The wide world of video games is full of colorful characters... and I'm not just talking about those on screen! Peter Molyneux springs instantly to mind, as does Tomonobu Itagaki of Ninja Gaiden fame. But few are as eclectic as Goichi Suda, also known as Suda 51. He is best known as the creative genius behind such games as killer7 and No More Heroes. Now he returns with Lollipop Chainsaw, telling the tale of a buxom cheerleader who gets caught up in the unfortunate series of events during a zombie outbreak. And like his other efforts, Lollipop Chainsaw takes this bizarre notion and makes a quirky, enjoyable game out of it. Sadly, also like his other efforts, his fun ideas are tempered by wonky controls and some poor design decisions.
Today is Juliet's birthday! Unfortunately, the party will have to wait because, you know, like, the zombie apocalypse has begun. Fortunately, it turns out that our stereotypical, cliched, buxom, blond bombshell of a heroine has another passion beyond shopping and lollipops... she happens to be a zombie hunter! Not only that, she comes from a family of zombie hunters! Unfortunately, Juliet's boyfriend Nick tragically suffers a zombie related mishap. Luckily for
him her love is strong, so she magically seals his head off from the
zombie poison coursing through his veins, and then straps his head to her
butt. He serves as part comic relief, part useful tool (Nick can be
shot out of cannons, thrown at zombies, things like that) to take on the hordes of undead as Juliet endeavors to find the source of the outbreak and punish those responsible.
If that made sense to you in any fashion... well, then kudos, give yourself a pat on the back. The plot never really evolves much beyond meeting members of her family and battling the zombie rock lords who serve as bosses (if you've managed to keep your eyebrows from raising there, give yourself another pat on the back). Mind you, I didn't really expect it to. The plot is intentionally ridiculous, taking campy B-grade zombie movies (that we all secretly love) to new heights.
I can't tell how much of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
they are trying to channel here. At times it seems like they are trying
to pay a certain amount of homage to the cult classic, but at other
times it seems to almost be making crude, mean spirited fun of it,
making a mockery of the subject matter. The difference is that one is
empowering, while the other is just degrading.
Be warned, a lot of the dialogue is pretty over the top, yet
surprisingly, blatantly inappropriate. The bad guys say things to Juliet
that actually had me raising my eyebrows at the sheer vulgarity of it.
Subtly may not be Suda 51's forte, but come on now! It's almost like
he's trying to single handedly set back the feminist movement by 60
years! Okay, okay, I know it's supposed to be tongue in cheek, but it's
still pretty bad.
Bad lines and cliched characters aside, zombie killing is what Lollipop Chainsaw is all about! Juliet carries around a wicked chainsaw in her gym bag, as well as pom-poms and, of course, Nick to bash, slice, and mutilate the undead masses. Combat consists of minor combos and moving through
different weapon types. It does actually evolve as you progress (more on that in a minute), so it's more than simple button mashing. Sadly, the level design follows the all too familiar pattern of kill so many zombies before you can progress, then kill some more to progress some more. Eventually you'll run into a boss. It's fun at first, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly. But Juliet and her skills are upgradable, so that at least keeps things a little fresh.
Killing three or more zombies with one swing will earn you
sparkle hunting points... yeah (another pat on the back if you kept a
straight face). It's clever in that you get extra medals for pulling
them off, and therefore, more goodies to buy. If you actually build up a
"Sparkle Meter" which, when full, allows Juliet to go on a "Mickey"
themed rampage (the song, not the Disney character), one hit killing any
zombie in her path for a short time. This is when you can really rack
up the points, and subsequently spend those points to upgrade Juliet's
skill set. Unfortunately, it takes an age to fill, so you really need to
pick your moments.
Despite it's best efforts not to be, Lollipop Chainsaw is still a one trick pony. Here's is the problem... I literally used the same combo the entire game. Why, you ask? Because the one worked just fine in pretty much every situation! You can unlock others as you progress but the cost to upgrade is a little too high. This is fine, but it's really only worth thinking about it in terms of multiple playthroughs. You don't get the good stuff till so near the end that you barely have time to play around with them. Therein lies the problem. The developers wrongly assumed people would want to replay the silly story again solely for the gameplay, but since the gameplay isn't that good to begin with (because they don't give you the best combos till the end) then why would I want to go through it again? The game even tells you that if you play through on harder difficulties then weapon/enemy/health drops will all be different, but I couldn't escape thinking that I didn't really care that much and the story hadn't engaged me enough to warrant another go.
The production values are kind of a mixed bag. The heavily stylized, cel-shaded graphics are well done, but don't
animate very well. Juliet and Nick look great, and
it's colorful and fun most of the time, but I couldn't help thinking
repeatedly that the animations outside of the main characters looked
awful. The cutscenes are poorly edited, with loading screens cutting off dialogue.
The soundtrack is a highlight, although the overly cliched dialogue wears on you like watching a poorly edited version of Clueless. If you can pick out the good lines from the bad you'll be okay, but a lot of the stuff is repeated far too often. In fact, the music is probably the best part of Lollipop Chainsaw. Whether it's Juliet kicking zombie ass while "Mickey" plays in the background, to the different musically inclined bosses at the end of each level, the soundtrack definitely enhances the experience.
Suda 51 is an interesting character to say the least. Just like his other efforts, there
is something to be said for his talent, but perhaps not his execution. Lollipop Chainsaw is cute (in a warped way, more poking fun at stereotypes rather
than embracing them), funny (there are some good one-liners if you can
sit through all the drivel) and the game has some campy value (much like his other games). If you can get past the simplistic gameplay and eye-rolling plot, then Lollipop Chainsaw is worth playing... once. I think the biggest mistake he made with this one was the faulty assumption that we would want to replay the game, because it's only on subsequent playthroughs that you're really going to get the most out of it. Personally, I couldn't be bothered.
Score = 7.2 / 10