Lollipop Chainsaw has been surrounded by a whirring tornado of hype ever since it was announced last year. The combination of Suda51’s twisted sensibilities and a minimally dressed cheerleader beheading zombies with a chainsaw destroyed the Internet’s collective mind. Now that it’s finally here, there’s no way the adventures of Juliet Starling and her bodyless boyfriend Nick could ever live up to all that hype. But what we got instead is an entertaining new entry in the “hack and slash” canon that is actually a sweet story of love and family.
I swear I’m not making that up.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Genre: Buffy-Inspired Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: June 12, 2012
ESRB Rating: Mature
The pre-release marketing campaign for Lollipop Chainsaw can be summed up in two words: “teenage jailbait.” OK, I guess a few more spring to mind, including “zombies,” “chainsaws,” and “zombies being decapitated by chainsaws.” And as promised, the game is also full of bright colors and rainbows after every successful zombie kill.
While the marketing campaign may have captured the zany combat of Lollipop Chainsaw quite well, it failed when it comes to the game’s story. Juliet isn’t the giggly sexpot the trailers (and “real-life Juliet” Jessica Nigri) have shown us. Instead, she’s a sweet girl in the early stages of a relationship with a boy she hasn’t even said “I love you” to yet. The lovebirds are so old-fashioned that Nick was actually on his way to meet Juliet’s family for the first time over a home-cooked meal when the world ends.
Make no mistake, Lollipop Chainsaw features a liberal amount of crassness and raunch. But these naughty nuggets all come from a group of hellish demons known as the Dark Purveyors. And the Dark Purveyors are… you know… pure evil, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t see the harm in calling Juliet a whore or a bitch all the time. Thankfully, she evens the score with her impressive chainsaw-fu.
Using her acrobatic cheerleader skills, Juliet bounces around the screen in a flurry of teenage girl fury. A bash from her pom-poms, a high kick with her sneakers, and then the finish with a few chainsaw swipes. Enhanced combos can be added to her repertoire, but the standard attacks work well throughout the game and never feel repetitive. Especially when augmented with the one-hit kills from a full Star Meter.
Most likely that’s because the city of San Romero is packed with zombie-slaying minigames and special chainsaw attachments that make Juliet’s weapon of choice even deadlier. My favorite is probably the Chainsaw Blaster, which turns Juliet’s garden implement into a shotgun. Say it with me… “This is my boomstick!”
Less appealing are the corny button-pressing minigames where Juliet sticks Nick’s head on a zombie body and makes him dance across the screen. But the Juliet-focused minigames are great, including Zombie Basketball, where Juliet has to decapitate zombies to score baskets, and Zombie Baseball, where she has to shoot the opposing team so Nick can run the bases. A trio of video game parodies (including Zombie Pac-Man!) late in the game add to the fun as well.
This sense of irreverence is Lollipop Chainsaw’s greatest strength. The game is packed with references to the “zombie canon” (which writer James Gunn is obviously familiar with) and even a year after the concept was first introduced to gamers, the idea of a girly-girl slicing and dicing zombies with a chainsaw is still funny. The music selections (including “Cherrybomb,” “Mickey,” and, of course, “Lollipop”) all fit the game perfectly.
When asked in the game why rainbows and glitter fly out of exploding zombies, Juliet replies, “Magic!” And she’s right, the technicolor effect is pretty magical, but the environments themselves seem too drab and dark for a game like this. I guess that’s so the colorful zombie decapitations (and Juliet’s unique fashion sense) stand out better, but I was shocked that Lollipop Chainsaw was actually less crazy than I was expecting.
The environments aren’t helped by a camera setup that has a hard time keeping track of Juliet’s gymnastics, especially in tight spaces. It’s also not too great when she takes off down a long corridor. The wobbly screen makes it feel like someone is running after her with a handheld camera, Cops-style.
Lollipop Chainsaw’s main game is short (only five-six hours of gameplay across seven stages), but a Ranking Mode and multiple difficulty levels encourage multiple playthroughs. While it doesn’t raise the bar for the “hack and slash” genre, I definitely plan on playing through it again. Gimme a Y! Gimme an E! Gimme an S! Yes! Yes! Yes!
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Lollipop Chainsaw was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.