Once again I found myself finishing a game before I’ve even did a First Impression. Part of the reason behind it is because Lollipop Chainsaw is a pretty short game, but another part was because it was so bizarre that once I got into it I couldn’t put it down. If you’re familiar with Suda 51’s previous works, you probably have some idea of what to expect. Campiness, craziness & a bunch of other -nesses. So how does this game fare?
In Lollipop Chainsaw you play as Juliet Starling, an eighteen-year-old blond cheerleader with a zombie-slaying family. On her birthday, Juliet finds her school overrun with zombies. She learns that one of the school’s outcasts, Swan, has broken the barrier between Earth & Rotten World (the game world’s equivalent of Hell), releasing a gas that turns people into zombies. Swan also summons five Dark Purveyors to complete a ritual to spread the zombie curse to the entire town. Juliet, along with her boyfriend Nick whom Juliet turned into a sentient talking head to save him from the zombie virus, has to work together with Juliet’s family to stop them.
The game has an arcadey, hack-&-slash feel to it. The game scores you based on a variety of factors, such as time to complete a level, coins collected, damage dealt, etc. Juliet has three main forms of attack. Her pom-pom attacks are quick & do little damage, but are useful for stunning zombies. She also has two chainsaw attacks, one high & one low. As you decapitate zombies you earn medals & stars. The medals are used to purchase power-ups, new combos, costumes & music. Stars build up on a Sparkle Meter, which when full allows Juliet to go into Sparkle Mode & one-hit most enemies. You can also pick up Nick Tickets that allow you to play Nick Roulette & have a chance to use a special attack with Nick. The game itself is broken up into stages with a boss fight at the end. There are also several mini-games such as Chainsaw Dash, a driving-esque course, Zombie Basketball, where you have to knock zombie heads into the basket, & Zombie Baseball, where you have to protect Nick while he runs around a baseball diamond.
Story: For me, the biggest draw of the story is the characters. They are all so crazy, unique, colorful & loveable. I was surprised at how much I liked Juliet as a character. Sure, she’s your stereotypical ditzy cheerleader, but they don’t overplay that. She comes across mostly as spunky & upbeat. Sometimes ridiculously so. Nick seems to be intended as the straight-man we’re supposed to relate to. He points out all of the weirdness that’s going on around him which Juliet & her family seem immune to. Juliet’s family also have distinct & crazy personalities. But what really sells the characters for me is the way they interact. Juliet & Nick have an almost constant running dialogue that always makes me laugh, usually from a dry comment Nick makes at Juliet’s bubbly dismissal of the strangeness going on. The interactions with the family are also fun & shows that the family really cares about each other. The bosses also have distinct personalities & exchanges with Juliet. Also, although the story isn’t groundbreaking, the craziness makes it interesting & there are some parts that take a more serious tone. One part I really liked was near the end where Nick gets mad at Juliet for cursing him to a life as a decapitated head. It’s a nice moment of character development & gives some depth to Juliet & Nick’s relationship as they work through the dilemma. My only complaint about the story is that they don’t give a lot of attention to Swan, the main villain. You don’t even get to fight him. But they do a pretty good job of fleshing him out & showing his motivation for cursing the school in the short time he’s on-screen. Score: 5
Gameplay: My overall impression of the gameplay aspect is that it’s hit & miss. The combat itself is okay. They try to add variety by having different combos, but I found that you only needed a few to be able to take out the groups of zombies that you’re constantly faced with. Switching between combos can feel stiff & sometimes Juliet takes too long to respond to your commands. The mini-games are the worst offenders. In particular, Zombie Baseball is awful, mainly due to how crappy the Chainsaw Blaster is. I think it’s mostly a problem with the lock-on. The game tells you to aim for the head, but if you get anywhere close to a zombie it automatically locks on to their body. The lock-on itself seems a bit fiddly, often locking-on to empty air in the opposite direction of where the zombie actually is. Some of the other mini-games fare better. The combine section in Stage 3 & the retro sections in Stage 4 were a lot of fun. The game also makes use of a lot of Quick-time Events. As is usually the case, this involves a bit of trial & error, but usually the game gives you enough time to respond. However, if you mess up it’s usually an instant game over, but at least the game has generous checkpoints & typically puts you right before the event. The highlight of the game is the boss battles. Each boss has their own crazy strategy & involves several stages. But the strategies all come rather intuitively. It might take you a couple of seconds to figure out what you’re supposed to be doing but you’ll get it. So overall while the boss battles are well done & it has some inventive sections, the repetitive combat & frustrating mini-games drag it down. Score: 3
Visuals & Audio: Both the graphics & soundtrack for Lollipop Chainsaw are top-notch. The visuals draw heavily from comics. Characters have strong outlines & are cell-shaded. If you look closely you can see the pointillism-style from old comics. The graphics have a nice flare to them, & watching rainbows & stars shoot out from zombies’ heads was oddly stimulating. I couldn’t help thinking that this is the mostly girly action game I’ve ever played. The soundtrack is downright awesome. It features a mix of punk, rock, retro & other licensed songs. The best part is that you can customize your soundtrack. Some of the contributing artists are Five Finger Death Punch, Akira Yamaoka, and Dead or Alive. So in spite of the girly appearance & the fact that Hey Mickey plays when you go into Sparkle Mode, it has a pretty gritty soundtrack. The only downside is that you can only have five tracks in your list. The voice acting is pretty good as well, although Juliet’s high-pitched voice could grate on some people’s nerves. Score: 5
Replayability: Moderate. The game is pretty short. It only has seven stages &, excluding the Prologue, they’re about an hour to complete the first time. Once you complete a stage you can play it any time you want in both story & timed or ranked modes for a better score or more money to unlock stuff. The game also has two endings & you have to save all of your classmates before fighting the final boss to get the good ending, so you may have to replay some levels but it isn’t too hard to get the good ending the first time around. The only unlockables that I felt were worth it were some of the costumes, most of the best ones you can only get after beating the game. So basically if you’re going to relay it it’ll be for the story & boss fights & not for the unlockables or scores. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: Lollipop Chainsaw is a fun & quirky yet short & flawed ride. If you like the hack-&-slash style, are a fan of Suda’s work or are just looking for a bit of mindless fun, I think it’s worth a rent.
Title: Lollipop Chainsaw
Console: 360 & PS3
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacturer
Publishers: Kadokawa Games & Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: June 12, 2012