My expectations for this game were relatively high from the off. After playing the brilliantly over the top Shadows of the Damned last year, I was ready to see what Goichi Suda’s next brain child would be. Lollipop Chainsaw is that game. While story wise it’s everything a Suda fan has come to expect: the unexpected. The gameplay however, I felt needed something more, but it’s worth enduring to see what’s around the next corner.
In Lollipop Chainsaw you play as Juliet Starling, a blonde haired, cheerleader who is as ditsy as they come. She’s a near perfect stereotype but with one quality that defines her: she is a zombie hunter. It is also her 18th birthday and instead of celebrating it in the traditional sense, Juliet is tasked with painting the town red in zombie blood.
I really don’t want to divulge too much of the story here as the greatest strength of Lollipop Chainsaw is its unpredictability. Not so much in its gameplay, but in its story and how the characters interact with one another.
The story mode is broken up into six stages, seven if you include the prologue which acts as a quick tutorial to the controls and also sets the stage for what’s to come (like any good prologue should). My only gripe with the story is that it was all over far too fast. I managed to beat the game in just under six hours.
Luckily the game is built with multiple play-throughs in mind. Completionists will have to play through a number of times to unlock everything that’s in the game. For every zombie you kill you are awarded medals, the more stylish the kill equals more medals. These come in gold and platinum. Gold medals are used to purchase upgrades to Juliet’s health, strength etc. They are also used to buy new combos, something I highly recommend doing as early as possible as the combat does start to get repetitive so these new combos will help to mix it up a little bit. Platinum medals are used to purchase the stuff that not many people care about: concept art, music and new outfits for Juliet. Despite this incentive to play through multiple times I have a feeling that most people will be satisfied with a single shot before moving on. For those who do get taken in you will be able to chase after higher grades for stages which remind me of the likes of Devil May Cry and Bayonetta.
Now let’s talk about the gameplay. Lollipop Chainsaw is a combo based hack and slash game. Now it’s not up there with the aforementioned Bayonetta but it certainly is competent. Your four face buttons are designated to high attack, low attack, pom-pom bash (trust me they’re useful) and dodge. Now initially all this is fine but when you consider that the majority of the game tasks you with killing a specified number of zombies before letting you move on, it starts to get on the repetitive side. You also have a “Sparkle” meter that fills up with each kill you make, when it’s full you can activate it which boosts your attack and makes you invulnerable temporarily. Buying new combos – like I mentioned earlier – does help but I can’t help but feel that the story alone kept me engaged through to the end.
The monotony of the combat is broken up a bit by what I can only really describe as mini games. Some fun, some downright frustrating. I wanted to steer away from spoilers but I am going to have to give one to explain something properly. Early in the game your boyfriend Nick is bitten by a zombie. Juliet reacts to this by decapitating Nick and performing a ritual on him which will allow him to live as just a head, from then on she wears his head on her belt like a keychain and they banter throughout the story. If that all sounds a little too crazy for you then you’re in the wrong place as it only gets crazier. Nick’s head is used in various parts of the game to perform tasks. The main one involves placing his head on a glowing decapitated zombies body, and then playing a quick-time mini game which leads to him opening the path to the next area. It’s a little silly considering most of the other doors Juliet just cuts open with her chainsaw but it’s Suda wackiness sown to a tee.
Now onto my least favourite mini game: Zombie Baseball. Sounds fun, plays like crap. Later in the game you are given a Chainsaw blaster, this is to be your ranged weapon of choice from this point on. What you have to do in zombie baseball is protect Nick while he scores three runs. He over celebrates at each base which is amusing the first few times but the trouble is the auto lock-on mechanic is terrible. I found myself pointing in the general direction of the zombie closest to Nick, hitting aim and it would lock-on to a zombie on the other side of the field. This was really frustrating and led to me just holding down the aim button and manually aiming just to get through this section. The trouble with the baseball mini game is that it highlights the faults of this weapon before you really get started with it. There are a number of other games as well such as zombie basketball but I will leave them to be discovered by you.
There just isn’t enough boss fights in games anymore and I mean this in the traditional sense, one at the end of each stage and requires a bit of skill to get past. Lollipop Chainsaw has helped to scratch that itch. Each boss you encounter are highly imaginative and a blast to play through.
I really like the comic book aesthetic of this game and to be honest I don’t think it would have worked in any other style. The whole game is off the wall, over the top and completely self aware. The dialogue is offensive, childish and downright crass in places but I have to admit I lapped up every moment of it with a smile on my face. Even when it made me cringe after a terrible one liner I feel that was exactly the reaction it was looking for. The music selection in this game is brilliant as well. Only in Lollipop Chainsaw could you get away with fighting zombies to the music of Dragonforce and then upon activating “Sparkle” mode having the music switch to Tony Basil’s “Hey Mickey”. It’s brilliant.
Overall Lollipop Chainsaw did fall short of my expectations but I did still have fun playing it. I don’t recommend it to anyone who is easily offended as this game will chew you up and spit you out. It’s a little on the short side but in a way that is also a blessing as the combat does get very repetitive. There is also a ranking mode to play through but the only difference is you play through stages of the game with one life and a focus of time, medals or score which are then uploaded to a leaderboard. A lot of the mini games are throwaway and needs a little bit more refinement. I do think this game deserves a play through however, just to see the story and experience the boss fights.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360 Release Date: 15/06/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Lollipop Chainsaw by the promoter for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.