L-O-L, L-I-P, OOOOO-P!!!.. Chainsaw.
Zombies! Remember those? Well the blighters have gone and decided to trash a San Romero High School, and on the pig-tail sporting barely-legal protagonist Juliet Starling's birthday no less. But have no fear, for Juliet is a chainsaw brandishing, pom-pom packin' zombie hunter. With 'great tits' as I am to believe - that's the game writer's words not mine!
Flaunting the leading heroine as a mix of Buffy Summers and Elvira, with a tint of Princess Robot Bubblegum, Lollipop Chainsaw is very adamant in keeping its decomposing heart on its bloodied sleeve throughout. And like most of Suda 51's games, this is his latest attempts to win you over with its distinctively stylistic aesthetic and brand of humour to make up for the often times middling gameplay. Though like with Shadows of The Damned before it, Lollipop Chainsaw continues to flirt with a future where we may manage to find ourselves with a game brimming with the expected creativity of such games, but also paired with some highly responsive and engaging gameplay. For me, Lollipop Chainsaw doesn't quite straddle that line, but it got closer than I expected.
An action game to the core, Lollipop Chainsaw is somewhat akin to a Devil May Cry game. You'll be swinging your chainsaw around, utilising an increasing number of combos, but you also can't block--least not conventionally--and your main source of defense is to hop around and dodge attacks making use of Juliet's cheerleader physique. But unlike a DMC game, Lollipop Chainsaw isn't quite as smooth, nor does it manage to reach the same level of complexity. Make no mistake, there is depth here, but this is still what I would call a B-Grade character-action game. To further add to my point would be its overall design, technical graphics, and its disappointingly short length.
How the game progresses is like something from a bygone era; each of the seven stages available run through a strictly linear affair with very little dilly dallying otherwise and the way you progress between the primarily static environments is by being pulled through a bombardment of button prompts. It makes the game look like it's split between different battle arenas, rather than as a cohesive world - even by linearity's standards. Sometimes when you need to vault over a broken down bus or wreckage, instead of simply jumping over it all yourself, you have to press the prompts as they appear.
You will also find that you often can't even jump over hand-railings. It makes the environments feel disjointed and the overall lack of interaction with what's around you gives the appearance of an ironically sterile existence, juxtaposed against the amount of life that exudes throughout from the actual characters and the game's UI.
Fortunately the combat manages to pick up the pace. Juliet only has access to just the one primary weapon, her chainsaw, but also has available her fluffy cheerleading pom-poms which you could say alternate between her 'light and heavy' attacks. Though at first, Juliet can't string much together. But as you kill more zombies and gain more 'zombie coins', you'll be able to purchase more and more combos eventually leaving you with a much bigger list of button combinations than you may have expected.
Ordinarily, Juliet uses the triangle button for her primary chainsaw attacks, and square for her pom-pom attacks. Her pom-pom attacks do very little damage, but they're faster and are also helpful in making zombies groggy. Once they find themselves with a crown of stars circling their decaying craniums, it but only takes one chainsaw swipe to kill them. Oh, because yeah, these are actually some pretty sturdy undead we got here. Juliet also has her alternate chainsaw attacks mapped to the cross button, which initially prove most useful for nailing such zombies that have lost their lower regions and are forced to crawl along the floor. Though after some time spent in on chop2shop.zom, the Sterling family's favourite shopping domain, the cross combos proved to become the most useful. Especially for ''sparkle hunting''.
Right, I should probably elaborate. Basically, should you happen to kill multiple zombies at once up from three, you'll have 'sparkle hunted', which rewards you additional regular coins, platinum coins (which are used to buy costumes and other rarer commodities) and will contribute towards your overall score. Though given how uncharacteristically thick the zombies flesh is, it's a wee bit trickier than it sounds. Once you unlock the right combos, however--such as my personal favourite with cross, square, square--then it all eventually starts to fit into a routine. Which is good, because you're going to want to do plenty of sparkle hunting if you want to really get some score recognition.
Eventually Juliet unlocks herself the ability to temporarily charge forward using her chainsaw, and even use her chainsaw as a kind of grenade launcher. The chainsaw dash can be helpful, and some of the particular set-pieces are built around it as you charge up ramps, though the GL isn't quite as enjoyable. It's effective when it works, but its use of sticky-targeting can make aiming at the enemy you want an annoying endeavour; should you find three zombies residing closely next to an explosive barrel, there's a high chance that you'll accidentally kill all of the zombies before you actually shoot the barrel itself. What the game determines as a priority target can work against your favour as well; should you be trying to shoot at the boss currently charging toward you, you'd best hope there's no zombie just that wee bit closer lest you find yourself twirling behind exactly where you want to shoot.
