Lollipop Chainsaw Review
Lollipop Chainsaw is utterly ridiculous. But it revels in that ridiculousness; it embraces it and adds continual heaping helpings of cheese and corn. Juliet Starling is almost as ditzy as she is busty, her boyfriend is a severed head that hangs on her hip (or more accurately, right over her ass), and Swan is the “emo” My Chemical Romance reject who wants to see the world burn. And on Juliet’s 18th birthday, too. Yeah. It’s like that.
Graphically, not much stands out here. The environmental detail is only okay, the animations are decent, and the level design is a little above average. But the character design – especially where the bosses are concerned – is excellent; it’s highly imaginative and strangely compelling (in that you always want to see the next major foe). The special effects are another big plus, as Kadokawa amazingly combines cutesy stuff like stars and coins with copious amounts of blood. It’s a mixed bag but above all else, the atmosphere shines through beautifully.
The sound features licensed music like “Cherry Bomb” by the incomparable Joan Jett and “Mickey,” the 80s pop classic by Toni Basil that ran incessantly for an extended period of time. There’s also a healthy collection of hard rock tracks to accentuate your zombie slaying. The voice performances are hit or miss; they aren’t bad and I get the nod to B-movie cheesiness but in many cases, the actors and actresses could’ve been a lot better. There’s also an audio balancing issue between the crisp, dazzling effects, voices, and music, which probably isn’t surprising. This isn’t exactly a technical triumph.
But it is a triumph of…um…well, I’m not sure. A triumph of something. There are obvious problems; the camera can go all screwy in tight spaces, the control isn’t as responsive as I would’ve liked, and too much of the game feels cramped. I love linear adventures and I will always support them, but this is so tight it almost feels like an on-rails quest. Then there are the painfully bad pieces of dialogue that make a vain attempt at hilarity and fall depressingly flat. So perhaps using the word “triumph” is overreaching or perhaps even inaccurate.
I don’t know, though. The game strikes the right chord and that chord doesn’t lose its appeal; it stays in tune throughout and somehow manages to remain pleasing and amusing. You start in cheerleader Juliet Starling’s bedroom, where she’s stretching before her day. She takes a shower, too, but as this game is about innuendo and titillation rather than nudity and sex, you’re not seeing much. She tells us it’s her 18th birthday and she’s a little worried about her boyfriend Nick meeting her family, because they’ve got a pretty big secret.
After Juliet arrives at school and finds zombies running amok, you quickly learn that she and the rest of her family are big-time zombie hunters. And that’s probably why Juliet carries a huge chainsaw that she knows how to wield; combined with her acrobatic ability, she’s a one-woman slicing-and-dicing machine. Her older sister Cordelia prefers the long-range rifle, but I won’t give anything else away. Let’s just say Juliet’s family does play a significant role in the story and that story is masterfully written, presented, and acted. …okay, no it isn’t.
But it’s always funny. You really can’t go ten minutes without grinning at something. Let’s see— There’s the random pole in the classroom, around which Juliet swings and mashes oncoming zombies. The blatant nod to stripping isn’t quite so obvious, though, as her movements are more effective than sexy. Oh, and then you play basketball with zombie heads; cut ‘em off and send them up to the hoop. You’ll play baseball, too, but that involves shooting zombies while Nick’s head tries to make it around the diamond three times. Yes, he has the help of a zombie body when attempting this seemingly arbitrary act.
There’s the Nick Ticket, which is a form of roulette; if you win, you can put Nick’s head on a chain and swing it around your head for big damage. You can fill up Juliet’s Star meter and when complete, you can unleash and hope for big rewards amidst large groups of zombies (during which time, “Mickey” is playing in the background). There’s a QTE mini game when you put Nick’s head on a blue zombie and have him perform a task, like opening up a pathway. Juliet uses her pom-poms and kicks to stun zombies, at which point they’re easier to decapitate.
Then there are the bosses, which – if you’re familiar with Shadows of the Damned – are definitely a huge selling point. I don’t want to give these away as part of the fun is coming across them and going, “oh, what the hell.” The boss characters are just so well drawn and so over-the-top. I’ll give one example: The first is Zed, the punk rocker who loves to scream and say nasty things about the “dirty whore” who’s trying to kill him. He even tosses huge letters that spell out “cocksucker” at Juliet as she’s trying to track him down. The funniest part about that? We’re not even sure Juliet is offended.
She does, however, get pissed. She bounces back and forth between cheerfully ditzy and petulantly annoyed, which gets a little tiresome but it fits her character. Nick seems a trifle too smart to be her boyfriend but I’ll let that go. As for the gameplay, you kill zombies. Lots of them. And at first, I was disappointed because it looked like a somewhat simple, even potentially tedious, rinse-and-repeat situation. But the developers are far too inventive to fall into that trap, as each stage brings something new; I just cited some of the crazy crap you’ll be doing. They really keep things fresh.
Juliet learns new combos if you buy them with the coins you collect. You can also purchase stat upgrades as well as new outfits, which are unsurprisingly sassy and revealing. The combos aren’t too hard to pull off and they’re awfully effective. However, I have a few issues with the combat. First off is the fact that the regular chainsaw strikes are relatively slow, which takes some getting used to. Secondly, you’re supposed to make zombies “groggy” by stunning them with fast pom-pom strikes and kicks, but such attacks leave you wide open.
It’s a little annoying, because the more zombies you can decapitate in one swipe, the better your score will be. “Sparkle” kills happen when you nail three or more zombies at once, and that yields big coin rewards. The only problem is that I never felt like using the fast attacks in a big group as I was preoccupied with not getting trashed. However, this being said, the game isn’t brutally hard and provided you remain relatively careful, you’ll usually have a stock of lollipops, which are used to replenish health. All in all, the fighting only suffers from camera eccentricities and what sometimes feels like a lack of responsiveness. Other than that, it’s a blast.
It’s tough to recommend the game to the majority of gamers, because it really depends on your viewpoint. If you’re not interested in the cheesy and the campy, don’t bother. If you have a problem with the protagonist (for whatever reason), that’s understandable. Plus, I get the feeling that those who want it already know what to expect and don’t need my approval. It’s unashamed, unapologetic, and both solid and surprisingly creative. It just isn’t for everyone and the obvious issues definitely hold the game back, which is unfortunate.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a hefty slice of innuendo-laden, blood-soaked frippery. I’m taking “frippery” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” because only someone like Roald Dahl (or maybe Dr. Seuss) could accurately describe this production. It’s not strange or quirky, though; it’s just over-the-top in a very specific way…and I know you know what way that is. …damn, what a terrible sentence. Okay, I’m done here. Juliet Starling awaits.
The Good: Really cool effects. Solid audio. Great boss design, both graphically and gameplay-wise. Accessible, effective combat combos. Well-paced and entertaining. Oversexed, overly violent atmosphere/style never apologizes for itself and never wavers.
The Bad: Audio balancing issues. Camera can be a definite problem. Some painful dialogue that misses the mark. Control and fighting can feel slow or unresponsive.
The Ugly: “This game makes the ugly hilarious.”
6/12/2012 Ben Dutka