As the latest title to emerge from the mind of Goichi Suda, better known as Suda 51, Lollipop Chainsaw is, as expected, a little bit on the bizarre side, and it’s a game that doesn’t even try to explain away its quirks and downright oddities. Instead, it embraces them in a flurry of Americana, lip gloss, short skirts, sugary treats and more bedazzled zombie–killing that you can vibrate a large, cutting tool at.
Taking more than a little inspiration from Suda 51’s previous hack and slash series, No More Heroes, Lollipop Chainsaw is an all-out scrapper that casts players in the role of Juliet Starling, a cheerleader at San Romero high school, who just also happens to be a practising zombie slayer. This is fortunate, as on her birthday a zombie holocaust breaks out, and both Juliet and her trusty chainsaw are forced into action.
Ash to ashes
Juliet, thanks to her chosen, evil dead-slaying weapon, isn’t exactly your usual cheerleader, and thanks to her family’s secret ‘pastime’ she’s more than capable of fending off the odd decomposing letch, and that’s lucky as during the course of the game, there’s all manner of zombies, bosses and sticky situations to deal with.
For the most part the game is a pure hack-and-slash affair, and as Juliet you can mix up heavy and light attacks, combos and specials in order to turn so many undead into mulch. Juliet can use her pom pom attacks to do light damage to zombies, whilst her chainsaw, although slow, it obviously the main damage-dealer. However, there’s more to the combat system that simply button mashing, and in order to succeed, especially on higher difficulties that put some serious restrictions on you (less health items, stronger foes), you’ll need to make the most of the various abilities Juliet has.
For example, one of the best methods of disposing of foes is to use Juliet’s pom pom attacks which can stun zombies, leaving them open for a single hit chainsaw decapitation, this is far quicker than simply wailing away on them, often leaving yourself open to attacks from other foes. You’ll need to master her evasion techniques too, which not only let you avoid damage, but also let you get the drop on foes, opening up some brutal, QTE button mashing insta-kills. You can also buy more powerful combos and abilities as you progress, further opening up her repertoire.
The environment is just as important at times too, and interacting with it is essential to survival. You’ll often have to cut through obstacles to progress, but sometimes scripted events will require quick thinking to ensure survival. Oh, and if you see a convenient pole stood erect and ready, Juliet has one hell of a pole dancing show that literally leaves zombies headless.Occasionally Juliet will utilise an unstoppable dash attack in some situations, and as you fight you’ll build up her rage meter. Once full, this can unleash her Star Soul mode, which cloaks her in a glittery aura, and ramps her power up, making dispatching any enemy a breeze. Oh, and you get to listen to Hey Mickey in this state too, which is… nice.
Other diversions include simple QTE events, such as placing Juliet’s boyfriend’s head (which she carries around with her on her belt, as you do) onto special headless zombies. He can then be manipulated, via the medium of QTE button presses into doing certain tasks. Personally, I’d have preferred sections with direct control rather than a shoehorned-in QTE, but it’s not a major problem.
The combat featured in the game isn’t all simple kill or be killed though, and there are other goals you’ll have to accomplish as you move from stage to stage. Rescuing survivors is one such task, and if you manage to save these hapless souls, you’ll be rewarded with extra coins. These coins, which are collected within the stages as well as being earned for kills, can be used in the shop to purchase the aforementioned extra abilities, and can also boost Juliet’s stats, such as increasing her overall health and boosting her attack strength. You can also buy music and, being a game themed on a typically cartoon-perfect heroine, you can also buy new outfits to sport whilst slicing and dicing the undead.
New abilities and stat boosts are certainly needed though, as the game does like to throw plenty of challenge your way, often in the form of wave after wave of zombie attackers, but also mini bosses and full-blown boss fights. These stronger foes and scene stealing fights can be tough, and you’ll not only have to be quick on the evasion button, but you’ll need to figure out your enemy’s weaknesses and exploit them. And it’s here where the game both shines and falters.The combat system itself is actually quite robust, and pulling off all of Juliet’s cheerleading-come-combat moves and tactical brutal kills is easy enough, and stylish with it, but often the camera can be a nightmare. You can lock on to foes however, which helps, but it’s just not as smooth as it should be, especially in some more intense, and indoor fights.
As much fun as the combat is though, it’s also very repetitive, and whilst there’s a selection of foes to go at, many players will simply rely on tried and tested tactics, and will skim over the additional elements. You’re often penned in an area until you clear it of a set amount of zombies, and you’ll soon wish the game was a little more open, rather than a string of closed-off fighting arenas.
Still, the game does reward skilful play, most notably via the Sparkle Hunting mechanic. This rewards skilful kills of three or more zombies at once with a rainbow-soaked kill cam and greater coin rewards. In order to get this kind of kill you need to carefully plan attacks to stun multiple foes so you can take them all out on one shot, and this helps keep combat more interesting if you want more than a mindless button-masher.
Lollipop Chainsaw, as with all of Suda 51’s titles, has a very distinctive style, and the overall aesthetic is pretty good. However, the actual visuals are oddly quite poor for the most part, and the strange film-grain filter over everything doesn’t really fit the glitzy, punky feel. Elements of the game do stand out, such as Juliet herself and some enemies and environments, but this isn’t a ground-breaking game visually and the hodge podge of styles isn’t quite as slick as Suda’s usual level.
Audio is spot on however, with some great vocal performances hammering through a surprisingly tight, if odd, script, and the mixture of pop music and anime-fuelled material works well, certainly enough to produce the off-the-wall, Buffy feel.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a decent, if short and repetitive scrapper. Sadly, the quirky style is perhaps focused on much more than substance, and as eye-catching as the whole thing can be, it’s no substitute for more in-depth gameplay and polished presentation. It’ll also no doubt cause controversy with people claiming that it’s nothing more than a misogynistic romp that objectifies women and the like, but in reality, it’s a game, with a cheerleader who kills zombies with a chainsaw, and nothing more. Yes, there’s some vulgar content and some iffy moments, but there’s nothing here to really offend, certainly not enough to warrant any serious issues with the content.
As it stands, Lollipop Chainsaw is a great rental title that’ll keep you occupied for a few days, but once the game has given it’s all, there’s no real reason to revisit it.