GAME NAME: Lollipop Chainsaw
DEVELOPER(S): Grasshopper Manufacture
PUBLISHER(S): Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
PLATFORM(S): Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 15 June 2012
Suda 51 is a strange sort of guy and he makes some very different games. His latest gaming outing revolves around one Juliet Starling, a very stereotyped (in some ways) and unique (in other ways) cheerleader who is part of the family business. That business is killing zombies and/or other undead or mythical monsters. For the purposes of Lollipop Chainsaw, zombies will suffice. The result is a game that is either offensive to women, due to the amount of time the camera dwells on Juliet’s underwear/cleavage/other bits, or a very clever inversion of gender-specific horror tropes (with added fan service). We strongly suspect that both are correct.
The story goes: High-school cheerleader Juliet has just turned 18 and is off to meet her boyfriend Nick for presents and planning for the first time that he meets her family. An unfortunate zombie outbreak puts paid to that, infecting Nick and necessitating the removal of said boyfriend’s head, which is kept alive through a magic ritual. What follows is a confrontation with the demonic emo kid at school, the arrival of rock music-themed zombie bosses and a whole lot of oddity in small-town America. You know, that old chestnut.
Players are not going to be ambivalent about Lollipop Chainsaw. They’ll either love or hate leading Juliet through linear corridors with predictable zombie encounters, spurred on by some decidedly weird dialogue interspersed with sometimes air-headed observations from the heroine. Gameplay is all combat-based, using cheerleader moves as stun attacks and a bloody great big chainsaw to remove heads, legs and other limbs. Starting out players have a very limited selection of attack options but unlockable combos turn Juliet into an unstoppable killing machine. Other upgrades top up health, strength and recovery stats and these are all paid with using zombie medals, earned by saving classmates, defeating zombies and Sparkle Hunting.
Sparkle Hunting means decapitating three or more zombies with a single strike, earning extra zombie medals and platinum medals which are used to unlock new clothing, concept art and music. It looks how it sounds, players are treated to a sparkly slow-motion shot of their kill. Juliet also unlocks special abilities like Chainsaw Dash (used to race around obstacle courses) and a chainsaw powered baseball cannon for long-range killing. Nick-the-head also spends some time as a weapon, temporary zombie controller and as comic relief, though the strain of being headless is apparent later on in the story. Putting these together makes for interesting approaches to Lollipop‘s enemy mobs and players will have to utilise certain abilities in the much-tougher-than-everything else boss encounters. Players will take on punk-rock, Viking-metal, flower-child, funk and plain-old-rock flavoured zombie bosses before heading into the (much bigger) finale.
Juliet as a character sometimes acts like a stereotyped ditz but this is offset by how she takes the catastrophic events of the game in her stride. All of her family, accomplished zombie hunters in their own right, tend to defer to her judgement, making her the strongest character in the game. Whether this excuses the frequent ‘close-ups’ and unlockable outfits is up to the individual player but the game does call you out for being a perv when certain clothing is selected.
The potential offensiveness is accompanied by a few other negatives. Lollipop Chainsaw is short, around the six hour mark, but there is some replay potential at higher difficulty levels and taking on the global leaderboards. Multiple playthroughs on the same difficulty level offer no alterations on which zombies appear where but things do change when switching to Hard and Very Hard modes, in a very minor way. The linear nature of the game won’t appeal to some players but its no more linear than, say, God of War III.
If you weren’t especially excited about Lollipop Chainsaw before the launch then the game probably won’t justify a full-price purchase. The linearity and short playing time also suggests waiting for a price drop if you’re uncertain. Fans of Suda’s general weirdness won’t feel let down at all if they opt to pick it up now however, bukakke references and all, and as for that whole offensiveness thing… there are far worse things than a girl in a cheerleader’s outfit to get upset about. At least she’s kicking ass.