Lollipop Chainsaw – Review



Title   Lollipop Chainsaw
Developer  Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher  Warner Bros Interactive
Platform  Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre  Action / Hack and Slash
Release Date  June 15, 2012

Suda51, I want to marry your mind. Seriously, a brain that can create something as bizarre and wonderful as Lollipop Chainsaw is a beautiful one. What possesses a man to create a game about a scantily clad high school cheerleader who kills zombies with a bedazzled chainsaw? Not that I’m complaining, you understand, because the result is one the best games I’ve come across this year.

The game’s cover girl is Juliet Starling, a high school cheerleader and, apparently, typical teenager… except for the fact that she carries around a bedazzled chainsaw around in her schoolbag – you know, just in case. As it turns out, that chainsaw comes in handy when she arrives at school one day to find it teeming with zombies. As Juliet would (and does) say: “What the dick?”

You proceed to cut a swath through the swarms of zombie douchebags (again, her words) on your way to meet Juliet’s handsome boyfriend Nick, and as you go the game teaches you to slice-and-dice effectively, culminating in a fight against a relatively tough zombie. You finally get to handsome young Nick, which is just about when things really start to get interesting as your gallant Prince Charming saves you from a zombie but, in the process, gets bitten himself. A sadly poignant moment follows, after which the final credits roll. Actually they don’t, but they do give it a good go. Juliet rudely interrupts by removing Nick’s head from his shoulders.

And that’s just the prologue.

It turns out that Nick is just fine, if bodiless, and fairly vocal about his predicament as the two continue their epic quest to discover what the dick is going on. Enter your arch enemy, the wonderfully-emo Swan. Fun fact: He practices brooding in the mirror. He’s also the source of all that zombiness sweeping the school, a fact he cackles about a couple of times. The character is a great caricature of the self-indulgent emo, and his reasons for zombifying the whole school is delightfully typical of a teenage emo: “The school made my life miserable.”

Anyway, long story short: Swan has unleashed five zombie lords on the school and it’s up to the only chainsaw-toting cheerleader around to stop them; a quest she sets about with relish.

The delight she takes in chopping zombies into itty bitty bits, allied with her adorable ditziness, is what makes Juliet so fun. All too often we’re saddled with characters who are either moaning about how shit their lives are or are scared shitless, so it’s refreshing to have a character who has fun while she’s going to town on the undead scum, even if she is a little dim. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh, but she does seem to be that typical high school popular cheerleader, except on steroids. The stereotype, not Juliet.

Thankfully, Totally-Headless-Nick isn’t a parody. Worn at Juliet’s waist, he’s constant source of chuckles and one liners that brighten up the lulls in combat and bounce off Juliet to make her look way better. Without Nick, Juliet would probably be pretty unbearable, so we should be relieved that he’s always around to be sent hurtling towards zombies and provide wisecracks. That’s not to say that he’s a one trick pony of course; he also helps out with the combat and, as the story progresses, he actually serves to shed some light on the other characters.

As you gallivant about the place, slicing and dicing every ex-classmate you come across, you also encounter some of Juliet’s lovely family: her sisters Cordelia and Rosalind, and her dad, Daddy. At least that’s what she calls him. Their roles are fairly fleeting, but Rosalind in particular is a delight, mostly because she’s absolutely mental. It’s also amusing watching how Nick interacts with each of them, especially Juliet’s rather intimidating father.

But let’s all be honest here guys – the story isn’t the reason you would buy this game and neither are the characters, and why not pretend – just for a moment – that the skimpily-dressed cheerleader isn’t a big factor either. So, what’s left? Give me a minute, I’ll think of something. Oh, the actual zombie killing!

For a game about a girl in a short skirt hitting stuff with a chainsaw, the combat is pretty solid, and utilises a pretty basic framework – you can either hit the zombies with your Pom-Poms, a light attack, or your chainsaw for a heavy attack. You can also use your mad cheerleading skills to somersault and dodge, or go down on them zombies with a low chainsaw slice; it’s pretty basic stuff to start, but as you go on dismembering your friends you gain zombie medals which you can spend buffing up the lovely Juliet, or your move list. Buying combos isn’t cheap, but you can feel Juliet grow more and more competent, and by the time you’ve got a few under your belt you feel like you could take on anything the game throws at you.

Killing zombies also charges up your special bar, and when that’s full you can really dish out some carnage. When your special mode is engaged, most zombies are one hit kills – just a quick swipe of your chainsaw should sort them out, which means it’s also easiest to get Sparkle Hunting bonuses – bonus zombie medals and extra points – when you’ve got your special on, and if that wasn’t enough, you have the added bonus of hearing the delightful strains of Toni Basil’s ‘Mickey’.

