Lollipop Chainsaw, the latest creation from Suda 51 is a wonderfully satisfying, if not slightly braindead romp that slices and dices the past half-century of pop culture and slams choice pieces together as hard as it can. What we get in the end is a largely enjoyable presentation, though certainly not the best video game we'll ever play.
- Over-the-top presentation equal parts Clueless, Buffy, and Scott Pilgrim with a touch of John Hughes.
- Combat system has plenty of visually entertaining combos.
- Tons to unlock and challenges to beat, adding replay value.
- Low-brow humor and bland protagonist make for jokes that are extremely hit-and-miss.
- Reverse difficulty curve where game gets easier as you go and starts out hard.
- No save system, with uneven level length and design.
It is almost impossible to accurately reflect the sheer nonsense of Lollipop Chainsaw. Sure, you can see the cover and you understand the premise: It's a cheerleader, with a chainsaw, killing zombies. And yet it's so much more. In the opening moments of the game, we are literally invited into protagonist Juliet Starling's bedroom as the camera lovingly caresses her curves, but Juliet herself warns that the invitation is not meant to encourage any “funny business.”
Not that she minds funny business, especially if you really like the person.
Truly, Truly Outrageous
From here, the camera pans to introduce Juliet's family. Her older sister Cordelia is a marksman with a sniper rifle bigger than her body; her younger sister Rosalind is a maniac behind the wheel, capable of causing 15-car pileups; her father is a zebra print-wearing rockabilly badass with a penchant for attracting the ladies, though he's always true to his wife – who is the reason Juliet and her sisters “wear their vaginas proudly.”
Cut to Juliet's boyfriend Nick under attack from zombies, Juliet running out the door, lollipops in tow, and her running down a small crowd of the undead with her bicycle. It's a weirdly John Hughes-vibe intro that soon gives way to utter madness. Throughout the next few hours you'll be witness to a wisecracking decapitated head, a perverted Japanese sensei, more rainbows than you can count, and zombies, zombies, zombies!
Lots and lots of zombies! Big zombies, flying zombies, fast zombies, slow zombies! Zombies on fire! Zombies that explode! Zombies with guns!
What's both a problem and admirable about Lollipop Chainsaw is that it doesn't care if you can't hang with this level of ridiculousness. It defies you to stick around and see what's up next, but if you can't, the game won't miss you. So just know ahead of time that if you thought the cover of the game was over-the-top or a little silly, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
Diving Into A Shallow Pool
As with all of his other games, Suda 51 has inserted a gratuitous amount of juvenile humor into Lollipop Chainsaw. Travis Touchdown from No More Heroes had hilariously obvious deficiencies in social interactions with women, and Garcia Hotspur carried around a demon named Johnson that could turn into a “boner” gun. Both games frequently mined crassness for their humor, touching on everything from genitalia and alcohol to flatulence and decapitation. In other words, this is not exactly high-brow stuff. That's not what Grasshopper Manufacture is known for.
But while Travis and Garcia won't be winning any humanitarian awards for their personalities, they nonetheless came across as interesting and funny twists on classic anti-hero portrayals. Lollipop Chainsaw's Juliet is, sadly, not interesting.
While there will no doubt be conversations, either aloud or subconsciously, as to whether or not the game is truly sexist because of how Juliet is written, I have to say I don't get the sense of malicious intent behind Lollipop Chainsaw's jokes. It's not that Suda 51 and James Gunn wanted to demean women, it's just that they didn't know how to write a good one, so they resorted instead to tired cliches and comments about Juliet's chest.
And while Juliet most definitely is a shallow, empty-headed bimbo, she nonetheless is unfazed by the situation around her, staying strong in the face of adversity, never letting lewd comments – rescue a male classmate and he might remark, “I never thought I'd be saved by someone with such great ***s” – bring her down. She's wearing a mini-skirt and low-cut top, but it doesn't feel like she's a weak character being taken advantage of.
Other characters are similarly hollow as Juliet, with younger sister Rosalind being particularly annoying. The decapitated boyfriend Nick and zombie boss fights have the most personality. In fact, the opening moments of the game up to the first boss are engaging and hilarious. It's only once you realize that these stereotypes and bad jokes are really all there is to these characters that it sinks in they become less interesting. Mostly, it's just sad that it's only responses to Juliet's bubbly attitude and behavior that end up being funny instead of Juliet herself.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow Is Fun
Look over what information this review has analyzed thus far. It's mostly characters, jokes, and presentation. Okay, so it's all characters, jokes, and presentation. That's because when you play Lollipop Chainsaw, you're not so much playing a great game as using it to take you on this ridiculous journey. Excellent and satisfying combat is not on the tip of the tongue, largely because it's not excellent or satisfying.
By collecting coins you'll be able to deepen Juliet's repertoire of moves, but in the prologue you're limited to only the most basic four combos, one of which can't even kill a zombie. As time goes on there are some truly awesome and cool moves to pull off, but you're never unlocking them at what seems like a fast enough rate. So from one opportunity to purchase moves to the next you'll probably see a lot of the same moves repeated ad nauseum. Some really are satisfying to pull off, but the jerkiness to much of the combat and Juliet's nigh-inability to interrupt zombies mid-swipe makes for some frustrating moments. It's not great combat, and it's not terrible. It's largely just there.
Level design rarely evolves into something truly noteworthy. Following the increasing trend of virtual realities in our games, there's a point where Juliet enters a Tron-likevideo game world, and in a shroom-fueled haze she battles a giant three-headed mecha chicken, but otherwise you're running through the same environments we've seen a hundred times before. None of the six levels have save points, demanding you finish each in one sitting. It makes sense, considering the game often feels like an homage to the coin-operated beat-em-ups of years past, but it's still a hiccup considering some levels seem to rush by while others plod on for what seems like forever and there's no way to know ahead of time which is which.
I could not count for you the number of times I said, out loud, “What is happening in this game?!” The dilemma of Lollipop Chainsaw is that this phrase was uttered both as a frustration as well as vocal endearment. It features a strong female lead who happens to also be a scantily-clad idiot that characters disrespect with borderline sexual harassment. It plays like a brick at times, but there are few things as satisfying as bisecting a zombie, starting at the crotch. It's intensely brutal and violent, surrounded by rainbows and glitter sparkles. Following on that theme, it's a fascinatingly entertaining video game that just doesn't play very well.
If irony was a video game, it'd be Lollipop Chainsaw.