Joystick: “Lollipop Chainsaw” sweet on concept, sour on design
Rated M: 360, PS3
—Amazingly fun game brings back grindhouse, early horror cinema memories.
—Lots of sex, zombie gore.
—The world is entertaining, but the battle system gets in the way.
If nothing else, “Lollipop Chainsaw” is one of the most creative game worlds I’ve played in some time. That doesn’t make it a great game, however.
I really, really enjoy the latest title out of Grasshopper Studios. The brainchild of gaming auteur Goichi Suda (Suda51) and horror movie writer James Gunn, “Lollipop Chainsaw” is a sickly sweet homage to all things grindhouse, horror, zombie and cliche to arise out of the 1970s. The game stars Juliet Starling, San Romero High School cheerleader and heir apparent to a family of zombie hunters, as she tries to stop the end of the world, save her boyfriend from becoming a zombie, and have a fun 18th birthday. Oh, and she carries a rainbow-sparkle chainsaw. Clearly the colors everyone would choose.
This game is filled with sex and gory schlock, so much that it could almost be called gamesploitation. Players can buy naughty outfits, heal by eating lollipops, cheer their boyfriend (who is a talking head prevented from dying by magic) as he possesses zombies from time to time, and defeat ridiculous punk rock, heavy metal and voodoo funk zombies. Decapitations are endless, the dialogue is brilliantly funny — I learned right away about how poorly zombies drive, thanks to Juliet’s crass observations — and there’s a ton of ridiculous, over-the-top mini-games and challenges in every level, from pole-dancing to head stomping.
Suda51’s strong suite is his penchant for developing diverse, absurd and even believable worlds, and this is arguably the prime example of what makes a Suda51 game. There’s plenty of ridiculous butt-rock tracks and a ton of classic tunes as well. I love how players are immediately greeted with The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” at the “Lollipop Chainsaw” start screen, as well as how tunes like “Lollipop” are incorporated throughout the game. You can even customize your zombie-slaying soundtrack, though I didn’t have time to explore that feature as all of the game’s music needs to be unlocked first.
Yet the trade-off for having such a wickedly wonderful world to play in is a weak battle system — arguably another Suda51 calling card. The man isn’t known for creating a “God of War” deep battle system, though his team can create a fun, stylish battle system on occasion [see No More Heroes]. There appear to be plenty of unlockable combos this game. Problem is, Juliet’s zombie-stomping moves become incredibly repetitive fast, and it will take forever to unlock the good moves that won’t make you flail around the map. With a limited, albeit creative, amount of zombie enemies to throw at you, chances are you’re going to be frustrated at how easy or how hard the battle challenges are. Sometimes mashing buttons is a legitimate solution, and on occasion almost feels planned that way.
That doesn’t take away from an incredible game. It’s short, just like almost every other Suda51 game, but it’s a worthy, hilarious experience. If you enjoy horror movies, like innuendo in your games and don’t mind watching a walking sex joke slay some zombies, then this is the game for you. If you’re younger than 17, or don’t like games with lots of character yet slack on battle design, you’ll want to pass. It’ll be a shame though, because you’ll miss out on a great game.