets survival horror meets comedy meets teeny-pop, where you will kill zombies with a chainsaw while rainbow blood shoots out of their lacerations. And I love it.
The game plays out in a third person view, very much like you are accustomed to from say, Devil May Cry, Darksiders, Dante’s Inferno or that other game on the PlayStation 3. Levels are linear and at times very constricted with some set indoors while others take the carnage outside and they range from typical American high school hallways to old abandoned farm yards to truly psychedelic you won’t even believe the shit that is being shown to you at this moment in time… things.
Juliet can either attack with her chainsaw for heavy attacks or with, wait for it, pom-poms, for light attacks. The idea is to combine your light attacks with heavy attacks in order to group zombies together and kill them off in tandem, causing you to go into what’s called sparkle hunting mode, which gives you bonus zombie medals (gold or platinum) depending on how many zombies you kill with a single attack.
These zombie medals can then be used at an in-game shop called the Chop2Shop to upgrade Juliet’s body — mind out of the gutter, guys — or purchase attacks and combos with gold medals, and buy outfits — again, focus — or music or concept art using platinum medals. The former three constitute collectibles of which there are a few in this game, including phone calls, lollipop wrappers and even unique zombie characters who each come with their own little back stories, such as the school’s quarterback who was known for being a great guy, loved by all, especially the guys he sucked off in the locker rooms.
Maximising the amount of medals you earn, together with not dying, being speedy and achieving various smaller objectives, all come together to determine your final score for that level. You can then compare that score with friends or try for a better score. There’s also four difficulties, with the latter only being unlocked upon game completion and certain collectibles only being available on higher difficulties. Further, once you’re done with the story mode, you can go into the ranking mode which removes checkpoints and allows three different methods of scoring, be it time, medals or pure score. Like Crazy Taxi, but with zombies.
Now that the nitty gritty is out of the way, let’s get back to decapitated heads and zombie-fighting cheerleaders. Once again, Lollipop Chainsaw is positively bonkers. It is outrageously mental and you get the feeling that, while this might be one of his more grounded offerings, Suda51 really needs to lay off the LSD for a bit.
But it works. It works so well, it’s actually scary the emotions that this game will evoke within you. There was a point in the game when I was trying for an achievement and try as I might, it wasn’t happening, forcing constant restarting. But I was laughing. In my frustration, I was reloading the game while laughing to myself. What other games make frustration fun? And not in that masochistic way either. This game is just pure, no-fuss, no-frills, balls-up fun. It’s a blast to play.
What I love about Suda51 is that he doesn’t shy away from presenting characters that break stigmas and stereotypes. In Shadows of the Damned we had this hardened Mexican protagonist who embodied machismo but deep down was a devoted and true lover to the end. Here we have a ditsy, almost nauseatingly air-headed blonde female who wears skimpy cheerleader shorts (tip: try looking up her skirt with the camera and enjoy the lols thereafter) and is probably the only person in the game to not swear, yet she somehow manages to be cool after a while. Just how does he do it?
Juliet and Nick are constantly talking between each other and their interactions are hilarious, much like Garcia and Johnson from Shadows of the Damned. Here, Nick doubles up as a power-up possibility which you use through what’s called Nick tickets (don’t ask) that enable you to play a game called Nick roulette (seriously, don’t ask) which rolls a number of power-ups for you to select. Some offer damage possibilities, others offer zombie medals and lollipops which Juliet consumes to heal herself. Call them the med-kits of this game. Nick also doubles up as an aid during the various stages where Juliet, using magic, props him onto a blue zombie and then a quick-time-event sequence plays out as she cheers him on, while he performs some random task.
That’s probably something worth mentioning now. This game has quick time events everywhere. Whether it’s using Nick to get past an obstacle, fighting boss battles, or just regularly navigating through the stages. There is a lot of QTE in this game. Make your peace, because for the most part it’s fun and enjoyable rather than a pain each time.
Apart from Nick, Juliet also has her rather foul-mouthed family along for the ride, with her elder sister Cordelia providing sniper support and her younger sister Rosalind just fucking everything up that she possibly can, and her dad the legendary zombie hunter who helps to coordinate tactics and look cool while riding a gigantic bike. They also provide her with ‘birthday presents’ that upgrade Juliet’s chainsaw, which can double up as a, vehicle, of sorts, I can’t really explain that one, and also a projectile blaster. Do yourself a favour and turn off auto-aim because it is atrociously badly done in the game. Every now and again after filling up a bar, you may then go into a super chainsaw mode which allows instant-killing of zombies to the backing track of, “Hey Mickey.” True story.
Lollipop Chainsaw has everything I look for in a game. It’s got the playful immaturity of someone who is mature but nevertheless doesn’t give a fuck. It’s got the tongue-in-cheek humour of someone who is quite possibly mentally deranged. It’s got up-skirts… just kidding, but really. And it’s got good gameplay and polish (featuring a few big names in the credits) for when the rest of the game is clearly trying too hard and you just need to kill things in the meantime.
Make no mistake, though you are a lollipop-sucking cheerleader with her boyfriend’s head bouncing off her — admittedly sexy — ass, you will feel cool playing this game. Not badass Devil May Cry cool sure, but suitably awesome nonetheless.
This game does not take itself seriously but it is a very seriously outstanding offering that might seem at first like a gross objectification of women, but will grow on you until you realise that really the only person in this game being objectified is Nick. The boss battles are all unique and interesting and saying any more would yield amazing spoilers that I wouldn’t want for anyone, while the characters all treat Juliet as you would expect — hostiles call her a bitch or a slut, family treats her like family, etc. — which is the least you could ask of a game featuring a female protagonist, especially considering that you then proceed to kick half of those characters’ teeth in. With a chainsaw.