If you’ve played Suda51′s games before, such as No More Heroes or Shadows of the Damned, you probably know what you’re getting into as you fire up their latest disc, Lollipop Chainsaw. For those who haven’t, it helps to know that you shouldn’t expect something that takes itself seriously… at all. Whether that’s a good or bad thing comes down to your taste most likely, making a definitive recommendation one way or another somewhat difficult. It’s even debatable whether this will appeal to fans of Suda51, but at the very least this title is not horribly broken and has had good attention put into it.
One look at the cover pretty much tells you all you need to know about what Lollipop Chainsaw is about. The story features Juliet Starling, a cheerleader about to celebrate her birthday with her boyfriend Nick when all of a sudden a zombie uprising breaks out, starting at her high school. Nick gets bitten, and to save him Juliet decapitates him with her trusty chainsaw, magically keeping him alive to tag along by hanging off her hip. It turns out she’s secretly always been a zombie hunter, which makes her uniquely equipped to tackle the oncoming apocalypse, which was set into motion by one of her Goth loving classmates. From there Juliet must take on various zombie overlords, each musically inclined in various forms of death metal. It’s all as ridiculous as it sounds, and yet strangely consistent. There’s plenty of cutscenes peppered throughout the game, but if you enjoy the humor it’s not tedious at all.
Gameplay is about as simple as any other hack and slash game with zombies you’ve ever played. Juliet has a mixture of light pom pom attacks which can push and stun the zombies, and heavy slashes with her chainsaw which deal the main damage to enemies. She can also leapfrog zombies or jump out of the way to dodge attacks. As you kill zombies, sparkles are collected into a gauge. Once filled you can hit the right trigger to unleash a powered up mode that one hits most zombies. As you go along you will unlock more abilities as “birthday gifts” like a blaster that lets you shoot enemies from a distance or the chainsaw dash. You can also unlock more moves and upgrades to health, strength, etc. through zombie medals you collect throughout the game. Medals can also be accumulated by killing several zombies in one fell swoop. Juliet is also able to take advantage of Nick’s head in a couple of ways. First of all there are points in the game where he is used to control a headless body in order to clear an obstacle. This is just one of the many instances where quick time events take place, so if you’re not a fan of those, beware. Secondly there’s special moves that can be performed with Nick when you use a “Nick Ticket.” This triggers a roulette sequence that determines which move you actually use (for example the Nick Toss clears a circle around you by twirling him around like a pom pom, while the Nick Popper is another ranged gun that stuns zombies). Health is refreshed by eating lollipops of course, which Juliet can stock up on until necessary.
Overall Lollipop Chainsaw can get pretty repetitive but there’s enough breaks in the action and other little gimmicks that keep things a little fresh through a first playthrough at least. For instance, an entire section of the game actually includes little spinoffs to classic arcade games, a typical Suda51 signature move. On the easier play settings it’s almost impossible to die outside of the bosses, which can get pretty frustrating and cheap. The only thing that made them tolerable was Nick’s humorous running commentary, which expresses exasperation about the same things that would bother anyone playing this game. Also unfortunately the game commits a major sin on the final boss with a lack of checkpoints, causing you to repeat the entire encounter just for missing one QTE cue. The game took me about seven hours to complete so it’s not very long, but there are many things to collect and a reason to replay for the “good” ending if you care about those things.
You can tell a lot of effort was put into Lollipop Chainsaw’s cutscenes, as they’re incredibly detailed and the most visually impressive part of the game. Juliet steals the show and most of the close ups in her skimpy attire of course, and the game would have fallen apart if she were ugly or otherwise disconcerting or odd to look at. The same can’t be said for the main game, however, which suffers from some stilted animation, cheap looking explosions, and cookie cutter level design. But the action comes so quick that you’re not really going to dwell on it, and the end it gives it the arcade feel it deserves, so you can’t knock it too much.
The soundtrack in this game was well decided, with just about every appropriate popular song you could think of properly licensed and put in. Yes, the “lollipop song” even makes it into the game as upgrade shop music. The main menu features Cherry Bomb, and Mickey plays every time you trigger Juliet’s star power mode, while a Dragonforce track makes an appearance during one of the final battles. Voice acting is key in a game that depends on humor to tell its story and for the most part the actors deliver their lines well. Juliet is both bubbly and confident as she talks back to each of the zombie overlords, while Nick comes off well as the doting boyfriend who finally has enough of the whole thing at one point. The supporting cast is no exception here, either.
To conclude, Lollipop Chainsaw is a fairly decent, if somewhat short and limited, zombie romp. The gameplay isn’t terribly sophisticated and could be boring if you’re looking for something besides straight up hack and slash. I found myself enjoying it mostly for the funny one liners and incredulous story, but I don’t plan on returning to it again after beating it, despite all the extras left to do. If you’re looking for something a bit deeper with more replay value in the same genre, I figure Dead Rising 2 would scratch your itch at a much lower price. But if you’ve already played that and are looking for a few more laughs, this game could be up your alley, perhaps at a later date when the price drops.