Reviewed on: Xbox 360
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Who says a game has to be genre smashing, tech demo quality, once-in-a-console generation indie masterpiece to be worthy of praise; what if it’s just fun? That is the question asked and answered by Lollipop Chainsaw from enigmatic game developer Suda51’s (No More Heroes, Killer7) studio: Grasshopper Manufacture, out now for PS3 and Xbox 360. Like half its namesake, Lollipop Chainsaw is an enjoyable confection, a guilty pleasure despite the empty calories.
High School cheerleading team captain Juliet Starling wakes up on her eighteenth birthday to find her school and her town overrun by a hoard of zombies. Fortunately her sunshine and rainbows-style perky personality does not get in the way of her fulfilling her destiny: butchering zombies with a pink cartoon heart-festooned chainsaw. Along with the still-living magically-severed head of her boyfriend Nick and assisted by her zombie hunting family, Juliet must stem the tide of evil and make it back home in time for her birthday party.As a third person hack and slash title, Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t compare well to most of the triple-A level entries of the type like God of War. The combat here feels a bit stilted and inorganic, with the controls and movement lacking in the kind of grace you’d expect from an expert cheerleader (or an expert game designer). A camera that tends to get itself out of position frequently doesn’t aid matters but a lock-on system mollifies most of the issues. Though the strange, unchangeable button layout takes some adjustment on the part of the player, the inclusion of the rare third standard attack button is a welcome change from the genre’s dominate light/heavy attack loadout. Here the light attack is mainly used to stun zombies, setting them up for an easy kill with a single heavy attack, but the low attack button can (literally) cut the legs out from under a foe and set them up for a satisfying aerial down-stab finisher.
While three attack buttons would allow it, combo attacks in Lollipop Chainsaw are not nearly as complicated as they could be and are instead augmented by a series of attacks that use consumables to provide variety, as the game progresses you’ll earn access to a single shot cannon, a motor for your chainsaw that allows for dashing attacks and even a system that allows you to use Nick’s head as a weapon. All of these run on items that are found sparingly across the stages or are available in the game’s store where you can also buy new combos, permanent buffs and using a rarer form of currency than you’ll get from basic zombie slaughter: concept art, new music and new outfits for Juliet.Visually the game isn’t breaking any new ground; the drab environments and basic character design mostly serve to highlight the riot of color that is Juliet and her array of attacks that generate the starbursts, fireworks and rainbows that stand in for the bulk of the game’s gore potential. Level design is further hampered by their overall brevity, on its default setting the game can be run through in 4-6 hours; the higher difficulties add more of the stronger zombies and require more tactical gameplay, and while each is broken up with at least one gameplay switching up minigame and a satisfying boss battle, each is also divided by momentum breaking loading screens.
However, the game is all but redeemed in total by its storytelling. With the help of a script filled with laugh out loud swipes at both the horror film and game genre by filmmaker James Gunn (Slither), Suda51 has created what might be his most likely title to crossover into mainstream success. Tara Strong (Batman: Arkham City, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) as the alternately cheesecake and hardcase Juliet and Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville, Justice League) as Nick, who handles the bizarre situation he finds himself in with a sense of believable incredulity that will make him a favorite for breakout character of the year, deliver strong performances. A fitting soundtrack filled with a mix of oldies (including that infamous song with the cheerleader video: “Mickey” and 1958’s “Lollipop”) and new pieces by Mindless Self Indulgence's Jimmy Urine heightens the experience.
Be sure of the fact that by the time you’ve reached the center of this particular lollipop you’ll be ready to toss it away, but while you have it, you’ll enjoy every lick.