Lollipop Chainsaw (Xbox 360, PS3)-$59.99
June 12th, 2012
What it is:
Lollipop Chainsaw, if nothing else, is a bold release perhaps for everyone involved. After the criminally underrated Shadows of the Damned sold a paltry 30,000 copies upon its release last year, in no small part due to the lack of proper marketing, it seems like a miracle that Suda 51 and the over the top Japanese innovators of Grasshopper Manufacture have received permission to make yet another quirky, insanely unorthodox action game. No one could honestly blame any publisher for having qualms with publishing another game in a similar vein to Garcia Hotspur’s venture, and one could likewise easily forgive the minds behind the dev team for putting out a safer kind of game in an attempt to appeal to the masses that generate the most cash. Yet here we are, with the next absolutely bonkers video game from the same crazy team, and backed by a completely different publisher who actually did properly market the material this time around (Warner Bros). Aside from the risky notion of putting another characteristically idiosyncratic title from these guys on consumer store shelves, there has been indirect controversy stemming from the game even before it came out (cosplay promoter Jessica Ngiri and her scantily clad Juliet Starling outfits causing a stir at PAX East).
The entire nature of this game has me rather befuddled, to be honest, especially since a publisher has finally decided to actually “get” the types of games these guys make, and decided to put some marketing muscle behind their promotion. It’s easy not to complain, however, because once again Grasshopper has made a game that deserves heavy promotion, and it in no way shape or form deviates from exactly what you’d expect them to make…
…A bona fide, acid-trip, rollercoaster of scathing ingenuity.
Lollipop Chainsaw tells a paper thin story as per usual, but those of you who appreciate Suda 51 gems should be used to this by now. It’s ditzy cheerleader Juliet Starling’s 18th birthday, the same day in which a rampant zombie apocalypse has conveniently tainted the world at large, with widespread implications. She’s no damsel in distress, mind you; the conceit of the game simply dictates that she is a highly skilled zombie hunter, and actually comes from a family that has mastered this to an art over the course of many years. She’s more annoyed by this sudden outbreak than she is genuinely alarmed, and she immediately picks up a gigantic chainsaw and thrusts herself head-first into the fray. How could this not be good?
The first story beat Juliet finds herself addressing involves her boyfriend, Nick, who has unfortunately become a victim of circumstance. Long story short, Juliet performs a trick of what she calls “magic,” and spares Nick from turning into an undead flesh magnet, with the stipulation of rendering his head separate from his body. Also, the body is no longer anywhere to be found; all that is left of Nick is his severed head, which of course spends the duration of the game tied appropriately to Juliet’s waist.
The relationship that ensues across the game’s 6 stages closely mirrors the banter witnessed in Shadows of the Damned, which had protagonist Garcia Hotspur traipsing through the game with a human skull that went by the name of Johnson. The writing is equally clever and downright hilarious, although perhaps never quite hitting the levels of inanity that the previous pair was able to achieve. Even still, Nick becomes much more than a gameplay prop, and more than half of his conversations with Juliet and other characters are legitimately laugh worthy.
So what are you doing across these 6 previously mentioned stages, exactly? In the most simplistic terms, Lollipop Chainsaw is a score attack, combo driven action game in the category of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. It will only take you roughly 6-7 hours to complete on Normal difficulty, but it appears to me that the bulk of the replay value is intended to be of the “high score chase” mentality, i.e. improving one’s own best scores/assessments once acquiring new upgrades and combos, and possibly competing for dominance via tracked online leaderboards. There’s no multiplayer to be had, much like Suda’s last game, and I’m glad they haven’t catered to this feature and instead remained focus on making sure they craft an entertaining single player experience.
As far as accomplishing that last goal, they have managed to succeed with flying colors, literally and figuratively. The use of bright, high contrast colorization and voluptuous neon rays of brightness are absolutely pervasive throughout Juliet’s adventures. It’s almost easy to forget that there’s a plot still buried, technically, beneath all of the batshit imagery. Some weird guy named Swan has released a bunch of zombie demons from some other world, which is the game’s version of Hell, and yadda yadda yadda you have to stop them from achieving dominance. Look, this is a zombie game, and as long as you understand that, and you’re down for that, I think I should just let you find out what’s wrapped up in here for yourself.
If I had to explain it at least in minor detail, just know that the action is frantic, the zombies are absolutely hilarious with their non sequitur dialogue, and it contains some of the most original and mind bending bits of gameplay since…well, since the last game Grasshopper made. I had zombies jump and commence attacking me while uttering prize winners such as “This is ass!” “I’m gonna fist my ass with your head!” and “Let’s take a shower together!” To list anymore would be a serious disservice from the honest-to-God laughs you will enjoy when you hear them by surprise. Whoever holds the job position for writing the zombie dialogue, along with the brilliant descriptions for characters and collectibles, seriously earned their paycheck on this one. As characters and objects are unlocked throughout the course of play, brief anecdotes and descriptions appear in the game’s user menu, and if you have a tendency to be enamored by dick jokes and overt sexual perversion and deviance, than this is the game for you. It’s campy as can be, tongue in cheek most definitely, and if you go in understanding that, then boy will you have some fun with this one. I’m ending that now, because it’s worth it to revel in the sheer shock value alone.
The actual gameplay is a concretely solid, if not the most original, series of using light and heavy pom pom cheerleader attacks mixed with the (you guessed it) ever reliable chainsaw. Zombies inexplicably drop golden coins when conquered, and Juliet automatically picks these up as she goes (think the orbs in God of War, or similar games). Upgrade equipped shopping kiosks are spread rather generously throughout the levels, and grant Juliet the ability to purchase new attacks, new passive upgrades to health, strength, resilience, etc, and in a nice little touch it also allows the user to pay with in-game currency to unlock further licensed and unlicensed soundtrack possibilities, costume skins for Juliet, and character/environment concept art. It’s nice getting unlockables from inside the game, and not being nickel and dimed via real money. This is one of many reasons that Suda and the team have my utmost respect.
