Review: Lollipop Chainsaw

Lollipop Chainsaw is a Suda Goichi game with all the trappings. But is that reason enough to celebrate?

You take control of barely legal teen heroine Juliet Starling – fan of lollipops, short skirts and industrial sized chainsaws. Juliet wakes on her 18th birthday to learn that the undead have annexed San Romero High School (that’s an accident waiting to happen). The game doesn’t bother wasting too much time with the who/what/where/why/when/how: Juliet is a professional zombie hunter and there’s a zombie coup. Oh and her boyfriend is a decapitated head fastened to her belt buckle. Onward!

Brushing aside the silly scene-setting, it’s a well enough told story that is at times exquisitely funny. Imagine that? While we shouldn’t spurn the merry act of reducing zombies to a squall of rent flesh, rainbows and soaring limbs, it’s the script and the two leads that give Lollipop Chainsaw its soul. The chitchat between Juliet and her bodiless boyfriend Nick is sharp – they bicker, flirt and slice through the carnage with humorous quips and at the end of it all it feels like a genuine enough relationship.

The zombies have some fantastic one liners, too, usually delivered after they’ve undergone open chainsaw surgery. One raspy chap told me, while I was lopping his lower half off no less, that he was off to meet his cat Fluffy in heaven. His ability to find the positive in having his top half divorced from his bottom was most admirable.

At the core of the game is a rudimentary but reasonably expressive combat system. It plays like a hack ‘n’ slash rendition of Shadows of the Damned via some old school beat ‘em ups, albeit in a more congenial world and with fewer genital jokes to wade through. You glide from room to room hacking away at anything that moves, prevented from progressing until you’ve reduced all tottering corpses to a neat pile of limbs. It’s as linear as a children’s pop up book with little, if any, opportunity to veer from the beaten path (although there’s plenty of collectibles peppered across the seven levels) but it’s well paced and built from the ground up to be replayed.

Initial impressions betray the depth of the combat too. The ceremonial chainsaw handles all the grizzly death business while a pair of pom poms herd zombies so that rabbles of the undead can be dispatched in a few incisive swipes. 

While Juliet isn’t rivalling The Dishwasher or Bayonetta in terms of her well of combos, the combat is reasonably freeform with ample room to string together natty combos, duck-dives and fierce executions. In the heat of the moment it can all descend into dribbling-idiot button bashing, and you’ll make it through well enough like that, but it’s worth getting to grips with the combos if you want to wage war on the leaderboards; the more enemies you kill with each swipe the more coins you’re given. 

Elsewhere hit and miss minigames – roped in as quickly as they’re tossed aside again – break up the quickly established rhythm of room-to-room violence. 3D Pac-Man, zombie basketball and rhythm-action sections involving Nick are a few of the more tolerable distractions but these dime-a-dozen diversions plague the game with an uninvited stop/start pace that takes its toll on later play throughs.

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And you’ll want to play it through again, too, because beneath the voyeurism, bloodshed and wit lies the workings of an extensive score-attack game. Trouble is it’s all a bit like Max Payne’s New York Minute mode. Everything is in place it just doesn’t really pur. Levels are too long, for a start, lasting upward of forty minutes and it’s a slog replaying stages because you failed a protect the AI minigame or QTE. Elsewhere the camera – which is obnoxious at the best of times – compounds things, annexing control after every fight usually to let you know where the exit is. Only for a matter of seconds, mind, but when you’re wrestling a time limit and playing through for the fifth or sixth time you don’t need telling where the door is.

It’s a shame because if you can stomach the nonsense there’s a lot to like; three modes, friend and world leaderboards and unique challenges while the bellicose combat is good enough to carry things as the script fades into the ether through repetition. But it needs to be snappier, levels shorter and with none of the interruptions. The minigames could do with taking a blindfolded hike along a pier too.

Production standards are decent enough. Juliet’s stable of twirls, leaps and twizzles are dazzling, although you can’t say the same for the character models or limited environments. But its ungainly, quasi-cell shaded exterior and awkward character models match the spirit of the game.

The soundtrack, meanwhile, cuts a delightful divide between 80s licensed pop and unruly metal; the latter of which usually accompanying the vulgar boss characters. The more violent stints play out to the tune of Tony Basil’s blithe hit Hey Mickey, while Dead or Alive, Joan Jett and The Human League round out a great musical offering that cements the high school feel.

It could do with less of the deviant camera angles and it’s full-on uncomfortable listening to some of the characters hurl abuse at Juliet (“vanilla slut”, “stupid whore” and “cocksucker” some of the less savoury barbs that fly in the face of the otherwise cheery vibe) but it engenders laughter so regularly that it’s always quick to win you back over. 

Not that it has to try too hard. It’s bright, irrepressible and shot through with panache while rammed to the rafters with geeky pop-culture references, profanity and wanton gore. It is, as you would expect, replete with humour and crass characters while also a bit rumpled around the edges. 

It’s a Goichi Suda game with all the trappings. I mean that in the very best way.

8/10

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