Review: Lollipop Chainsaw
Now, to start off with, I’ve been a huge fan of Suda51’s work since Killer 7, a strange but very well thought out game that is far too easy to give away just by talking about it. Since then I have enjoyed the amazing works No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned , so it’s pretty safe to say that I’m a fan.
Honestly, the only real reason I was interested in Lolipop was that it was made by Suda. From a distance, it pretty much just looked like another addition to the popular(?) Onechanbara series, which is another game about scantily clad girls killing the crap out of zombies. But once learning that Suda was the creative mind behind the game, I was instantly hooked.
Lolipop Chainsaw is a strange blend of pop-corny 1960s and 80s high-school dating movies, the sort of bubblegum quality that the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie had, and of course, zombies. Now of course, the word “strange” need not apply to a Suda51 game, as pretty much anything goes in his work. From bright rainbows and powerpuff-esque sparkles, to waves of gore spilling across the pavement, this game kinda takes on a little bit of everything, from the gameplay (which switches back and fourth from a button-mashing comboing brawler, to an over-the-shoulder shooter to a platformer) to the level design, to the general feel of the game.
Lollipop stars the hyper-active, often slow to catch on and beyond over-sexualized Juliet Starling, who wakes up on her 18th birthday with sunshine and sparkles, ready to take anything the world throws at her, but without leaving her boyfriend, Nick Carlyle, behind. Unfortunately for everyone, today also happens to be the day when the entire world goes to hell, literally. A “goth geek bastard” named simply Swan has decided to call upon the forces of evil to destroy the world.
Each one of the demons Swan has called on represents a musical genre, one for punk, indie, Heavy Metal, Funk (which kinda gets combined with disco and techno), Death Metal, and a “secret” genre (I’m doing my best to stay spoiler-free) at the end, and they all plan to rule the world by turning everyone into blood thirsty zombies.
Now, Swan’s evil plan may have worked out all well and dandy, save for 2 things. 1) Juliet is a professional zombie hunter, trained in the ways of kicking serious zombie butt- by her father and sisters who are ALSO professional zombie hunters, and 2) right off the bat, Juliet’s precious boyfriend Nick is an early victim of a zombie attack. Before Nick turns, Juliet does the only thing she can think. Using magic, her chainsaw, and a little elbow grease (and maybe some tape) she decapitates Nick, turning him into essentially a human keychain that hangs from her belt loop.
Now the fun begins. Hack, slash, chop and RA-RA-SISKUM -BASH- your way through the zombie hordes, fighting your way to the defeat the music demon that is holding that part of town in a grip of zombie panic. The game controls well enough, with fun little flourishes of her cheerleader pom-poms, bright, sparkly rainbows with an especially powerful chainsaw slash, and interactive environmental objects like… well, stripper poles (which Juliet can use to spin in a circle, luring all the undead to her so she can slice them to pieces for extra points), explosive barrels and rainbow-colored launch platforms (not unlike something you would see in a Mario Kart game) that speed Juliet up while she’s dashing for a super jump. It has a very Devil May Cry feel to the action, although the zombies could all use about ten to twenty hit points less. I found myself hacking away at a single zombie for what felt like forever, until the thing finally keeled over, especially since I’m pretty used to zombies having very low health in other games (Resident Evil, Dead Rising). They just needed to die in maybe two or three hits less.
Nick can also be used for various things, like slapping his head on headless corpses,which he can then control within limits to unblock obstacles or using his head as a cannon ball for a special weapon unlocked later on. Now, Nick is typically not thrilled with Juliet’s plans for him, but despite his protests, he’s not exactly in charge, is he?
One of the things I find most interesting about the game is it’s treatment of Nick, actually. You expect his relationship to be relatively symbiotic to Juliet, much like Garcia and Johnson (another demon-hunter/disembodied head duo, from the previous year’s Shadows of the Damned, but with constant comments on Juliet’s body, as she is clearly heavily objectified, just by her outfit and mannerisms. In an interesting turn tho, Juliet is actually rarely treated like you’d expect. Dirty or downright sexist comments are rarely overt enough to actually be offensive (although this game is PLENTY offensive, I’ll get to that in a bit), however Nick, the poor, good-hearted and pretty much typical every-day guy is -quite literally- treated like an object. The previous comment about him dangling from her belt like a key-chain, well, I think that’s the idea. He’s an accessory, this object that you can use to your advantage as a weapon or tool, not to mention times where he’s used as a soccer ball, stepping stool and just all around OBJECT.
I found that interesting. This time it was the guy being -literally- objectified. And he doesn’t like it too much. It was a clever way to keep the game from actually being one of those Onechanbara games, nothing but T&A and blood.
