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Lollipop Chainsaw Review
Lollipop Chainsaw should by no means be as much fun as it is. The tale, which follows zombie hunter/cheerleader extraordinaire Juliet through a literally hellish day of school, is about as pandering and immature as humanly possible. If I had a dollar for every time the camera panned directly up the skirt of Juliet’s microscopic uniform during a cutscene, I’d be a rich man (not to mention the fact that there’s actually an Achievement for sneaking a peek yourself during gameplay.) The thing that elevates Lollipop Chainsaw beyond the realm of mere crass entertainment is the earnestness with which the story is told. Infamous producer SUDA 51 and writer James Gunn have infused each moment of the game with such honest, open-faced immaturity that it’s nearly impossible not to laugh along, and it is for this reason that Lollipop Chainsaw stands out as one of the best action games so far this year.
As Juliet, you will stumble upon your high school in the throes of a zombie invasion. She does what any good cheerleader would and whips a pink chainsaw from her purse. It’s on, zombies. The basic combat in Lollipop Chainsaw is actually very reminiscent of another SUDA joint, No More Heroes, in many significant ways. You can decapitate enemies with a horizontal slice of your chainsaw. Chopping off multiple heads with one swipe will result in a flashy kill sequence and more points, just like in Travis’ last adventure. Juliet is also equipped with pom-poms, though. These serve as a way to stun zombies, which can be helpful when a hoard of the undead close in on you. I found myself using the pom-poms very rarely, though, as the default chainsaw is much better for slicing and dicing.
In a particularly funny running gag, Juliet will receive multiple upgrades for her chainsaw as the game progresses in the form of birthday presents from her family (yes, despite the zombie infestation surrounding her, Juliet is still conceited enough to demand gifts from everyone on her big day.) These upgrades will take the forms of grenade launchers, dash moves, and more, and they serve as an excellent way to flesh out the core combat, which would be too shallow to support the entire game on its own. By the time you reach the last level, you will have plenty of options in regards to slaying all of the zombies.
This variety is present in the game’s roster of enemies as well. While you might think that having a game centered around zombies inherently limits the possibilities for different enemy types, it in fact opened up new and ridiculous possibilities for the team at Grasshopper Manufacture. The standard zombie fare quickly gives way to exploding undead, zombie chickens, and flying zombies who propel themselves through the air using the gouts of blood that stream from their severed legs. And that’s not even taking into account the five bosses, each of whom is styled after a certain type of music and each of whom has their own bizarre attacks. A punk rocker zombie screams curse words with such ferocity that they actually become tangible and home in on you letter by letter, while a hippie zombie ensnares you in a wicked drug trip before making her attack.
In order to deal with all of these zombies, Juliet can upgrade herself at stores that are scattered about the game’s five environments. By purchasing items that increase Juliet’s strength, health, speed, and more, you can customize your avatar to play just how you want her to. If you want a tank-like character who can take lots of hits before keeling over, you can make that. If you want to put those cheerleading moves to good use flipping over and under zombies before decapitating them with one decisive chainsaw swing, you can spec more towards speed and better recovery times. It’s a pretty flexible system that adds a deceptive amount of depth to the mashy gameplay.
The core chainsaw-and-pom-pom-based combat is broken up at times by the inclusion of several minigames. The most prominent of these is a button-mashing sequence in which Juliet mounts the decapitated head of her boyfriend (long story) onto a headless zombie body, thus giving him brief control over the corpse thanks to vaguely-defined voodoo magic. This will usually come into play when there is a large obstacle that needs to be cleared from your path. The minigame is very simple and comes up a little too often for our liking, but it at least serves to break up the action.
If there’s one big flaw with Lollipop Chainsaw it’s that, like its brawler predecessors before it, it’s quite a short experience. The game’s five levels can easily be bested in the span of a day, and if you’re not the type to replay each level numerous times in pursuit of high scores and new items, dropping sixty bucks on this Lollipop can be a daunting proposition indeed. There is no co-op mode to speak of, even though such modes have been standard ever since the inception of the brawler. That said, there is a separate mode that challenges you to replay each level hunting out high scores under a certain set of restrictions. For those who want to experience the story again, this mode provides a great excuse to do so. Outside of that, there’s plenty of collectible content to find if you’re into that sort of thing, and the gameplay and humor are certainly strong enough to support a second playthrough.
Lollipop Chainsaw excels when it comes to presentation. The graphics are bright and vibrant; one screen of this game has more character than the entirety of most modern releases. Sporting a style that straddles the line between cel-shading and realism, the game renders Juliet and the zombies she so gleefully decapitates in gorgeous style. The music that blares in the background is similarly fantastic. Licensed songs are occasionally used to great effect, such as the Sleigh Bells tune that jams as Juliet slices and dices her way through a zombified athletic department. Original music is also present during many of the levels and boss battles, each of which commands a totally unique sonic landscape.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a manic, candy-coated exercise in insanity. What at first seems to be a pandering and immature release is… well, okay, it’s still all of those things at the end of the day. But beyond the short skirts and the butt jokes, the game is truly inspired and truly hilarious. And in the end, that trumps a short length and a lack of co-op any day.
This review was written based on the PS3 version of the game.