Lollipop Chainsaw Review
Another game by Suda51, Lollipop Chainsaw features a sexy chainsaw-wielding cheerleader named Juliet Starling, as she mows through zombies and psychopaths in order to save her high school, and later the entire city. On paper, this game sounds golden but the execution falls a bit short of being as fully awesome as it sounds. For the uninitiated, Suda51’s games tend to focus more on striking visuals, critiquing popular culture and exploring bizarre narratives. Killer 7 and No More Heroes are just two examples of his cult hits that always seem to fail to break into the mainstream consciousness, but just barely; the reason usually being marred gameplay mechanics. Let’s find out if Lollipop Chainsaw can break this streak of obscurity and decapitate its way into the mainstream.
Sightplay: The visuals in this game are great. They don’t shoot for hyper-realistic grittiness or over-the-top cartoony wackiness, instead, striking a balance of the two. The characters are expressive and, needless to say, easy on the eyes. During cutscenes, they can move a bit stiff or have lip-synching issues. If you can forgive these flaws, it’s for the better. Character models are capable of pulling off being sexy, scary, bizarre, or all three. However, the story’s emphasis on over-sexualizing women may make some gamers uncomfortable at points, as it’s really beat over the players head. It can lack the subtlety of Bayonetta, and I don’t say that lightly.
The bright array of colors is a welcome departure to the bleak grays and browns of most modern games, and Technicolor explosions with floating hearts never seem to lose their charm when contrasted by the fact that they erupt from the heads of decapitated zombies. It may be an obvious contradiction, but it’s one I welcome readily as a visually and thematically-needed change of pace. Most bosses are really memorable, and do a great job of representing the various cliques and musical clichés that are found in high school. The multiple unlockable costumes are all awesome and pay some serious homage to zombie slaying history from both the East and the West, known to obscure.
Like most of Suda51’s games, Lollipop Chainsaw succeeds in setting itself apart graphically, as well as fostering unique character design. Unfortunately, the environments don’t live up to the same standard as the characters. It is true that only some of the game takes place in San Romero High School, and then takes you on many other locales like a farm, a sports arena, and other places throughout the city, but some of the textures are pretty rough around the edges. Also, the linear hallways and numerous paths blocked off by rubble or abandoned cars can become frustrating because you know you’re being funneled by invisible walls.
Soundplay: This game sounds fantastic both vocally and musically. The voice acting of Tara Strong as the titular lollipop-sucking, chainsaw-spinning protagonist Juliet Starling, might seem a bit too bubbly at first, threatening to make you choke on the high level of “pep”. But, she really does a superb job balancing sincerity with naiveté. She is most commonly known as the voice of Harley Quinn in Batman: Arkham City. Playing her boyfriend’s decapitated head is Michael Rosenbaum, who also does a great job of coming to grips with his bizarre new circumstance. He is most well known for playing Lex Luthor in Smallville, and he does a solid performance here as well.
The use of licensed music is excellent and the original score is nothing to scoff at. All the musical genres embodied by each boss is parodied to great effect. Although you may not walk away with some of these tracks on your mp3 player, they all fit their scenarios very well.
Lastly, I just feel like I should mention the humor in this game. Although there are some really nice obscure and subtle jokes about bands or films that might go over a lot of heads, there are still a bevy of crude gags to get cheap laughs out of. This is a funny game, when it isn’t being overly misogynistic anyway.
Gameplay: This is where the game falls flat on its face. I hate to admit it, but like most of Suda51’s games, the actual control scheme feels a bit slow and clunky. Although this is a hack-and-slash style game, it plays really slow when compared to others in the same genre. Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, for instance, make the breakneck pace and hyper tight controls the most important facet of gameplay and they deliver. Lollipop Chainsaw plays sluggish and nearly tank-like at times. It isn’t broken, however; it’s just slow. It is very reminiscent of old school games in its simplified approach, and that isn’t a bad thing by any means. It just means I can’t give this game the glowing recommendation that I would like to give it.
The controls are mostly responsive but the slower pace of the action can make things sometimes dip into tedium, especially when considering the fact that you only get points to purchase new skills after decapitating zombies. This makes using heavy attacks feel like you’re only choice of disposal in order to gain experience, with light attacks being saved only for wearing down larger enemies more safely. One skill in particular, a ranged cannon attack, has some of the worst over-the-shoulder aiming I’ve encountered in awhile. It is a lot like the gun aiming in the first Dead Rising; stiff and unforgiving.
Also, it must be addressed that the amount of quick time events can be tooth-grindingly annoying. They aren’t difficult, they are just repetitive and practically unnecessary. Most of them consist of making your boyfriends head take control of a zombie and having them use their zombie strength to open a door or path. This results in a quicktime event that simply has you walking forward! In God of War you would at least be bringing down massive creatures by hacking them to bits; in this game you must put up with QTE’s just to open a door. Why not, instead, give us control of the zombie and let us fight a few enemies, or engage in a stealth element by blending in with them, or perhaps even talking with other zombies to ask for more information?
Paired with the fact that the story is only four to six hours long, this makes it really tough to suggest buying this game brand new at $60. It feels like the epitome of a rental, which makes me sad to admit.
Replay: This is one of the shining qualities the game provides. As with other action games of its ilk, Lollipop Chainsaw is meant for frequent replays in order to try and get the highest possible scores and the fastest completion times. It’s true that the game is really short at only a couple of hours long, but at least it is designed with multiple playthroughs in mind. Also, if you love the sight of tons of bonuses waiting for you to unlock them (like I do), then this game will most certainly not disappoint you. Even if most of them are ancillary prizes, like concept art or character sketches, the great amount of unlockable costumes is something I wish games had more often.
Score: 3 out of 5. This is a breath of fresh air, in my opinion, and is most certainly one of the more memorable games of the year. It isn’t perfect by far, but for those of you who appreciate design and humor, you will have a blast with the experience Lollipop Chainsaw provides. You can probably safely wait for the price to inevitably drop, and if you can find this game for half price, then I’d say do not pass it up.