Lollipop Chainsaw Review (360/PS3)
Suda 51 makes a Suda 51 game.
Sometimes a game reminds you of a person you know. Some games are like the best friend you had in high school—a little predictable, but fun to hang out with. They might flash a bit of a wild streak every now and again, but both feet remain planted firmly on solid ground. Think kart racers, mascot brawlers, side-scrolling platformers—you might have a blast but you pretty much know what to expect.
Grasshopper Manufacture’s Lollipop Chainsaw is not that friend. Grasshopper Manufacture’s Lollipop Chainsaw is more like the crazy roommate you had in college that wears you out, shocks you into laughter with inappropriate comments, and makes you seriously consider attending church every morning after.
The collaborative brainchild of designer Suda 51 (Shadows of the Damned, No More Heroes) and writer/filmmaker James Gunn (Slither, Super), Lollipop Chainsaw charms as often as it offends. In case the name didn’t give it away, Lollipop Chainsaw is utterly ridiculous and principally stupid—a description I write with affection. Juliet Starling is a zombie hunter, but don’t think she’s weird, okay? The chipper cheerleader comes from a family of zombie hunters, but all Juliet really cares about is her loving boyfriend and having a good 18th birthday. But a tiny little zombie apocalypse crashes the party, and now it’s up to Juliet to send a legion of undead douchebags back to the Rotten World from whence they came.
Juliet’s high school, San Romero High, is under attack and no one is safe. Her boyfriend Nick is attacked and her classmates are being munched on left and right. Along with Nick’s now-decapitated-but-magically-preserved head, Juliet sets out with her trusty chainsaw to do battle with a bevy of zombie goths, vikings and rockers. Lollipop Chainsaw is an arcade-style hack ‘n slash at heart, meaning you’ll unleash torrents of button-mashing combos. Prepare to do a lot of zombie hunter bob-and-weaves, as dodging is crucial to succeeding. Juliet can smack zombies around with her pom-poms to make them groggy before going head-on for easy decapitations with her chainsaw. Killing three or more zombies at once is called “Sparkle Hunting,” and Juliet gets coins for triggering the rainbow-filled kill-fest. Money earned can be used to buy more moves to add to Juliet’s repertoire, extra costumes or music tracks. After each stage you’ll receive a report card based on how long it took you to complete the level, how many times you died and other stats for zombie sabermetricians to pore over.
Basic battles during each stage can get repetitive and a little boring at times, but the game does try its best to shake things up. Mini games range from navigating retro, blocky obstacles courses to a game of basketball with decapitated zombie heads. Nick is especially useful in the mini game department, as his lack of a body makes him perfect for tossing around or latching onto headless zombies. But mini games aren’t always a successful venture; they sometimes feel forced or out of place. Navigating Nick’s head on a zombie body, for example, is a simple series of button clicks. Not especially difficult, but not really innovative, either. The game is fairly unforgiving, though, so screwing up a mini game will send you back to the nearest checkpoint. One of Lollipop’s more frustrating aspects is its lack of mid-level save. You’ll either have to clear the level or, frustratingly enough, begin it again. If you’re looking for quick play, go somewhere else.
The game is separated into several different zones with each culminating in a final boss battle. Each undead foe is more over the top than the last, including battle vikings and auto-tuned funk zombies. The bosses tend to be even more foul-mouthed than their lesser counterparts, and the spotlight gives them even more room to offend. This brings up another serious concern about this game—Lollipop pulls no verbal punches, and it’s occasionally unnerving to swallow the many misogynistic insults the game loves to throw at you. It’s not just that the game’s language is offensive; a few insults never hurt anyone. But you’ll hear “bitch”, “slut”, “whore” and so very much more so often that it starts to seem unnecessary, and in a way, tragically comical. If you can shrug them off, they do make delivering the coup d’état via whirring blades all the more satisfying. Each boss is finished off with frantic button mashing as you slice through your rotten nemeses for good.
Almost as sharp as Juliet’s chainsaw is the game’s wit—for the most part. Lollipop Chainsaw continuously teeters between hilarious one-liners and DOA shtick. While Nick’s quips are enjoyable throughout, whether he’s bemoaning his missing body or talking goth smack (such as with my personal favorite line, “You wear all that makeup to hide your indistinct chin”), the game’s sexually-charged humor predictably fails to get a rise out of anyone over the age of 10. It’s questionable as to why it’s even included—the M rating might stand for mature, which is one of the last words I’d use to describe this game’s humor. Moments like the appearance of a pole for Juliet to twirl on are oddly placed and unnecessary, especially since the character is a high school cheerleader and not a two-dollar stripper. And that’s not to say that sexual humor has no place in games; rather, there’s a fine line between doing it and doing it right. And when done right, it can be brilliant.
Jarring moments aside, Lollipop’s most pleasant surprise lies in its music. The game seamlessly mixes punk, rock and pop to create the perfect zombie-killing soundtrack. Where tracks such as Sleigh Bells’ “Riot Rhythm” and quintessential cheerleader jam “Mickey” by Toni Basil keep the action light and fun, rock anthems from Five Finger Death Punch and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts can really fuel your chainsaw. Even Skrillex has a place in Lollipop’s musical madness.
Similar to its musical charm are the game’s artistic quirks. Between its sparkles and rainbows are comic book bits and retro references that add to the overall Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel of it all. Lollipop is a gory grindhouse flick meets Scott Pilgrim with a pinch of Sailor Moon. If you can appreciate nothing else about this game, you should at least spare a nod to its undeniable style.
In many ways, Lollipop’s greatest strengths often go hand-in-hand with its greatest weaknesses. Quirky, original boss fights are weighed down by repetitive gameplay. Its campaign is painfully short—five to six hours, generally—but its replay value is high. All the sparkles, lollipops and bubblegum tunes in the world can’t make up for the game’s offensively geared language, or its unnecessary sexual presence. But it feels strange to ask “why?” when so much of the game already asks “why not?” And when you sit down to play Lollipop Chainsaw, it’s a question you have to keep asking yourself. We’ve already come this far—so why not? Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that carries itself in the most flamboyant manner possible, sawing a viking in half with a chainsaw on one hand while brandishing a lollipop and a wink in the other. It’s not perfect, but then again, the game doesn’t try to be. All it asks is that you wink back.
Lollipop Chainsaw was developed by Grasshopper Manufacture and published by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment. Our review is based on the Xbox 360 verison. It is also available for the PlayStation 3.
Megan Farokhmanesh is a journalism student at the University of Missouri and a freelancer for various corners of the Internet. She loves Tina Fey, sandwiches and falling off her bike around town. Shout things at her via the twitter machine @Megan_Nicolett