Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Warner Bros
Platform(s): PS3 [reviewed], X360
Release Date: June 15, 2012 (EU)
Sex sells. Look no further than this statement when wondering about Lollipop Chainsaw, because it sure doesn’t. This new ‘edgy’ game by Suda 51 in collaboration with James Gunn is exactly what you’d come to expect and nothing more: A cheap, pop culture romp with bright colors and blinking lights that’ll make you go “oooh” for a second. Perhaps that’s its greatest strength as at least it isn’t deluding anyone.
The game in its essence is a B-movie setup starring peppy bombshell Juliet Starling, her zombie hunting family and her soon-to-be-parted lover boy Nick. Together, they bounce, giggle and slash their way through the zombie apocalypse brought on by some Myspace cliché. The word “cliché” can be added to any of this game’s features, but in reality it drives on this very aspect of pure exploitation. It’s hard to be offended by it, since it’s the game’s very blatant approach.
The action takes Blondie through an array of stages in her local playground to eradicate one zombie boss at a time. Each of these is related to a certain musical genre, such as a punk zombie in a junkyard and a filthy hippie zombie on a farm. Each locale has ample sections ramping up to the final showdown filled with both color and the undead. As heads starts flying and tinsel and rainbows fill the screen, gore and girly meet up into a mix of glorious bad taste. Hell, Juliet can also use the sparkling chainsaw as a gun or a phone when she’s not decapitating people; it’s the accessory for the hip girl.
What follows is just an extension to the premise. Juliet can ‘shop’ at designated points and use earned coins to add to her stats, unlock some acrobatic combos to show off her cheerleading skills, add new happening songs to her MP3 collection or snag a snazzy new outfit, be it revealing or not. Oh, there's also poledancing. Beyond the expansion of character development, the collection aspect will become Lollipop’s main attraction; quite like Bratz dolls and added accessories. The game itself will take around 6-8 hours for a first completion, but unlocking new content and kicking up the challenge will allow players to come back to the story or try their hand at a Ranking mode.
Still, level progression and the story in itself still have a nugget of added value. As Juliet progresses, she’ll meet plenty of obstacles that stand between her and her job as a zombie hunter. Most of those will be zombies, but there are also doors and beams she needs to cut up, platforms she needs to get to, escape routes she needs to follow and so on. When not taking care of business herself, she’ll call upon her boy toy Nick to solve the issue by sticking his head onto a zombie corpse that he can control for a moment. With a roulette, she’ll also be able to use him for other weapons and rewards; because men are things! Other times, her family will assist her with their respective traits, such as her kid sister’s psychopathic insanity or her big sister’s sharpshooting skills.
All of this will be enriched with tons of crass dialogue. Whether it’s Juliet talking about her ‘ginormous ass’ or having idle chitchat with Nick, the direction will lead to puns and references as often as possible. Introspection in this game isn’t allowed and so everything will distract the old attention span with either flashy colors, cheap comments or gore and mostly a combination of all at once. It doesn’t simply stop there though; Lollipop Chainsaw crams this within every facet of the game. Juliet meets grandma zombies that utter profane things, references current trends and people like Katy Perry and she gets sucked into mini-games that resemble Mario is Missing. A personal favorite is her Chainsaw Dash ability that makes Juliet race through a level and use speed strips to fly across the screen while collecting coins, like a 3D Sonic game. It may be cheap, but sometimes its implementation is rather enjoyable. Lollipop makes sure to add various mini-games each stage, which keeps gameplay fresh and varied and gives every level its own distinct feel aside from its theme.
More so, Juliet can charge up a meter to unlock a brief moment of super ability, backed up by the 1982 hit song “Mickey” by Toni Basil. For those too lazy to look it up, it’s that cheery song that goes: “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine; you’re so fine, you blow my mind. Hey Mickey!” During this period, slaying zombies becomes a cinch and she’ll be able to go for multiple kills more easily, which unlocks more and better rewards. The only downside is that a group kill comes along with a flashy cutscene every time and that becomes repetitive in a large pack of zombies. At least they picked a song that nobody can ever dislike.
Beyond its crass, derivative traits that might not appeal to everyone, Lollipop also has some questionable old design choices. For instance, a ton of quick time events are “press to not die” moments that can both be confusing and frustrating when given that a continue will detract from a level score. Also, the auto aim for shooting often leads to more frustration than help, as it rarely points anywhere near the desired object. Zombie mobs can lead to more confusion and are almost unstoppable in their advance at times. It’s not difficult per se, but it does have a cheap aspect to it.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that goes back to the arcade days, when political correctness and a rich, driving environment could all take a back seat to a pure, unfiltered shot of instant, mindless self-indulgence. It’s a blatant and cheap pitch driving on a certain niche to sustain its short length and repetitiveness, but sometimes that’s ok.