It feels like it has been a long time coming, but Lollipop Chainsaw is finally here. The latest from the twisted mind of Suda51 is truly one of the most obscure, colorful and downright fun games I have played so far in 2012. We all know that Suda51 is known for his copious amounts of innuendo and flat out nonsense in games, and Lollipop Chainsaw is no exception. From start to finish, this outing is exactly what you expect from the same mind that brought us Killer7 and No More Heroes. It’s chock full of panty shots, rainbow-colored decapitations and, most importantly, a hell of a lot of enjoyment.
You play as Juliet Starling, a cheerleader at San Romero High School, who also happens to be a zombie hunter. In fact, her entire family is comprised of zombie hunters. It is your birthday, and it just so happens that the resident emo kid, Swan, has decided to conjure up zombie hordes from another dimension. This means you have to spring into action and return life to normal. You may also remember seeing a decapitated head attached to your skirt in the trailers; that’s Nick, your boyfriend. He was bitten by a zombie so you severed his head and performed a ritual to keep him alive. Yup, just another Suda51 game.
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The story is so outlandish at times that it can feel forced, almost like they go over the top for the sake of being different. Even with that said, it never ceases to be entertaining. The voice work is fantastic, and the story is wild enough that you’ll never take it too seriously. I really felt a lot of Shadows of the Damned’s influence in almost every cut scene (plus that loading screen music is eerily familiar). There is never a dull moment in the game, and I never wanted to skip a cut scene. The narrative is just crazy enough to be entertaining without feeling stupid.
The creativity flows over into the gameplay as well. Sure, at its core Lollipop is a straight-forward zombie-slicing action game, but it keeps things fresh frequently. Juliet has two main chainsaw attacks as well as a melee attack that can stun foes. This allows you to decapitate them, and becomes imperative for Sparkle Hunting. You see, Lollipop runs on a scoring system that ranks your performance per level. Sparkle Hunting is when you manage to finish off at least three zombies at once. It also earns you extra zombie tokens and massive points. You also fill up a meter while slaying zombies that unleashes a massive attack that decapitates enemies in one shot. Nick also gets in on the action with special attacks such as hurling him at enemies or placing him on top of zombie bodies and performing a quick time event to smash walls. Each level is scored against your family members, and there are even Achievements/Trophies for beating dad’s score. He is the king zombie slayer, of course.
Levels are scored based on enemies killed, time to completion, continues used and so on. This is the only online function of the game outside of DLC. You can upload scores to compete against friends and the world. That isn’t to say the game lacks replay value. In fact, in my first play through, I had not come close to maxing out Juliet’s skills. The zombie tokens you earn allow you to purchase items at the Chop2Shop.zom store in the game. Here, you can buy character upgrades, new skills, outfits, MP3s and artwork. Platinum tokens are used for the rare stuff, and they are only earned by killing special zombies or performing Sparkle Hunting, or you can buy a pack using regular tokens.
There are also a ton of things to collect in the game. Outside of outfits there are also lollipop wrappers, phone conversations (which pop up at specific times through the story and cannot be accidentally missed) and plenty of Easter eggs and references. The biggest reason to go back though is that the collectibles change based on difficulty. It is best to do a run through on easy or normal first to get the feel of combat, but once you go back, your upgrades remain, making the harder difficulties much more manageable. Not to mention once the combat sinks in and upgrades are applied, it becomes extremely addictive trying to best your scores.
The main game will run you anywhere from 6-8 hours depending on how much you collect and, of course, difficulty, but like I said, there is definitely plenty of replay value. I wanted to dive in immediately after finishing it to do earlier levels and improve my score. There is also a score ranking mode with new challenges. It is a quirky game for sure, but it isn’t often that I actually want to dive right back in after finishing something. That speaks volumes to me, and the sheer ridiculousness of the content really keeps it from getting drab.
Visually, the game is just as unique as the rest of the package. The pseudo cel-shaded look matches the tone perfectly. The cut scenes are hilarious and over the top, and the sparkle and rainbow effects really drive home the insanity of it all. Sure, there are some cliché issues such as weird clipping and disappearing objects and enemies, but it never detracts from the game. I also LOVE the level designs. Each one is a theme park just waiting on you to ride it. They all feel unique and fun to traverse. There was not one level that I did not enjoy outside of one small mini-game late in the adventure that nearly had me pulling my hair out.
Audio is perfect. I really don’t know how else to put it. Tara Strong and Michael Rosenbaum are fantastic as Juliet and Nick. The dialogue is just as over the top as the rest of the game, but it works. I love the hilarious banter between the two, and the other characters are also really well done. The real selling point, though, is the music. Hearing the song ’Mickey’ play when you activate your sparkle meter is incredible. I also had the ’Lollipop’ song stuck in my head for days as it plays while shopping in Chop2Shop.zom. Each track is sequenced perfectly and includes a wide array of music. Hearing Dragonforce near the end of the game was immaculate, while slicing zombie heads off to Five Finger Death Punch was strangely satisfying. Whoever picked the tracks and their placement is a pure genius.
Lollipop Chainsaw is an extremely eccentric game that builds itself around that idea. It never attempts to be anything it isn’t and always remains fun throughout. I have slowly grown to love Suda51 games over time and appreciate their simple diversity from the pack. Having a fresh game like this is great next to the over-abundance of brown and gray shooters this market is dominated by. If you enjoy action games, and can take a little insanity, I definitely recommend giving this game a whirl. It is definitely one of the few games I played almost entirely with a smile on my face. It’s charm is just how preposterous it really is.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.