Of course, being bodiless, you’d assume that Nick was restricted to making wisecracks during the action, but he still manages to get involved, even if it is a bit more passive than he would probably have liked. Juliet uses ‘Nick Cards’ to get him involved in the combat, which generally means that she throws – or shoots – her hunk’s head at zombies, all the while proclaiming just how much she loves him; it’s a little odd, but it’s come in handy a few times and let me kill even more zombies, so I’m not complaining.

You’ll also find yourself taking odd breaks in the action, courtesy of mini-games that inhabit each level, one of which involves them mowing down zombies with a combine harvester. Some of them, like with the combine harvester, are fun and I can understand why they’re there, but they still feel generally unnecessary.

When you finally make your way through the hordes of slavering undead to the boss battles, you’re rewarded with some seriously interesting zombie lords. Take Zed for example – he’s your first real boss fight, and he’s awesome. In the words of Juliet, he’s a “My Chemical Romance wannabe”, bedecked in leather and studs with a glorious Mohawk, attacking you by shrieking various obscenities, which then take physical form and try to take you out. It’s great, and he’s just the first, with each of them being more over the top than the last, and just seeing them is almost as much fun as it is killing them.

One of the greatest things about murdering the already-dead in this game is getting to watch them die, and before you start looking at me funny, I should mention that I don’t mean that in a weird way. Rather than all the blood and gore you get served up in most zombie games, Lollipop Chainsaw serves up blood and gore, with extra servings of sparkles and rainbows. The sight of bodies spewing streams of gold sparkles from severed necks makes for oddly-addictive viewing, especially in the slow motion zoomed-in mode of Sparkle Hunting, where they do it en masse.

Unlike most other games of its type, this game is packed with colours. Apart from the sparkles and rainbows, the game throws up psychedelic visions and Tron-like cyber visuals with colours that punch you straight in the eyes – another refreshing change from a genre that’s become all-too-familiar with dull greys and dark areas; Lollipop Chainsaw is bright, colourful and over the top.

Special mention also must be made for the soundtrack to the game, as it offers you dozens of tracks to accompany your killing sprees across a range of genres. I stuck to the more rocky stuff, but there were also jazz, electro and country tracks that I dabbled with from time to time. Along with the wide variety of background music, there are also some gems you can’t help but crack a smile to, such as both ‘Lollipop’ and ‘Mickey’.

No game is perfect, of course, and this one does have a few irritating flaws. For one, the controls are sometimes unresponsive and finicky, which means that Juliet doesn’t always end up doing what you want her to and, although it’s not often an issue, it is irritating. The levels are very long, each one taking upwards of half an hour, and sometimes they are not set up all that well. Checkpoints are pretty scattered and you may find yourself having to repeat a particularly irritating fight. There are also those mini-games, which steal away from the momentum you gather as you sweep through horde after horde of zombies, and then there’s the matter of the completely-uninspiring boss battles, which generally fail to live up to how awesome the bosses themselves actually are. They’re pretty standard fare – kill the boss three times and then he stays dead. They lack a lot of oomph, and you’re generally left asking “Is that it?”

Last but not least, the game is short. It only provides around eight hours of storyline although, in its defence, eight hours is probably enough. The story never feels like it’s dragging on, and is well-paced, and the thing that really saves Lollipop Chainsaw on this front is the replayability. The game is essentially one big score attack, and you’re graded after completing each level. Seeing the school report style scorecard is infuriating, and leaves you itching to go back and turn those Cs into As. Allied with this is that one playthrough of each level is never enough, especially if you want to fully upgrade Juliet – I found myself playing through each level a couple of times, and I’d say that I’ve probably completed the game three times now. Not once has it dragged or grated. It may only be eight hours long, but they’re eight hours of pure unadulterated fun.

Pros
  • Loads of fun
  • Replayable time and time again
  • Fun characters
Cons
  • Poor boss battles
  • Finicky controls
  • Stupid mini-games
Summary

Lollipop Chainsaw is everything that’s right with gaming. Vulgar, fun and colourful, this is one of those games that you want to play over and over again. The combat is silly, but robust, and grows better as you buy more moves to add to your arsenal. Upbeat conversations ally with sly commentary and sarcastic one-liners to create insane and enjoyable characters, which combine with the mental gameplay to create a genuinely fun experience. Plus, for those of who are willing to look, there are some interesting observations about relationships. The replay value of the game is also impressive, giving you plenty of bang for your buck. Best of all though, every single one of those new playthroughs is just as fun as the last.


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2 Comments

  1. Rook says:

    I really enjoyed this game. Once I had levelled up Juliet and got a couple of extra combos it made replaying a lot easier for sparkle hunting. Maxed the game out now but never was it a drag. Only one real difficult achievement that took A LOT of attempts but otherwise fun. Hearing some of the same lines more than once still made me smile. Good game.

  2. Chris says:

    Was this more or less fun that Shadows of the Damned? I grew VERY tired of that VERY quickly

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