Lollipop Chainsaw Gameplay Preview: Hippie Zombies Offer Hilarious TimesBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Apr 06, 2012
I learned two things about Grasshopper Manufacture and Kadokawa Games' Lollipop Chainsaw during a recent demo session in New York City. First: when Suda 51 gets together with a writing talent like James Gunn, magical things happen. Second: when we get to play Lollipop after it's released on June 12, 2012, we're all going to walk away with a significantly enriched vocabulary of profanities.
Seriously. There are words uttered in this game that simply can't be repeated here on G4. Though I'm confident that once the game is out, we'll all be hearing them bellowed through the headsets connected to our online gaming network of choice.
For those who aren't clear on what Lollipop Chainsaw is, here's a brief refresher. The hack-and-slash zombie-killing game features a story penned by Gunn, the writer of Slither and Troma Studios veteran. You'll play as Juliet, a blond-haired, chainsaw-toting high school cheerleader who comes from a family of zombie hunters. She's joined on her journey by the head of her boyfriend Nick, who can constantly be seen dangling from her hip.
This framework and the larger story that fits into it was actually developed before work started on the game. The kernel of the idea was born in Suda's head and from it he developed an outline that he passed along for Gunn to turn into an actual script. All of the deranged pieces that we'll see on the screen in June fell into place from there.
The eyes-on demo I checked out dropped in on an earlier part of the game. Juliet is out, along with Nick of course, to pay her sister Rosalind a visit at O'Bannon Farm. The name O'Bannon is a nod to Alien screenplay writer Dan O'Bannon. There's a lot of this self-referential winking going on in the game. Such as Julia's high school, San Romero High School, which is an obvious nod to Night of the Living Dead director and creator of the modern zombie myth George Romero.
The stage begins with a fakeout dream sequence in which Juliet wakes up in an empty clearing with Nick no longer at her side. She soon finds him with his head now settled back on its body, though unfortunately it's now a zombified body. She awakens as he moves to attack her, finding herself in the exact same clearing as before, only with Nick's head still at her side.
A yellow school bus comes barreling onto the scene, honking and swerving, with Rosalind behind the wheel. There's some talk from the 16-year-old about the vehicle being out of control, but she doesn't seem terribly worked up over it. In fact, she's more concerned with hearing about the new partial man in Juliet's life. At one point, she asks what the bottom of his disembodied head looks like. "Awesome," she adds. "It makes me want to throw up."
This is the sort of humor we're working with in Lollipop Chainsaw. Totally out there and crass. All of it is also backed by an unusually pop-laden soundtrack featuring a song selection picked out by none other than Akira Yamaoka. The Silent Hill and Shadows of the Damned composer fills more of a music coordinator role for Lollipop, since many of the tunes you hear are licensed. It's jarring when you realize that the man who built such dark, disturbing soundscapes for Silent Hill also chose to play the '80s New Wave pop song "Mickey" behind Juliet's semi-common invulnerability sequences (triggered by press RT when an on screen meter fills up).
The core of the game's hack-and-slash combat is built around the idea of racking up combos and performing multikills. When a group of zombies spawn, your best bet is to run circles around them until you can get them grouped up, and then attack the mass of living dead shamblers as one. If you can pull off at least three decapitations in a multi-kill (or as many as seven), then you're awarded a Sparkle Hunting bonus, which helps you level up Juliet's skills all that much more quickly.
Replayability is a big factor here. At the end of each stage, you'll receive a set of letter-based scores based on your performance in different categories. There are also three difficulties to start with -- Easy, Normal, and Hard -- as well as a Very Hard mode that unlocks once you've completed the game. There's also a New Game+ option. Harder difficulties introduce tougher enemies and in greater numbers, as well as more complex patterns to learn during boss fights. The difficulty setting is stage-specific too, so you can pick and choose any stage to play on at any difficulty once you've unlocked them all.
The level proceeds through different parts of the sprawling farm. The focus is mostly on the hack-and-slash -- though Juliet can also use her chainsaw like a gun when she's got the ammo for it -- but some other sequences appear occasionally to break things up. There are a few moments when Juliet plops Nick's head onto a headless zombie body. A button-pressing minigame follows during which the newly re-bodied Nick dances to a point and does something -- it's entirely contextual -- to open up a new part of the stage.
At another point, Juliet hooks back up with Rosalind and her out-of-control bus. An escort sequence follows in which you need to use the chainsaw's gun attack to keep the bus safe from boulders chucked by zombies. At higher difficulties, this section would pit players against more zombies and more frequently thrown boulders.
You'll also occasionally encounter zombies with names floating above their heads, marking them as mini-bosses. Defeating one unlocks it as a sort of collectible in your constantly growing library. This info is of practical use too, since the miniboss zombies you encounter all have particular weaknesses that become easier to exploit once you know what they are.
I see two vastly different mini-boss fights during the demo. One is against Mark, a portly, tank top-wearing mountain of undead dude. He's a hardy fellow in melee combat, but he falls quickly under the sustained fire of Juliet's chainsaw/cannon/gun/thing. Later on in the stage she takes on Chut, which hatches out of an egg during a playable psychedelic dream-trip sequence. Chut is a giant-sized undead chicken.
Then there's the level's final boss, Mariska, a sitar-playing hippie zombie who flies around inside a shiny, rainbow-reflecting bubble. Mushrooms of the magical variety play a big role during Juliet's visit to O'Bannon Farm, in the form of multiple trippy sequences. The journey culminates in this boss fight, which plays out in a circular arena in which the "floor" is made up of a ring of school buses. There's a pit in the center, and that's where Mariska floats around and does her boss thing.
The idea is to keep shooting at Mariska until you can knock her down into the outer circle, at which point you have 10 seconds to run up and chainsaw her in the face. She doesn't make it easy for Juliet though, summoning threshing machines and giant hands out of thin air while also shooting projectiles of her own.
The fight unfolds in typical boss fashion, with Juliet knocking Mariska out and chainsaw slicing her three times before she finally falls. She bids the undead hippie adieu with a fairly awesome parting slam: "Choke on your Birkenstocks, you psilocibin-munching moron!"
Suda and Gunn, together at last.
Lollipop Chainsaw is looking like good, hilarious times. It definitely feels like the B-movie version of a video game in some ways. There's lot of excessively repeated incidental dialogue. The art style is eye-catching, but the textures themselves are good rather than great. There's still a few months to go for polish before the game arrives. Even if these minor issues aren't addressed, it likely won't matter. Grasshopper Manufacture games are as much about the charm as they are the gameplay, and Lollipop Chainsaw's own deranged charm feels in its current form like a perfect fit for the Suda studio.