You have to wonder what goes on in the head of video game designer Goichi Suda aka, Suda51 perhaps best known for cult hits such as Killer7 and the No More Heroes series. Looking back over his previous work we’ve seen assassin leagues, saving your game via using the toilet, a gun named the “Boner” and even pitching baseballs at enemies with over-sized animal heads. They’ve been… weird to say the least, but one cannot deny how overly stylish they are full of pop-culture references as well as plenty of call-backs to the 8-bit days of gaming. Lollipop Chainsaw is his next venture and one that certainly doesn’t skimp on craziness nor adult content focusing this time on a sexy cheerleader and her good ol’ chainsaw. Is it simply eye-candy though or is there a decent game underneath?
You play Juliet Starling, a zombie hunter and cheerleader who finds herself in the midst of a zombie outbreak along with the severed head of her loving boyfriend Nick, whom she decapitated after he suffered a zombie bite. Perhaps the weirdest sentence I’ll write this year I’m sure. Throughout your journey you’ll uncover just why the students of San Romero High School are becoming these beasts as well as meet the rest of Juliets family whom help you along the way. Without giving too much away, let’s just say things become more and more ridculous the further your progress made all the more funny thanks to a tightly written script penned by Slither and Super writer/director James Gunn.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a simple hack and slasher. Armed with a giant chainsaw, pom poms and the head of Juliet’s boyfriend you’ll find yourself making your way through seven stages in all, each following a similar pattern of clearing an area, moving on to the next and doing the same again and again before finally reaching a boss battle. Scattered throughout stages are moments where you can place Nick on a zombie’s body or use trampolines and vault boxes via a series of quicktime events to move on, but these feel awkawd and slow the pace of the crazy fighting. After playing the first couple of stages I can’t deny things did start to drag a little thanks to a lack of variety and the overly simple combat system that resulted in no more than me hammering the Y button with the occasional B button to dodge attacks. It felt awfully shallow and I was all but ready to give it a rest. Then I started buying new moves for Juliet and suddenly things became much more enjoyable as I began dispatching more powerful zombies with style earning myself more points. I could stun enemies with my backside and gut them with a short combo or even shoot bullets at them with my Chainsaw Blaster. It wasn’t smart, nor was it perfect, but it was definitely good fun.
The scoring system does allow for multiple playthroughs as you try to better your previous total. These can be raised via saving students on your travels at certain points in the stage. Do so and you’re rewarded with zombie medals (the game’s currency), fail and they come back as a more powerful zombie gunning to get you. Decapitation is also encouraged rewarding you, the more heads you can pop off simultaneously. You’ll be treated to a short slow motion animation complete with blood and rainbows that really is quite surreal. Once you’ve leveled up Juliet and purchased her entire arsenal of moves later in the game you’ll feel encouraged to go back aiming for better scores and times.
Sadly the campaign is over in a little over four or five hours which is understandable considering the simplistic nature of the game. Still the shortness will be something of a hard pill to swallow especially for those who don’t enjoy going back through a game for more unlocks. There are leaderboards to try, however since the stages are so lengthy actually making it through each to post a score can take you upwards of half hour. Plus with no save points or retries in the scoring modes, frustration can set in especially when you’re forced to restart having died at the very end of a boss battle.
While killing waves of the undead is all good and fun it’s the boss fights that really steal the show delivering some of the best one on one bouts I’ve come across in years. The rock and roll lords are bursting with personality and their multi-staged battles feature some truly entertaining attack patterns that only get weirder as you go on. The punk rock lord for example ends up screaming four letter profanities at you which literally come flying at you spelled out across the screen. It’s these moment where Suda51 truly shines and its just a shame the rest of the game doesn’t offer this sort of variety and zaniness.
The voice acting in the game is fantastic. Juliet who could easily have come across as ‘just another air-headed cheerleader’ actually feels believable and likeable and despite her boyfriend being merely a severed head attached to her waist, has one of the more convincing and endearing romances I’ve seen in most video games. A whole cast of famous names appear in the game with Gregg Henry as Juliet’s father and Michael Rooker as the Metal lord Vikke being highlights. Jimmy Urine from the electro-punk band Mindless Self Indulgence composes a majority of the music for the game’s battles and they compliment the ongoing action perfectly. Whatsmore whoever chose to have cheerleading classic “Mickey” playing in the background when Juliet is in invincibility mode cutting off zombies’ heads left right and center is a genius as it was definitely the cause for many smiles during play. At times there are points where the game can become too rude, with zombies telling me they’re going to cut off my head and stick it where the sun don’t shine so those easily offended by such things should probably steer clear.
While not visually amazing, the actual art design and style is top notch. Taking something as bloody and disgusting as dismembered zombies and adding colourful rainbows, lights and confetti has helped create one of the most unique and surprisingly mesmerizing action games of the year. Seeing a zombie’s head fly off it’s shoulders followed by the seven bright colours of the rainbow is never dull.
Lollipop Chainsaw is not one of Suda51′s best. Much like a budgeted B-movie it isn’t without its faults suffering from a short campaign and slightly repetitive action, but at the same time delivering plenty of over-the-top laugh out loud moments and exciting boss battles that you won’t soon forget.