Lollipop Chainsaw (Available on XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3)
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment/Kadokawa Games
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Release Date: June 12th, 2012
Parent Talk: This game is absolutely not for children. Excessive profanity, violence, and gore is abound here. This is basically a glorified B-movie, with all of the hyper violence you would expect out of your typical zombie flick.
Review Basis: Completed all stages, replayed some levels a few times.
The Great: A delightfully stupid, kitschy, amazing game. One of the most beautiful things about Lollipop Chainsaw is that you are never meant to take it seriously. If you do, you are doing something seriously wrong. The violence is so incredibly over-the-top that it never comes off as scary or gruesome, but hilarious and ridiculous. Zombies are like piñatas that explode into coins and rainbows. Some people expected Juliet Starling’s character design to just be another case of pandering to a male-dominated audience, but her antics often make fun of the overly sexualized game character. Everyone expects her to be dumb, but she’s actually smart and sassy, openly poking fun at the stereotype in the same way that Bayonetta did (and her sarcastic boyfriend Nick complements her well). Enemies and situations are so absurd and insane that you can’t help but laugh. The first boss is a zombie punk rocker who screams insults at you and jumps on top of speakers. The second boss is an undead Viking metalhead who cruises in a flying wooden ship and bangs on a drumset (oh, and by the way, he has a living severed bear head on his shoulder). What other game has you cutting off zombie heads while listening to “Mickey?”
Like No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned before it, the sense of humor is delightfully twisted. The reason these games are celebrated while games like Duke Nukem Forever are rebuffed is because they often poke fun at themselves—they are most definitely self-aware. I never once thought that Lollipop Chainsaw was an intelligent game, but I can’t help but love it.
+ Arcade-style beat ‘em up action. In the glorious history of action games, many gamers hold a certain fondness for the “beat ‘em up” genre. When games like Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, and Final Fight were in their heyday, gamers surrendered countless quarters in the arcades. Back then, the side-scrolling beat ‘em up was more or less the face of the action genre. Now, however, action games have become more like third-person adventures. They are heavily driven by narrative and have been influenced by other genres, like platformers and RPGs. Games like Devil May Cry and God of War have fundamentally changed the action genre into what it is today…which is why Lollipop Chainsaw is so deceptively captivating. It’s a throwback to a classic genre.
The game is mostly a series of enemy challenges connected through mini-games. You don’t have to navigate through a labyrinth of pathways to reach the next area—you usually only walk forward slightly and meet the next batch of bad guys. Platforming is kept to a minimum so that more emphasis can be made on beating up enemies and racking up points. The game rewards you for using all kinds of combos and defeating large batches of enemies. The focus is on getting a high score and beating the level in record time. Some gamers may not realize this and expect levels to be longer and more fleshed out, but fans of old-school arcade style gaming should savor this rare treat.
+ Colorful, zany visuals. Grasshopper Manufacture certainly can never be accused of phoning in their visual design—Killer 7, Contact, No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned have unique visual aesthetics. The games are memorable beyond their characters and narratives; they each manage to eschew normality and deliver a unique presentation. Lollipop Chainsaw is no different. The vibrant colors and absurd character designs shouldn’t mesh well, but they do. The game balances disgusting gore with sparkling lightshows. For example, as soon as you activate “Sparkle Hunting” mode, the screen gets all glittery. When you chop zombies in two, they explode into rainbows.
+ A variety of combos and attacks. Juliet’s arsenal is surprisingly varied. She has a wide selection of physical attack combinations, using her pom poms, kicks, and chainsaw. She can also swing her chainsaw low and perform special attacks (for example, if you follow a chainsaw hit after two physical attacks, Juliet will dive into enemies with her chainsaw). Juliet can also transform her chainsaw into a projectile weapon and she can use “Nick Tickets” for other zany attacks.
+ Improving Juliet’s statistics. By accruing coins, players can power up Juliet’s power, speed, homing distance, etc. Chances are you probably will not get all of the power ups and combos unlocked in one play through, as well.
+ Memorable boss fights. Each boss encounter has a unique gimmick that makes it distinct from the other. Bosses have multiple forms, each with different attack patterns and levels of difficulty. The enemy designs are well integrated into the gameplay, so the fights are an appropriate reflection of their character. The first boss, the zombie punk rocker, uses amps and his profane lyrics to attack you. The zombie hippie lady uses her sitar music and hallucinogenic abilities to mess with you. It’s completely deranged but somehow appropriate.
+ An amazing soundtrack. This game offers a diverse list of tunes; it’s a totally rockin’ set. It perfectly fits the grind house film/comic book vibe that permeates the adventure. The boss fight tracks are my personal favorite, especially against Zed, the zombie punk rocker. The voice work is great, but set your expectations accordingly. Most of the time, it’s intentionally campy, but the playfulness between Juliet and her severed-head-for-a-boyfriend Nick (who has a sarcastic quip for most any situation) is endearing.
+ Rescue your classmates. In each of the levels, Juliet can rescue her classmates from turning into zombies. Saving her peers will net coins, but failing to save them (or sometimes outright ignoring them) will result in new enemies to face. Saving classmates provides an extra layer of challenge in each level and gives added incentive for replaying stages.
+/- The fighting mechanics. The combinations of attacks are varied, the move list is interesting, and fights are absolutely satisfying. However, the controls could be tighter, locking onto enemies should be fine-tuned, and the combat in general comes off as somewhat sloppy. It lacks the finesse of more dedicated action games like Bayonetta, but on the other hand, Lollipop Chainsaw never tries to be that game. Older, more dedicated beat ‘em up fans will be able to get into the game much more easily, while fans of newer action games may need to adjust.
+/- The minigame segments. Lollipop Chainsaw is a beat ‘em up action game at its core, but it has so many other segments mixed in. On one hand, these minigames offer an insane kind of variety that only Grasshopper Manufacture could produce—Zombie Baseball? Why not? On the other hand, they often aren’t as fun as battling zombies and can get somewhat frustrating. The mechanics and execution are somewhat sloppy, though the ideas are fun. The zombie baseball segment in particular ended up being more difficult and annoying to play than expected. The arcade level had some creative challenges though. Your level of appreciation may vary for the minigames.
+/- The length. This is probably the biggest point of contention for many. Gamers expect games to offer a substantial value to justify the price. This can often put game developers in a corner; intentionally short games are often criticized, rather unfairly. In some cases, shorter is better. Lollipop Chainsaw pays homage to the beat ‘em up genre in many ways, and the length is an accurate reflection. Levels offer suitable depth (some secret items, classmates to rescue, minibosses to fight), but they are intentionally linear. You can complete the game in about 5 to 6 hours, but the game encourages replay value. This is a game that you play multiple times over and over, for higher scores.
-The game can get unnecessarily difficult during combat scenes because of the camera. Several times, I was hit by an enemy that was slightly off screen. This can make intense battle screens annoying.
Lollipop Chainsaw is gleefully stupid and absolute fun. Fun, dynamic characters, challenging and memorable boss battles, compelling and interesting levels, and mechanics that give suitable homage to a classic game genre make this game very tempting. Unless you find the content objectionable, you should definitely check this game out. Like other games from Grasshopper Manufacture, the best way to understand it is to play it.