If I could hop into the mind of any creative soul within the video game industry, my first choice wouldn’t be Peter Molyneux, Tim Schafer, or even Hideo Kojima. Suda 51 would be my initial pick because, judging by his games, there has to be obscene amounts of raw crazy just floating around his mind cavity. Games like Killer7, No More Heroes, and (my personal favorite) Shadows of the Damned showcased equal but different amounts of his creative juices, so anything else he throws his name and team behind has a bar to live up to. Lollipop Chainsaw is this new title and has the necessary spunk to warrant the attention. Thankfully, it has much more than that.
Juliet Starling, the protagonist, isn’t a typical high school cheerleader. She may behave in a similar, bubbly matter, but she holds a secret that distinguishes her from all the other girls; she’s is part of a eclectic zombie hunting family. This side-job is a mystery to everyone else, until the day that the undead attack en masse on her high school during her eighteenth birthday. Blowing her cover, she must find the root of this horrific outbreak and put an end the hordes of flesh eating weirdos.
On paper, this plot sounds relatively tame, but it develops its intricacies because of the quality of the writing, delivery, and characters. A large portion of the dialogue is downright filthy, but it carries itself well because of the class of the filth. This consequentially makes the people funny, but not in an eye-rolling sort of way that would make you shutter Duke Nukem-style. Almost every line is overtly and explicitly sexual, but it is completely self-aware of it. Fisting heads in asses and neck-farting sound and are absurd, but they are carefully done to not sound tacky.
Given their frequency, this is a blessing. Juliet and all of the other characters are almost always in communication, not only showing off the brilliant writing, but also providing a constant stream of entertainment. This is exemplified by Nick, Juliet’s boyfriend… who just so happens to be an enchanted head attached via key chain to her hip. Similar to Johnson in Shadows of the Damned, he sarcastically babbles about the current situation or randomly brings up something with Juliet. The more his lips move, the more you laugh, making for some of the most memorable and hilarious lines in the entire game.
Not everything concerning the writing will sit right with everyone. While I wasn’t necessarily offended by it, some of the lines dabble in misogyny. Juliet is repeatedly called everything vulgar (cooze, slut, whore, bitch, etc.) in the book and literally attacked by these offensive words in one boss fight. It’s either that or she is being hit on in such an extreme manner (“Juliet, I’m so gonna totally masturbate to you tonight.”) that it is sort of eye-opening. However, Juliet is a strong enough character that stands tall above it all, but it is worth pointing out.
Juliet stands out as a great character with her witty lines and overly positive personality, but that doesn’t condemn everyone else to being eternally lame. In an incredibly smart move, her zombie hunting family is showcased, bringing multiple ridiculous faces to the game. Her Bieber Fever riddled little sister Rosalind is on a constant sugar rush, her older sister Cordelia is a bit more badass and laid back, the father brings his legendary zombie hunting wisdom, and the mother brings her own flavor with the occasional phone call as she prepares for your birthday. Grasshopper Manufacture did a fantastic job conveying the feeling of being part of an actual zombie hunting family filled with the interesting quirks you’d expect this family to have.
Since I review video games and not music, I tend to dive into the game part as quickly as I can. Lollipop Chainsaw is different because the phenomenal soundtrack demands more respect than that. Jimmy Urine from Mindless Self Indulgence and gaming music legend Akira Yamaoka have collaborated to make one of the best soundtracks ever to grace gaming. A bold statement for sure, but it was impossible to find a song that didn’t get stuck in my head. Licensed tracks are creatively peppered throughout key parts within the campaign, with familiar and more obscure songs hitting at nearly perfect times. From small things like having “Lollipop” play while going shopping to playing “Empire State Human” during a gondola mini game, this game knows exactly how to play songs to match the wonky mood this game always has. As if that wasn’t enough, the loading screen jingle is even really catchy!
Execution of the licensed tracks is spot on, but the showstopper is the level and boss music. Level music has its place and can be made into a personal jukebox within the menu, but the boss music is spectacular. It wouldn’t even be a stretch if I said the boss fight tunes are some of the best in gaming, bar none. Each jam pumps you up for the fight at hand, layering in new tracks as the incredible foe powers up an changes form. Playing without the sound on these fights should almost be considered a criminal offense. Well, I guess you’d only be hurting yourself.
Juliet is a professional zombie hunter, so she is equipped with all the right gear. Even though she is light on armor, her chainsaw tends to get the job done. This is where the combat part comes in. The undead heard around like little decaying sheep on their way to the slaughterhouse. Light attacks come in the form of pom pom hits, but these just open the zombies up for a heavy chainsaw attack. The chainsaw acts as a faster way to murder and opens the way for Sparkle Hunting, the game’s loose take on a score bonus by killing three or more zombies in a single attack. Combos can be purchased and can open up the possibility for better scores and coin bonuses.
While basic, slicing up zombies with the chainsaw is pure mindless fun. Swinging the chainsaw and using different combos and techniques is always flashy and the game gives you enough different methods to ensure the combat doesn’t become a drag. Truth be told, it isn’t anything near Bayonetta or any other pure action title, but the game almost never demands that sort of precision. Lollipop Chainsaw is designed around these limitations, so while it may not always be the most responsive action game in the genre (animations always take priority), it knows this and crafts a fun hack and slash title around it.
Small issues outside of the combat can negatively influence the fighting, along with whole game. As with Shadows of the Damned, the game has an annoying amount loading. It happens frequently enough to become cumbersome and can break up the game all too often. The camera also suffers a bit from wonkiness, as it can have trouble keeping up within some areas and can feel pretty unwieldy overall. Mini games are sparingly thrown in the campaign and while most are surprisingly fun, almost all of them can be costly if one mistake is made. A problem like this is annoying within itself, but the incompetent saving and checkpoint system stretches a niggling problem into a bigger problem.
Each level caps off with an epic boss fight and these definitely became a highlight within the each world. In a game where the combat admittedly isn’t the tightest, these fights are a blast. All are deeply rooted in stereotypes, but have nuances that make every fight memorable. These whack jobs exude personality that is both exuberant and hilarious shown by their obscene dialogue and pre-fight conversations. The actual fight parts are well thought out too, with each being bigger than the last. Each has multiples stages that continue to out-grow each other in scale and, combined with the incredible music, each feels like what a boss fight should feel like: a titanic, climactic battle.
Lollipop is heavily rooted in the old school chase for besting one’s score. Your current total is always within the confines of the screen and the game has leaderboards and extra modes to have you chase the highest score possible. Yes, Lollipop Chainsaw is what most people would call short (around five to six hours), but this game was built with replayability in mind. Multiple difficulties with new enemies, a hard core ranking mode, a tree of upgrades, and a whole slew of unlockable constumes will ensure that one run is not enough.
DNA from No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned is recognizable within Lollipop Chainsaw but it has an indistinguishable style that it can claim for itself. The humorous, campy writing, extraordinary music, and flashy combat bond together to create a package that makes it easy to wonder why other games aren’t nearly as creative. The bizarre nature might make potential buyers hesitant, but Lollipop Chainsaw filled a void that I didn’t even know was there. Chainsaw is my new favorite lollipop flavor.
+Absolutely outstanding soundtrack with a solid mix of original and licensed tracks
+Hilariously vulgar dialogue that makes the cast of characters memorable
+Flashy intense boss fights
+Upgrade path, level select, and other modes add replay value
+An immeasurable amount of style in every facet of the game
-Problematic camera and too much loading
-Small inconsistencies within the combat
-Instant fails for mini games and bad checkpoints are frustrating
Final Score: 8/10