How exactly do I review a game like Lollipop Chainsaw? If you look at it like any normal and sane person would, then it would be pretty average. However the minds behind this gratuitous gem, Suda 51 and James Gunn, are about as far from normal and sane as you can possibly get and that’s precisely why Lollipop Chainsaw excels. The game is filled to the brim with over the top violence, shameful up skirt shots, gleeful profanity and it knows it. However, it’s also filled with some brilliant writing, great voice acting, and a soundtrack that’s just as insane as its creators.
The game’s overall presentation is what really makes it stand out from the plethora of other zombie titles on the market. The first thing you’ll notice is that this is a very colorful zombie apocalypse game that utilizes a bright color palette. Going along with this, decapitating zombies will release a bizarre mix of blood, gore, rainbows and sparkles. It’s a very atheistically pleasing game to look at.
All of the game’s bosses have their own theme as well, from Zed the foul mouthed punk rocker to Mariska, the sweet loving hippy and Vikke, the Viking zombie god of metal. Their fights are also based around these themes as you fight Zed in a mosh pit and Mariska on a platform surrounded by trippy color and patterns. The voice acting is top notch all around with some heavy hitters lending their talent. Tara Strong (Rugrats and Arkham City) voices the ditsy heroine while Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville) voices Nick. The supporting cast is also filled with some great names that include, but is not limited to, Jimmy Urine (Mindless Self Indulgence) as Zed, Shawnee Smith (Saw) as Mariska and Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead) as Vikke.
Lollipop Chainsaw follows cheerleader Juliet Starling whose family is dedicated to ridding the world of supernatural threats like zombies, sasquatches, and Frankenberries, a race that created the cereal as a complex pyramid scheme. It’s just a regular day for Juliet and her boyfriend, Nick, until zombies attack. Nick is bitten and, thanks to a magical spell, Juliet is able to bring his decapitated head back to life. Thus starts a journey of self discovery as Juliet learns the meaning of true love while Nick learns that a penis is not needed for a man to be true hero. Just kidding! Juliet and Nick set out to stop their fellow classmate, Swan, from merging the Rotten World, where the zombies live, with our own.
Much of the game’s whacky humor comes from the script of writer/director James Gunn. He is able to inject humor that appeals to a broad audience both young and old by making both modern and classic references to a variety of medium. For example, he’ll have lines such as “This My Chemical Romance wannabe is getting on my nerves” and “This is like Backdraft mixed with rabies!” As seen from above, he even makes a reference to Frankenberry cereal. Minus the pop culture references, the general writing is also incredibly clever.
As mentioned above, the game’s soundtrack is the strangest mix of modern and classic. While Akira Yamaoka and Jimmy Urine created some unique songs for the game, the soundtrack really shines with its third party mix. It ranges from The Chordette’s Lollipop and Pac Man Fever by Buckner & Garcia to Heroes of Our Time by Dragonforce and Arch Enemy’s Nemesis.
The combat feels like a mix between Batman’s freeflow system and Devil May Cry’s over the top combo system. You start out with your basic light (Pom Pom) and heavy (Chainsaw) attacks as well a low attack to hit those pesky crawling zombies. As you progress through the game, you will receive medals which you can use to purchase new gear and upgrades. You’ll soon have the arsenal that any cheerleader zombie hunter would be jealous of.
The greatest part about the combat is how it seems to evolve along with you. As you learn new attacks and get better, the game’s difficulty will gradually rise to match your skill. This makes for a game that is consistently challenging but never controller breaking difficult. There were only a few cases where I felt the difficulty unfairly spiked. Each difficulty also adds new challenges such as new enemies and restricting you to a certain amount of healing items. For you sadists out there, the game even has its very own hardcore mode where you get exactly one life. The only real nuisance of the combat is that the camera isn’t always there. While it never caused me to die, it did cause a few visual hiccups.
Lollipop Chainsaw also comes with some crazy special attacks. The first of these is the classic “get super strong mode” which is activated by collecting stars from fallen enemies to fill a meter. When the meter is full, you can pull the trigger to activate the special mode, and it even comes with its own song! Nick’s head also comes in handy as you can find and/or buy Nick Tickets which allow you use one of Nick’s special powers. These are all pretty absurd, as you can launch his head out of a cannon or twirl his head around you in order to defeat groups of enemies or to make them groggy which helps you obtain platinum medals but more on those in a minute.
The game occasionally mixes up the gameplay with minigames like zombie basketball and baseball, but these are nothing but tedious wastes of time and really aren’t that fun. Fortunately, they are few and far between enough to not be a major nuisance.
Speaking of medals, they come in two varieties – gold and platinum. Gold medals are obtained easily enough, as you get them by simply killing enemies and smashing environmental objects. Platinum medals, on the other hand, are harder to acquire. These medals are used to unlock new costumes as well the game’s many collectibles such as concept art and music. These are obtained by decapitating the harder enemies in the game or by “Sparkle Hunting”. Sparkle Hunting is initiated when you decapitate three or more zombies at once, and if you sparkle hunt a named zombie, you get even more rewards. Sparkle hunting seems easy at first but it really does have strategy involved. If a zombie, named or unnamed, is groggy then you can instantly decapitate them. This turns into a game in and of itself as you try and bunch large groups of groggy zombies together via special attacks or repeated pom pom strikes in order to maximize your platinum medal gain.
People may think I’m insane for saying this, but the industry needs more games like this. Among the plethora of mediocre first and third person shooters that flood the market these days, it’s nice to see a developer take a risk on such a crazy idea. While the game does clock in at the short side of 6-7 hours, its charm and replayability will have you coming back for seconds, thirds, and maybe even fourths.
Lollipop Chainsaw was released on June 12th, 2012 for Xbox 360 and PS3. Review is based on the Xbox 360 version.