Lollipop Chainsaw: rarely has a game’s name so accurately summarised the madness contained within. There are lollipops. There are chainsaws. There are also talking severed heads, ludicrously revealing cheerleading outfits, borderline-illegal motorboating and more decapitations than you can shake a petrol-powered death-dealing horror-weapon at. It’s business as usual for Suda 51.
Following on from the success of Shadows of the Damned, Grasshopper Manufacture has continued their unique brand of twisted insanity by mashing together a stereotypical American high school drama with flesh-munching zombie mayhem. It’s a combination forged in the very darkest pits of hell and somehow, inexplicably, it is one of the funniest games of the year so far.
The game follows the newly 18 year-old Juliet Starling as her birthday is ruined by the forces of the undead invading her school from the aptly named Rotten World. Not only have her friends been partially eaten but her boyfriend, Nick, is also bitten, forcing her to remove his head. Thankfully, Juliet is a trained zombie hunter, along with the rest of her unusual family, and manages to keep Nick’s severed head alive using a magic spell. The emotional rollercoaster ride sees her torso-less squeeze attempting to come to terms with his newly found weight loss program and struggle to keep their relationship going.
This being a Suda 51 game, these reanimated corpses aren’t your run-of-the-mill human-chewing cadavers. These are zombies ruled over by a group of 5 rock and roll themed undead bosses. In a brilliant design choice and each stage of the game is themed appropriately to a different genre of rock or metal. Levels are varied enough to include a funk-style stage in a giant arcade and a Viking metal themed set of levels taking place during an apocalyptic thunderstorm. Each boss character is a wonderful stereotype of their respective music genre and their character introductions are wonderfully dark and comic.
Visually, the game excels with a vibrant colour palette bringing Juliet and her gore-spattered foes vividly to life (or death, respectively). Lollipop Chainsaw has a very distinct feel to it, with the tongue-in-cheek humour complementing the outlandish graphics perfectly. Flashes of rainbows litter the screen as you sever limbs and dismember corpses, creating darkly comic, violent slapstick.
Gameplay largely consists of rather standard hack and slash combat. Juliet has two primary methods of attack: fast but lightweight cheerleading moves that can gather zombies together and stun them and slower, more powerful chainsaw slashes. Using her acrobatic jumping abilities and her cheerleading skills, it is possible to herd multiple zombies into bunches, making them easy to dispatch in a group. While this not only triggers an eye-popping cut-scene it also rewards you with more “Zombie Medals”, the in-game currency.
Lollipop Chainsaw’s combat is ultimately rather disappointing, especially for a game with a basis in the hack and slash genre. While new moves and abilities can be purchased or unlocked as the game progresses, fights always feel similar from start to finish. Many times, enemies will spawn in waves and you merely have to slay a required number before you can move ahead. For a game that experiments with its characters and storytelling, it’s a shame the gameplay itself is so routine.
Thankfully there is some variety thrown in to break up the monotony of dispatching standard zombies. There are some quirky, if brief, mini-games required to progress that often parody classic games. Similarly, during combat Juliet can also access some of Nick’s newly found magical powers, which can be accessed by purchasing “Nick Tickets”. These act in a similar manner to the “Dark Side” mechanic in No More Heroes, letting you gamble for a quick boost in combat. While it is only a small diversion, it is a solid addition and helps during larger fights.
Lollipop Chainsaw really delivers during its set pieces and boss battles, with such insane character designs the developers have had plenty of time to conjure up equally ludicrous end-of-stage showdowns. Whether you are dodging gigantic words which spell out “COCKSUCKER” or bisecting an overlord in gruesome close-up, bosses feel fun and challenging. Fortunately there isn’t the frankly obscene difficulty curve present in Shadows of the Damned and reaching the end of the game is testing but never feels unfair.
Once again Akira Yamaoka has delivered a masterful soundtrack that not only fits the game superbly but stands up strongly on its own merits. Each rock and roll zombie overlord’s stage is themed according to their respective musical genre and the accompanying score is never less than astounding. From classic 70s psychedelic rock to ear-blistering metal, Lollipop Chainsaw’s soundtrack consistently delivers and it is a crime that Grasshopper Manufacture are yet to issue a complete version as a standalone CD release. The game also features a healthy selection of licensed tracks, all of which are used cheekily, most notably its musical namesake “Lollipop”.
Sadly Lollipop Chainsaw offers very limited replay value, as once the story is done and dusted it is virtually the end of the experience. While it is possible to replay the stages in a scoring, ranking mode, the chances are you won’t feel it necessary. There are some new zombies, costumes and songs to unlock but most of these will only be seen by die-hard completionists. When you combine this restricted replayability with combat that can get slightly tiresome, it is hard to see many people getting more than 8-10 hours from the game, which is a real shame.
As the game progresses minor annoyances will also begin to appear more consistently. During larger battles and in tighter corners the camera can be a real nuisance, obscuring Juliet and letting zombies get plenty of cheap attacks in. Similarly, at times camera control is removed completely, without explanation, which can lead to some frustrating deaths. During the initial playthrough, the game’s audio also faded in and out especially character’s voices, so playing with subtitles on is recommended.
Despite these flaws, Lollipop Chainsaw displays the flair and freshness that fans have come to expect from a Suda 51 game. The writing is always sharp, funny and usually contains plenty of dark humour and references to classic horror films and bands. The energy and enthusiasm displayed is infectious, much like the zombie opponents. It is very hard not to be drawn into the constant, unrelenting madness that assaults your senses from the start. As ever, it is difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Lollipop Chainsaw or warn gamers away from it. If you aren’t a fan of the quirky and unusual, then this title is unlikely to change that and you may feel frustrated at the often puerile and silly humour. Likewise, if you’re a Suda 51 fan there is plenty here to enjoy, but be prepared for a little disappointment in the combat and camera.
Lollipop Chainsaw dares to be different and has no shame in wearing its B-movie credentials on the impossibly short skirt of its cheerleading protagonist. It’s bloody, ridiculous, loud, brash and has a sequence where you drive over fields full of zombies in a combine harvester to the 1980s song “You Spin Me Around (Like a Record)”. It has its fair share of faults but the manic enthusiasm with which it throws jokes, enemies and cheerleaders at you is enough to win over anyone with a sense of humour.
- Insane and hilarious story
- Amazing soundtrack from Akira Yamaoka
- Challenging and fun boss battles
- Combat can become tiresome
- Limited replay value
- Camera issues plague fights in tight spaces