Sexy on the Outside, Fun on the Inside; Innuendo Intended
When Suda51’s name is tied to a project, the most reasonable expectation is a complete disregard for sanity. His special brand of twisted logic has spawned unique experiences the likes of Killer7 and Shadows of the Damned though none appeared as overtly sexualized as Grasshopper Manufacture’s latest featuring a chainsaw-wielding, barely-legal cheerleader. However, in the midst of sensationalist headlines and overblown controversies lies a sharp episode of nonsensical humor. The game invites a sophomoric ogle at its breasts but isn’t afraid to say, “Hey, I have a brain and my eyes are up here.” Anyone willing to sit back and have an open minded laugh is sure to reap the benefits and it’s best to leave any pretentiousness at the door. For goodness’ sake, the game is called Lollipop Chainsaw.
The story starts with the protagonist, Juliet Starling, waking up on the morning of her 18th birthday. As she charges out the door, late for her meetup with her boyfriend, Nick Carlyle, everything seems like a picturesque moment in the life of a bubbly, suburban teenager; yet her bike ride to school is cut off by a horde of zombies. As she does a flip over a school bus, whips out a chainsaw and cuts up zombies in front of a rainbow-filled, starry backdrop, only afterward does she groan with exasperation and wonder why such a thing had to happen on her birthday.
Senseless moments like these are dotted throughout Lollipop Chainsaw and it’s mostly thanks to former Troma director, James Gunn, who has taken Suda51’s early concept and gone the distance with the adaptation. Between perverted jokes and comedy duo antics, humor punctuates the game at well-timed moments and isn’t afraid to let up; references from Facebook to Fist of the North Star sit under an all-encompassing umbrella. On the top of that, the dialogue adds a lot of personality and the characters come out as unique and oddly endearing. There are a few instances of repeated dialogue either from redoing a scene after death or repetitive hints. These get a little bit grating but don’t crop up enough to be a true annoyance. Regardless, Grasshopper has not lost touch with its crazy side even in the hands of a Western writer.
However, if there’s anything the developer is known for, it’s having gameplay run secondary to the aesthetics and story. Unfortunately, Lollipop Chainsaw is another instance of this problem. The basic combat mechanics are standard fare for the action genre: each button is tied to a unique move and chaining these moves into combos will eventually yield different attack animations of varying damage values. There are a large number of moves to unlock but it only takes a few minutes to find a mashable combo that makes do for most of the game. It’s a replicated formula and Lollipop Chainsaw feels stilted, towing the line between Onechanbara and Dynasty Warriors. Still, I must stress it’s not as bad as the former nor as repetitive as the latter.
To encourage more strategic play, there is a situational bonus called Sparkle Hunting which is awarded after a simultaneous kill of three or more zombies. This forced me to keep a mental inventory of how many hits I’ve dealt and consider the best time for sweeping chainsaw attacks. Again, mashing is viable, but Sparkle Hunting is the best way to get a lot of medals which can be exchanged for combos, stat boosts and costumes. Even if the basic combat doesn’t have the fluid zest of Bayonetta or a Devil May Cry game, there are numerous, story-related gameplay quirks and bosses that make sure the pacing does not go rotten.
Even after the game was completed, my save file still had more than half the content locked. So, to justify multiple playthroughs, there are four difficulty modes and score attack leaderboards for each of the stages. Additionally, they’ve implemented new game+ along the lines of Resident Evil 5--you can take all of your upgrades to a higher difficulty with no penalty. I’ll admit there’s not much meat; I beat the game on its normal difficulty in one five-hour session. That admission is probably a turn-off for a lot of people but the time I spent playing consistently had novel ideas.
What also keeps Lollipop Chainsaw fresh is its soundtrack, a mix of original compositions by Little Jimmy Urine and Akira Yamaoka plus a handful of licensed tracks. The original compositions help the action feel a lot more frenetic and offer a varied blend from pop rock to speed metal. The licensed songs are no slouch either. If this game can use Skrillex’s “Rock ‘N’ Roll” and Buckner and Garcia’s “Pac-Man Fever” effectively within the same minute, then it’s safe to say it’s doing something right.
The voice acting carries the same amount of potency. Tara Strong perfectly captures the stereotype of a ditzy cheerleader, Michael Rosenbaum is a great straight man counterpart and the rest of the cast portray their caricatures in a way that is fun to point and laugh at.
Fun and laughter, it’s what Lollipop Chainsaw excels at delivering and it’s what best describes my time with the game. The short romp through Juliet’s town had more tact condensed in its five hours than most games do with much longer lifespans. I won’t argue about the value proposition much, since we all have a threshold for how wide we open our wallets for certain games. Whether your asking price is low or high doesn’t matter, since this game is something I highly recommend experiencing at least one time through. If you have an open mind, there’s a good chance this game will leave you with more smiles than complaints.