Now, another thing I liked about this game was the design. Comic-books were a pretty heavy influence on the games’ design, with a half-tone dot fade being used as a way of texturing far off objects, they’d simply fall back into these dots. But at the same time, it not only looked like a comic, but like an old Playstation 1 game, where all the pixels where very easily visible. Games like Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill are easy examples of this. The cell-shading isn’t too heavy, like Windwaker or Killer 7, more along the lines of say… Borderlands. It ends up looking very cool.
Some of my favorite stuff in the game is actually just a little past the half-way point, where Juliet has to fight her way through an arcade to get to the boss. Much like the paper-cut out puppet show that happens dead in the middle of Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop has a section where it deviates from the style that the rest of the game plays in, and emulates classic arcade games like PacMan and Tetris. These are actually remarkably fun, and offer up a nice respite from the rest of the game. They also offer some really great songs, specifically the song for the Tetris section that’s called “Empire State Human”
Now the story… eh. After Killer 7 and Shadows I was expecting it to seem maybe a little shallow at first, but get deep and clever by the end. Nope, Lollipop stays pretty shallow all the way to the end. It does get a very epic and touching in the very last moments of the game, but that’s a long ways to go for that. It would have been tolerable if the game had the tremendous sense of humor that Shadows or No More Heroes had, but the humor barley evolves beyond campy, corny and down right sophomoric. Often jokes end up falling so flat, you can tell that even the voice actors didn’t quite no how to deliver some of them. Of course, there is the occasional gem here and there, but a lot of the game’s humor feels like jokes you’d here in a BAD Saturday morning cartoon. Except they’re allowed to swear without limits, so the jokes come out even worse.
I loved the humor of Shadows of the Damned, despite how sophomoric it was, it managed to be pretty clever and downright funny, on a South Park level of dirty but with a ring of real humor behind it all. Lollipop literally just makes dirty jokes based on nothing but shock value. There’s one point where I heard a survivor (and I quote) scream “I think that zombie tried too– BUKAKE me”. It was said just like that, with a comedic pause and all. There’s an especially fat boss in the game who shouts REALLY dumb things like “I love you like I love doughnuts.” I’m sorry, but WAT. The whole game is like that. Either the jokes are just too childish and elementary school playground to be funny to an adult playing an M rated game, or too overt and simply disgusting to be funny. Don’t get me wrong, I can laugh at and tell a dirty joke like anyone else, I’m no prude, but the game just simply isn’t funny.
Now, onto the game’s score. All of the boss music is done by the musical genius Jimmy Urine (of Mindless Self Indulgence), and it really adds a kick to the game’s score, which is otherwise done by the amazing Akira Yamaoka, although his music tends to fall flat and sound VERY generic, especially compared to his other work. Perhaps I’m just too used to his previous work, but the Lollipop score feels… like he really didn’t care about it honestly. His music tends to be a little all over the place, and to be totally honest his music just fell into the background on this one. You know it’s bad when I found myself staying in the in-game shop for a while because I really liked the song “Lollipop”, rather than go back to game and listen to Akira’s score. I love Akira’s work, Silent Hill 2, 4 and Shattered Memories come up in my iPod a lot. There’s nothing bad about Lollipop’s score, it’s just forgettable. The game has a collection of fun songs throughout as well just to spruce up the action, done by various artists.
Sadly, the game only clocked in at about 5 and ½ hours for me, which isn’t terribly acceptable for a modern video game these days, especially for the $60 price tag. Of course, after completion you unlock the extra score attack mode, where you earn points throughout each stage of the campaign, trying to beat the pre-set scores of Juliet’s family- with the goal to beat Juliet’s dad. It’s fun, but it doesn’t really offer anything new. It just gives you a reason to play through the game again. There is a ton of bonus unlockables that you can purchase with your in-game points, tho. Extra costumes, music tracks that you can play whenever you want in the game, concept art, etc.
Overall, I’d say that Lollipop is a fun, although hardly perfect game. Definitely my least favorite Suda51 game, although that’ a lot like saying that I don’t like vanilla as much as chocolate. It’s all great. The game suffers from a few camera problems here and there (although it honestly adds a sort of vintage gaming feel to it.) and the difficulty is a little rocky at times, but overall this is definitely the sort of game that will become a cult classic once enough time passes. But as it is as a new release, it’s a flawed -but fun- action brawler with some spunk. Not… that kinda spunk. You know what I mean. Anyway, if you can find this game for about 30$, go for it, you’ll love it. This is definitely a wait-for-the-price-to-drop game.