Do you like mousy, conservative brunettes? Do you like realistic settings and combat that requires finesse and strategy? Do you enjoy interactive media that promotes good, clean fun? Neither do I! Fortunately, Lollipop Chainsaw possesses none of the above.
Set in the little made-up town of San Romero, Lollipop Chainsaw follows the action-packed eighteenth birthday of Juliet Starling. Juliet, who comes from a family of zombie hunters, is a bubbly blonde cheerleader with a sunny outlook on life — especially when she’s shredded a bunch of “zombie douchebags” with her pink bedazzled chainsaw.
Juliet hurries to school to meet her boyfriend, Nick, only to discover that the school has been overrun with zombies. Nick saves Juliet from being attacked by a zombie, only to get bitten himself. So, Juliet does what a sensible person would do — she decapitates him before the zombie poison can get to his brain and performs a black magic ritual so that his head remains alive and intact. Then she hangs him from a clip on her skirt and off they go to save the town!
Nope, I’m not making this up.
This glittery gorefest was hatched from the mind of Suda51, the creator of the action-packed cult classic, No More Heroes. And, like his previous works, Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t skimp on the crude humor or over-the-top killing sprees that make the game all the more entertaining (and terribly offensive).
So without further ado, let’s shred this game into pieces and pick it apart one by one! Analytically speaking.
As I said before, the game revolves around our protagonist Juliet, who is trying to save her town from a multitude of zombies. Our antagonist is a hateful Goth kid named Swan, who opens a portal to the “Rotten World” and summons five zombie overlords (each of which is themed around genres of rock and roll). Along the way, Juliet and Nick meet up with her sisters and father, who also hunt zombies, and work together to save San Romano.
The overall tone of the storytelling elements can be summed up as “we’re being ridiculously melodramatic for comedic effect.” If you can’t enjoy a game that doesn’t take itself seriously, you’re going to hate Lollipop Chainsaw. Personally, I can appreciate games that parody themselves–but even I had to shake my head at the occasional overly cheesy line. It’s nothing that’d kill your buzz while playing, but as I’ve said plenty of times before, I’m overly sensitive to story-related aspects.
Lollipop Chainsaw boasts a hack-and-slash combat system with plenty of acrobatic combos at your disposal. Brightly-colored “Chop2Shop” kiosks are spread out throughout levels, where you can use coins collected from fallen enemies to purchase new attacks, power-ups, ammo, outfits, concept art, and even background music. The gameplay in its entirety is very easy to understand, especially with the helpful pop-up tutorial hints and reference book in the pause menu (playfully titled “How To Cook Zombie”), but don’t make the mistake of assuming this game is easy.
Normal mode, if you’ll pardon my vulgarity, kicked my ass halfway through Stage 1. It was one particular bout that revolved around flaming zombies trying to get to a pile of dynamite shaped like a birthday cake that I simply could not complete. There were twenty-four zombies in total, and I always failed around the second wave. There was no way around it–until I gave the controller to my brother and he beat it after a couple of tries. There are also plenty of quick-time events in this game that are very unforgiving — too many missed buttons, and it’s game over.
Yeah, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the best gamer out there. Still, the varying difficulties of Lollipop Chainsaw (Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard, which becomes available after you’ve beaten the game) will affect the number of lollipops (essentially health packs) you can carry and how tough your enemies are, as well as what types of zombies will show up. If that isn’t enough of a challenge for you, you can switch from Story Mode to Ranking Mode, where you can play completed levels over again in hopes of beating Juliet’s Dad’s high score and compare your score against others through Xbox Live / PSN.
That’s one of the good things about Lollipop Chainsaw — replay value! If you enjoy the game the first time around, you’ll probably enjoy going at the levels again and again in order to unlock more costumes (which include bikinis and anime cosplay), earning plenty of achievements/trophies, and much more. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy playing multiple rounds of Zombie Basketball?
Lollipop Chainsaw is a pretty game, but of course, it has to be pretty! You can’t have a smoking hot scantily clad heroine slaughter zombies in a bikini while spinning around on a pole as rainbows explode from the decapitated — okay, that was just too much. Honest-to-goodness truth as far as what is in the game, but really.
The graphics are bright and colorful and almost as bouncy as Juliet herself, who is often guided through the level by vibrant arrows and treated to a beautiful little rainbow when Sparkle Hunting (multiple decapitations in one swing). Sure, zombie models are repeated in the hordes–but they don’t stay on screen for very long. They’re normally drenched in the prettiest shade of red by the time Juliet is through with them.
Lollipop Chainsaw succeeds greatly in keeping zombie hordes to the theme of particular levels, however, in regards to the big boss of each stage. The psychedelic rock overlord, Mariska, oversees the O’Bannon Farm, where zombies clad in overalls saunter through fields between rows of undead cows. And yes, the cows will try to kill you if you hack at them with your chainsaw.
Speaking of level design, you can really tell that Grasshopper Manufacture had fun with–well, everything. In the same level I mentioned above, Juliet occasionally finds psychedelic mushrooms and trip out upon slicing them open. This often warps her to a brand new place, whether it is a dark mini-arena where she has to kill evil chickens or a field of zombies that she has to plow through with a tractor. In Stage 4, the level that takes place in an arcade, Juliet switches back and forth between fighting her way through the building and being pulled into a digital world that takes inspiration from Pacman and other classic games. Each stage feels almost like a completely different world, and yet is sensibly linked to each other at the same time.
No matter what you think of Lollipop Chainsaw, you’d have to agree that the game does phenomenally in the audio department. The cast of quirky characters are portrayed by fantastic actors (with Tara Strong as our heroine Juliet) that deliver witty vulgarities with perfect comedic timing, and the soundtrack is just so damn fun! With music by Dragonforce, Joan Jett, Skrillex, and so much more, zombie killing has never been so easy to rock out to; my favorite song on the soundtrack, however, has to be Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey”, which plays every time you send Juliet into a temporary frenzy. Seriously, it’s the most upbeat you’ll ever feel while decapitating the undead.
But Is It…Sexist?
Yeah, there was a TINY part of me that said “Lanna, you shouldn’t like this. It’s so demeaning to women!” But I honestly can’t get offended when the game is so obviously making fun of itself. Yes, the fanservice of Juliet being dress-up-able in bikinis is rather objectifying, so to speak. However, Juliet (despite being a bit of a ditz) is still the heroine of the story, she still kicks ass, and she’s more than competent at what matters in the game–competent at killing lots of zombies.
Besides, the point of the game was blood and boobs. There wouldn’t be an achievement for tilting the camera to see up Juliet’s skirt if it wasn’t (and to be fair, she quickly covers herself when you do and you have to really try to catch her off guard to do so). All you can do with games like this is laugh, shake your head, and enjoy the madness. If you can’t, well, obviously this game is NOT for you. Simple as that.
I enjoyed Lollipop Chainsaw. I can see why people would not. The vulgar comedic style, the repetitive hack-and-slash gameplay, and the potentially offensive gore/sexist elements are understandable turn-offs for audiences of a more refined taste. But if you’re like me and can enjoy the simpler, “lower” things in life, you’ll probably enjoy Lollipop Chainsaw.
Is it worth the hefty price tag of a brand new video game? I’d recommend you rent it first (if you can find somewhere to rent it, as I know for a fact Blockbuster does not) and beat the game once before dropping $50+. The game has decent replay value if you’re a completionist, but the actual story mode only lasts 7 Stages and I beat it (on Easy) over the course of three days playing on-and-off. At the very least, everyone should take a listen to the Lollipop Chainsaw soundtrack for nothing more than a dose of excellent tunes to slay to.