Some of the boss and sub-boss encounters become a tad bit demanding, but never to the point of frustration. If anything, the sometimes loose character control and odd camera angles are easily forgiven by the sheer creativity implemented in building the game’s levels. Especially worth noting are the off the wall mini-game encounters, some of which in one level in particular hearken back to a day when arcades ruled the video game world. There are plenty of zombies to decapitate in a rainbow of neon colors mixed with showers of blood, but there’s also a bevy of nods to games such as Pacman, Pong, 2D MetroidVania games, and other classics going back as far as the Atari and Commodore 64 days. This type of stuff was featured in Shadows of the Damned, but it seems that the devs didn’t get this stuff out of their system and completely went for it without shame in this latest release. It also has a few scenarios that seem to be borrowing from last year’s Saints Row: The Third, since there is a boss that resembles former Pro Wrestler Papa Shango, only he’s adorned with a diaper and speaking exclusively in auto-tune. I can’t make this stuff up; I wasn’t kidding when I stated these guys weren’t straying from their typical M.O.
Some of the mini games and encounters are not only outstanding and memorable for their wacky dialogue and references, but also because they incorporate some downright innovative takes on gameplay and mechanics on their own grounds. There’s twists on sports like basketball and baseball, pseudo-tower defense tasks, vehicle sections that focus more on action and mayhem rather than unwieldy controls, and QTE sequences that are actually fun, fair, and so incredibly nuts that you may finally realize why you’ve always hated QTE’s in the past: no one has done them quite like Grasshopper Manufacture.
Some may question the blatant, overt sexualization of the Juliet Starling character (she’s always seductively sucking on lollipops, which she also collects as a form of health in the environment) and become offended by some bosses incessantly calling her things like “fucking bitch” and “vanilla slut,” and it doesn’t help that there’s an achievement/trophy for sneaking an up-skirt view of her lady parts by tilting the third person camera ever so specifically. As I prefaced earlier, I think there’s an understanding that one needs to take in with them before playing this game, and as long as the attitude going in doesn’t seek to take it too seriously, I don’t think it’s an issue. After all, Juliet is the star of the show, and she’s pretty badass too, and she makes anyone and everyone who may oppose her eat their hearts out, at some point down the line. Also, the game itself doesn’t take itself seriously whatsoever, so there’s that.
There’s a heavy film grain effect on the graphical presentation one may notice upon immediately starting the game, and I wasn’t really expecting this, personally, but it never soured me on the visuals as it were. This is a very bright, colorfully vibrant and animation busy type of game, and they manage to sustain a solid frame rate despite the mostly impressive number of antagonists on screen and the overall hectic nature of the frame cluttered action and combat. Users are graded at the completion of each stage, just like other games at the head of the genre, and the game is chock full of things to find, kill, and juggle in order to make that end score/grade that much better. In general, the game is just a blast to play, and I never once struggled with a single scenario in which I felt it was the game’s fault; if anything, some sections are just a bit tricky and merely require the player to suck it up and go at the objectives with a balls to the wall approach, and in my experience this just about got me through whatever I was temporarily stuck on each and every time.
My only complaints with Lollipop Chainsaw are some bizarre mid-mission objectives (such as saving other survivors, Dead Rising style) that have a set number of occurrences per stage, but if one fails to complete them all and wants to attempt the few they missed, it’s hard to get back and just knock the rest out without starting the stage over from scratch. It also doesn’t help that this sort of statistic isn’t even tracked elsewhere other than the mid-mission updates, so if you’re an achievement whore you could be kicking yourself in irritation at least a few times here and there. Moreover, and this is an odd, very minor complaint, but the fact that this game sticks out so much for its brevity. As I said before, the overall length is nothing surprising for the average game these days, and replaying the levels for higher scores is what I assume is the intent, but I still felt like a few more stages could have been thrown in (there’s a prologue, 5 normal stages, and a brief boss stage at the end). I’d gladly pay for this content if it is provided via DLC, but for the purpose of the initial $60, I think this game is too awesome to end so soon. That’s not me saying I don’t feel I got my money’s worth, I’m just saying that I wish I was still playing new levels and having as much fun as I did for the first time as opposed to grinding out the ones I’ve already seen.
Featuring some of the most eye grabbing visuals in a game of its style that you’re sure to find, a robust, solid combo driven fighting system, enemy variety, hilarious writing and jokes, zany characters and ridiculous back-story, not to mention some of the most memorable and creative boss fights seen in recent memory, Lollipop Chainsaw is a damn enjoyable adventure. I’d like to believe this sucker sells just a tad more than 30,000 some copies and I hope everyone gets a chance to play it at some point regardless.
Yeah, they made a game that made me open my eyes even wider than a game which featured a human head called Johnson and a Spanish man killing robots with a gun called Boner while screaming “Taste my big boner!” If you, like me, have a soft spot in your heart for Suda 51 and Grasshopper’s previous work, and/or games with tongue in cheek, risky takes on sense of humor in general, than Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that you need to unwrap.
I’m sorry; I had to make a bad joke/pun to conclude this, that way all of the ridiculous shit in this game will make you keel over that much more in comparison.
Final Score: 9.0
9.0-9.5: “Phenomenal” Not every game can be an instant classic, but many games manage to push the envelope far enough that they are just an eyelash shy. This game may have a few minor issues that are worth pointing out and may irritate some people, but the pros easily overshadow the cons and make this a game that most can expect to enjoy regardless.