Review: Lollipop Chainsaw
Lollipop Chainsaw. It’s not often a game comes along where you can learn almost everything you need to know about it based on a combination of its name and the names of the people behind it. When you put Suda51, James Gunn and Akira Yamaoka’s names on the box of a game called Lollipop Chainsaw, I would hope you have a decent idea of what to expect going in. The good thing is that the game is exactly what you think it is. The bad part is that the game is exactly what you think it is.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that knows from the beginning exactly what it is. The story receives little to no setup, leaving you scratching your head right off the bat as to what’s going on, but things are shrugged off left and right. Bizarre explanations are given as if they’re something you should have known and are nothing out of the ordinary. In true James Gunn fashion, this works out perfectly and serves as a brilliant compliment to the game itself.
Juliet Starling is riding her bike to school on the morning of her birthday when she realizes that the road ahead is infested with zombies. Without missing a beat she leaps off her bike and pulls a pink chainsaw out of the duffel bag she was carrying and proceeds to start slaughtering, intent on meeting up with her boyfriend.
Before long she does indeed meet up with him although, unfortunately, too late, and he gets bitten by a zombie. Using her chainsaw she chops off his head to save him, rationalizing her ability to do this as being magic. You see, Juliet comes from a family of zombie slayers, so this is just another day for her. The story is pretty absurd and over the top throughout, and the game is constantly aware of and commenting on this fact.
Juliet’s boyfriend Nick quite bluntly has all the best lines and provides many of the best moments throughout the entire game. He serves as a player surrogate allowing the other characters to explain things they should already know to him so as to explain to us why for example Juliet acts so non-chalant about the whole zombie business without having to resort to such cheesy lines as the typical “as you know” nonsense.
Of course the main reason you’re here is for the gameplay. Lollipop Chainsaw is a typical hack & slash in just about every way you would expect, and I say that as a compliment. Using the face buttons you can perform a weak, strong or low attack as well as a dodge button. Of course things get a lot more complex than that but at the end of the day the foundation stands strong.
Juliet starts the game out with a fairly small arsenal of simple moves and combos which can be unlocked by purchasing new moves at the in-game store using the obligatory Suda51 style coin system. By killing zombies and completing other objectives you’ll receive gold and platinum medals which are used to unlock various different things ranging from new attacks and costumes to stuff like background music or concept art.
When you’re playing a fast paced hack & slash game like this tight responsive controls are extremely important to how much fun the game is. Thankfully Lollipop Chainsaw delivers in this respect most of the time. There are a few mini-games where things can get a little awkward and one of the upgrades for Juliet’s chainsaw (which makes it fire like a gun) is a little odd to control. Another upgrade has her rush around riding the chainsaw (it makes sense in context, kind of) which can be a little awkward as well but not too bad.
There are also some times where the game doesn’t give a clear indicator that you’ve pressed the correct button in sequence when performing a combo though this is mostly the lack of any kind of visual indicator. This is just a little off-putting at first and goes away as you get used to the way the combos play out but bears bringing up.
The action in the game is broken up repeatedly by little mini-games that range in level of fun and interest. Zombie basketball for example is pretty funny the first time it shows up but when it appears again later on a lot of the charm is already lost. The sequences where you place Nick’s head on ghost-like headless zombie bodies and cheer him on as he does something helpful are interesting but as they’re nothing more than little quick time events aren’t anything to write home about.
Still they function as an entertaining break from the standard game segments and are infrequent enough to never be too distracting.
What would a hack & slash action game be without boss battles? Lollipop Chainsaw continues the trend of following the appropriate tropes while being aware of how silly they are in the portrayal of the various boss fights. It’s telling that the first boss of the game is a screaming musician (voiced by Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence fame who helped with the soundtrack) who literally attacks you with his words while running around the stage climbing on speakers.
The fights are all over the top and absolutely ridiculous from beginning to end and this works strongly in the games favor. They also do a great job of introducing the new gameplay mechanics you learn along the way into the fights without making it feel too forced. A lot of games attempt this but often it’s bashed into your head and way over the top.
Speaking of the games music it’s…interesting.
The game features an interesting mix of original music as well as licensed songs all of which are used to varying degrees of success. Hearing the requisite song “Lollipop” as performed by the Chordettes is neat the first few times you open the in-game store but gets very old very fast. The same applies for “Mickey” and the various other licensed songs.
On the other end of the spectrum is all the original music which is absolutely amazing. The songs all create a wonderful backdrop that beautifully matches the mood and atmosphere of the overall game perfectly and serves as a great compliment to the over the top action taking place on the screen.
One interesting aspect of the game is that you can buy additional songs in the in-game store and customize the background music in any way you like. Have a fondness for one song in particular or sick of hearing one of the others? Swap them out at will and create the musical experience you want! This is an interesting mechanic and one I’d like to see explored more in other games.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that works best when it’s fully aware of what it is and embraces that. Thankfully the game is like this most of the time and everything flows so quickly that the lowest points never last very long. The addition of a new game plus mode along with several different score attack type game-modes create a great level of replayability which is great as the game itself is rather short. You can probably complete the main story in under eight hours depending on your level of skill but on repeated playthroughs this works out for the best.
There are a few missed opportunities and some ideas don’t pan out as greatly as they could have but overall the game does a great job at what it attempts: an over-the-top action game that doesn’t aim to do more than it can get away with. The level of awareness to the sexuality of the main character can be distracting at times but never gets too carried away and is always done in a tongue in cheek way.
Lollipop Chainsaw is an enjoyable experience from beginning to end and has plenty of extras to keep you coming back for more. It constantly delivers on everything it attempts to do and is aware when things are getting too ridiculous (even for a game called Lollipop Chainsaw. This is when the game is at its best though and thankfully this is fairly frequent. I think people will fondly look back on this game as a reminder of how games used to be and how they can be again.