Suda51 is well known to fans of oddball Japanese games. Self-referential, crude, and clever, his titles have included such hits as killer7, the No More Heroes series, and more recently Shadows of the Damned. His latest is a world where zombies are plentiful, and all that stands between them and ultimate chaos is a size 2 cheerleader.
It seems as if the conceptual artists drew themes and elements out of a hat and had to make a game based on what came out. Zombies… a chainsaw… and… cheerleaders. As ridiculous as it sounds Lollipop Chainsaw manages to mash this together into a game that bears some resemblance to its developer’s last few titles. These are games that entertain through crudeness and humour.
As ought to be expected from development studio Grasshopper Manufacture, the story is exuberant and over the top. Juliet Starling is a zombie hunter and senior in San Remo High School, who is suddenly forced into a world in which zombies have taken over her school, her mall and most of her hometown. Juliet spends her birthday battling to find her boyfriend, Nick, who is bitten and infected by a zombie. So she does what any of us would surely do: sever his head and attach it to her belt. Our heroine then battles zombies and their dark overlords through San Remo in order to restore balance to the world.
Along the way she meets characters - all of whom have distinctive personalities, apart from the minor NPCs that need constant saving. The banter between Juliet and Nick is comical and enjoyable, but awkward holes can be found in almost every other conversation. From time to time, Juliet’s phone, which is attached to her chainsaw, rings with an ally on the other line. Sometimes the information is useful and sometimes it’s filler but the conversation is almost always one-sided. The experience is hardly engaging and feels unnatural.
The unbeating heart of Lollipop Chainsaw is mindless hack and slash. The four face buttons are awkwardly mapped, with no proper option to create personal configuration. The jump button, which is crucial in a fight against multiple opponents, is permanently mapped to the “O” button, while “X” is assigned to the low chainsaw swipe. The layout is odd and can take time to adjust for players that are used to jumping with the “X” button. This may seem like a minor gripe, but it pays to execute jumps at the right time in order to avoid incoming attacks and minimise health loss. The most effective strategy for staying alive is to get in a few hits, jump over an opponent then get a few more hits in. Coins are awarded according to the type of kill executed, so the more zombies killed in a single swipe the more coins accrued.
Zombie types are few and far between. Most can be killed with a long pre-purchased combo, whereas some explode, or have high health. The bosses serve are rare highlights as fighting them is where combat strategies show some variety - though not enough. Each boss has multiple forms and can be defeated by chipping away at its health until the final move, which is a furious button mash. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, but unfortunately the formula never changes. Difficulty is not progressive in any way. Some bosses early in the game present a modicum of challenge whereas some of the ones towards the end are ridiculously easy.
The game tries to shake things up with varied modes of play throughout levels. For example, early in her adventure, Juliet gains a rather incongruous shooting ability for her chainsaw. This uses the shoulder buttons, like a typical shooter, and becomes a vital addition to combat. It also plays an important role in a few boss fights. There are also minigames spread throughout levels that feel too cheap to be of any value. Occasionally, blue coloured headless bodies will appear for Juliet to place Nick’s head onto. Once Nick’s head is on a body a minigame initiates, with fast-paced quick-time events. The body that Nick uses then moves in rhythm to the button presses to help clear a path to the next area. Watching Juliet get her pompoms out and cheer for Nick provides passing entertainment, but the the actual sequence and its poor animation makes it all very dull. Once the body Nick controls is of no use his head returns to Juliet’s side in what can only be described as lazy animation.
Other minigames, such as the farm tractor mode, offer a fraction more more enjoyment. Juliet sits on a tractor and mows down a target number of zombies as fast as she can. Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” plays as background music, making this whole sequence an instant win, but it's the exception.
Speaking of background music, there are some choice selections to be found throughout. Tony Basil’s “Hey Mickey”, which is a classic cheerleader anthem makes a predictable if welcome appearance. Pandering to gaming's latest audio trend, Skrillex also provides a drop for dubstep fans. The rest of the original music in the game varies from spectrums of punk rock to Bollywood. For a game that isn’t centred on music, Lollipop Chainsaw sure does a great job in the audio department.
The level that shines the most in Lollipop is towards the end. It pays tribute to Suda51’s previous title, No More Heroes. Minigames in this level are plentiful, and are actually fun to play as they’re based on the well-loved 8-bit era of video gaming. The overall experience here is the highlight of Lollipop Chainsaw.
Don’t expect longevity. The main campaign can be completed in six hours, however, there are speed runs and leader boards to hoping to entice players back for more. The ending is perhaps the greatest disappointment, particularly following its lacklustre lead up. The battles prior to the last level prove to be far better designed and executed than the finale itself.
There is no doubt Lollipop Chainsaw is heavily marketed to be an indulgent romp through pop culture and appeal to our baser sensibilities. But once the façade of plastic fantastic is stripped away the game has to survive on basic combo repetitions and mediocre game play.
combos. Lazy animation throughout repeated scenes. Volatile difficulty curve, early bosses seem harder than later ones.