When the N4G Podcast team shared our individual top picks for 2011, Shadows of the Damned surprisingly crept up on more than a couple of top 10 rosters. OK… maybe it wasn’t so surprising after all. Combining Goichi Suda’s (you might know him better as Suda51) narrative sculpting with Shinji Mikami’s storied history as a gameplay designer was a recipe for success.
For his latest game, Lollipop Chainsaw, Suda51 has partnered with Warner Brothers Interactive. Thankfully, his new publisher isn’t making the same mistake that EA did with Shadows of the Damned, putting the full might of their advertising muscle behind this latest endeavor.
As I walked around the spacious WB booth on the PAX East Show Floor, I couldn’t help by drift toward the converted school bus set that is being used as a staging area for Lollipop Chainsaw demos. Not only was I grateful for the chance to rest my barking dogs, but I got to play the game in relative darkness and quiet… both commodities in very short supply.
We didn’t get much time with the game; just a taste to introduce some of the gameplay mechanics and allay any fears that Shadows of the Damned’s accessibility wasn’t a one-off. Juliet Starling is a perfect protagonist, creating an even more exaggerated juxtaposition than Kristi Swanson’s stint as the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
At the start of our brief demo, we found Juliet on a farm, squaring off against a number of agrarian zombies. As we performed acrobatic moves and whipped our chainsaw around, lopping off limbs, I couldn’t help but marvel at both the fluidity and sheer enjoyment of the game. I noticed that the head of almost-a-zombie boyfriend Nick was tethered to her waist, and it was only a matter of time before he entered play.
At two different moments in the game play, Nick was attached to a headless zombie body. The first time, Juliet had to cheer him on, as we controlled Nick in a QTE dancing game. Normally, I’d groan at the inclusion of timed button press sequences, but the sheer hilarity and absurdity of Juliet shouting cheers to motivate him more than made up for it.
The second time we used poor bodyless Nick was after defeating a big tubby zombie. From there, it was a matter of Nick using the corpse to bash through a wall.
During the gameplay, we had the chance to use the chainsaw blaster (a shotgun type weapon). There is also a chainsaw dash move, which rockets Juliet through crowds while riding her signature weapon like a vehicle. I was told that this could overheat, so judicious use is required.
Visually, the game is a treat. Part grindhouse and part (lightly) cel-shaded comic book, Lollipop Chainsaw has a visual style that blends The Walking Dead with Rainbow Brite. As blood pours from wounded undead, rainbows and hearts will also spurt out. If you managed to decapitate at least three zombies at once, the screen will reflect a “Sparkle Hunting” message and zombie coins will litter the ground.
This currency will be used to fuel purchases of new outfiits, combos and enhanced stats for Juliet. I didn’t get a chance to explore the progression system, but was quite happy to find out it will be included.
The audio is also quite enjoyable. The moans of zombies and revving of the chainsaw provide a stark (and amusing) contrast to the tinkle of sparkles and hearts. Nick provides encouragement to Juliet as she twists, flips and vaults around her foes. I can’t wait to hear more of the dialog in the final game.
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