Where the combat counts, however--combining pom-pom & chainsaw attacks--it largely succeeds in giving you enough button combos to be able to tackle most situations and have some fun while doing so. The combat most definitely takes up a lot of Lollipop's time, though there is also the odd occasion where you have to stick the severed head of Juliet's boyfriend, Nick Carlyle, onto a special blue zombie and then cheer him on with button prompts so as he can clear the way. Wait, wha-
One such component that really shines where the gameplay is concerned is the boss battles. The fights themselves are varied and all feature different stages, each requiring different tactics. The boss designs are also fantastic and easily make for some of the most memorable characters out of the game. They all vary across a variety of musical archetypes, including a hippie chick, a Viking Metal Head, and a funky black guy who speaks almost entirely in auto-tune. Talk about Deja-vu.
The actual stages themselves, while as sterile they may be in their interactivity, hold a lot of style plastered across their walls. One such stage featuring the Funk Zombie is home to some of the most memorable gameplay deviations; it really wouldn't be a Suda joint if there weren't some less-than-subtle homages to classic video-games. That are handled kind of poorly, and while they look pretty neat, aren't really all too fun to play. Yup, this has got Suda encased all over it. Goddamn Gondola... The camera can also be somewhat finicky, but by and large, I had a mostly decent time when the gameplay was concerned. But enough to want to go through it all again multiple times on the score hunt? Probably not that much.
What is undoubtedly the game's biggest downfall is its length, which on average probably clocks at around 4-5 hours just on your first run. Lollipop Chainsaw is designed as a score game, but that still doesn't justify the noticeably bare lack of original content. Max Payne 3, a game that features an unlockable score-attack mode with basically the same properties, was double the length of Lollipop Chainsaw yet could still very much be considered a 'score attack game' given its unlockables. Lollipop Chainsaw, while it has a number of equally goofy and raunchy costumes to unlock, isn't a high enough quality product to warrant multiple playthroughs of the same scenarios. Especially the Farm stage, because ugh.
There are at least a number of collectibles, and there's also a Ranking Mode where you can... chase even more scoreboards. If you're really into trying to get your name recognised up on a number of leaderboards, then Juliet's your gal. But the otherwise noticeably small amount of original content on display here is a bullet-point to consider.
Now of course I can't post a review without touching upon its presentation, and Lollipop Chainsaw is filled to the brim with all kinds of Suda-ness. The overall aesthetic, resembling a sort of Americana comic-book, is undeniably fetching. It's just enough to hide what is otherwise a pretty rough looking game, with noticeable pop-in and some strikingly weak textures. The voice-acting is very well done, with creative director James Gunn pulling in a lot of his standbys such as Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry. Michael Rosenbaum as Nick Carlyle easily steals the show, though, often acting as the perfect straight-man to Juliet's sometimes derp-ish nature. The soundtrack is also a bloody home run, raking in tracks from a number of genres, all of which fit their appointed context perfectly.
The humour is no doubt what could make and break this game. For me personally, it hits more often than it misses, but there are still a problematic amount of misses all the same. There was never any one moment that had me bawling with laughter like during Shadows of The Damned. The writing will even sometimes delve into outright laziness, relying on tired gags like the ''old Asian pervert'' stereotype, or by simply adding a swearword into a sentence where it probably doesn't fit. Regardless, laughs will assuredly be had somewhere within the game for just about anyone who enjoys this brand of material. It's the inconsistency of those laughs that may leave you wanting a little more.
Despite the majority of my time spent celebrating Juliet's birthday consisted of a lot of surprising fun, there are far too many jagged edges awaiting to puncture the birthday balloons and sour my enjoyment. However, Lollipop Chainsaw still stands as what could potentially be considered a breakthrough for Suda's track-record, actually hinting at a foundation of gameplay that could persevere through his work's reliance of being shouldered on the 'kooky craziness' his games most often exhibit. Hopefully there'll be a Lollipop Chainsaw 2, if not another new IP, that'll be ready to take the next step further.