Reviews

Lollipop Chainsaw – Review

Platforms:  PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Grasshopper Manafacture
Publisher: Warner Bros
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No
PEGI: 18+

Thanks to Warner Bros for providing this game for review.

Lollipop Chainsaw is insane. Coming from the mind of  Suda 51 and being made by Grasshopper Manafacture, it was always going to be, but it’s important to get that out of the way right now. This game is nuts. It’s bonkers. It’s a crayon short of a kids drawing. It’s a camera short of an amusing Youtube video. It’s any number of entertaining metaphors short of a good review that you can possibly think of, and yet it’s also generic at the same time, which is sort of amazing. You see, Lollipop Chainsaw  is an average hack ‘n’ slash zombie game disguised as something bright, flashy, insane and pervy. Somehow, though, it’s also strangely compelling.

The game’s opening scene is the second clue, with the box being the first, that you’re in for something a little bit different……something a little bit strange. As we start the camera slowly glides upwards over a bed, lovingly showing of the supple body of Juliet, the games lead character, in her skimpy sleeping outfit clutching a teddy. As the camera works its magic Juliet informs us that her letting us into her bedroom isn’t an invitation for any funny business, that but that she’s sure as hell ain’t  against any funny business provided you really like the person. Oh, and it’s her 18th birthday! YAY! Let’s be honest here, it’s a scene that is shamelessly pandering to every teenage boy out there, but at least it panders pretty well. It’s also the very first scene in a line of many which is likely to spark controversy thanks to people immediately pointing fingers and declaring that this is a sexist game. They’d be a little bit off in that declaration, though, because like the rest of this game, the opening scene is entirely satirical. It’s taking the mickey out of the objectification of girls in gaming, of teenage guys, of the image the media have of gaming, and probably half the people who watch it will never  realise that.

Before long Juliet heads out to meet up with her beloved boyfriend Nick, but along the way she’s ambushed by, yup, zombies! So, from her bag she whips out her handy pink chainsaw, complete with in-built phone, and proceeds to beat the snot out of those zombie douchebags in what serves as the games tutorial level. Once done, though, she discovers that she was too late to stop her boyfriend being bitten, but instead of just accepting his inevitable transformation into a brain-dead, shuffling politician (shit! I meant zombie. Why do I always get those mixed up?), she does what any sensible person would do: conducts a strange magic ceremony and then decapitates her boyfriend in a scene which actually had me rather wide-eyed, not because it was actually that explicit, but more because it was like a, “what the f*ck just happened?” moment. She then attaches the decapitated head of Nick, who is still alive and able to talk, on her belt and sets off to discover just what the hell is going on! Turns out some idiot has opened up a portal to Rotten World and  now people are getting turned into zombies. Since Juliet just so happens to be a zombie hunter in training, it’s up to her, with a bit of help from the rest of her clinically insane family, to save the day. Totally!

And let’s be completely honest here, Lollipop Chainsaw’s plot isn’t exactly its biggest strength. The overall storyline is rather unique, providing a more unusual twist on the standard zombie invasion theme with some pretty cool moments be had, but it’s not going to be winning awards any time soon for writing or storytelling. But then, as if you couldn’t already tell, Lollipop Chainsaw’s plot isn’t so much about delivering a stunning tale that pushes the boundaries of what can be done in games, but rather about being one gigantic piss-take of modern society, with a big emphasis on taking a shot at the objectification of women in games. Juliet herself is a stereotypical vapid blonde girl that uses the word, “totally” far too much and follows just about every high-school cheerleader cliche going, spouting nonsense like there’s no tomorrow, which presumably there won’t be what with the zombie invasion and everything. She also has a strange addiction to lollipops. Pretty much every line of dialog spoken in the game feels like it’s poking fun in one way or another at how most kids, teenagers and even adults today speak. Then there’s the sexy poses that Juliet constantly pulls, the things she says, the Achievement for looking up her skirt and the numerous sex jokes littering the game. Even the very fact that  zombies were chosen to star in the game feels like a jab at the current trend of having zombies in freaking everything. From start to finish this game  feels like one big parody.

So with that logic the games sense of humour and general barmy outlook on life should be it’s strongest feature, and in some ways it is,  but it’s also highly inconsistent. Lollipop Chainsaw’s singleplayer adventure only lasts a short 5-hours, and for the first half of that I barely laughed. For the first few hours the humour is all over the place, only occasionally hitting the sweet spot, but mostly just falling flat on its face with crude jokes and sometimes irritating dialog. A prime example comes after rescuing some poor sod, a recurring theme in the game as it scores you extra points, from the zombie horde. As soon as he’s safe, he shouts out to Juliet that he’ll masturbate to thoughts of her later. What. The. Hell? It just falls…..flat. It’s not funny. It didn’t even elicit an embarrassed snicker from me, it just made me groan in disgrace that somebody actually thought it was worth putting in the game. Worse, it made me groan to think that somebody, somewhere thought it was hilarious  It was meant to be a parody of what guys are like in high-school now, but really it just felt like a cheap-ass attempt at humour, like it was trying too hard to stand out from the crowd. And that’s the theme for the first half of the game: there’s the occasional laugh to be had, but mostly the humour feels like it’s coming from a 13-year old that somebody let loose with a pen and some paper. If that’s the style of humour that you love, then that’s great, but for me it did nothing. Another moment, for instance, had Juliet’s zombie-hunting teacher falling face-first  into boobs, which was apparently so hilarious to the writers that they had to repeat the joke about 2-seconds later. Another scene had him  looking straight up her skirt as she leaned over to let him talk to Nick whose attached to the back of her belt. Neither moment felt funny. Worse, it felt like the game had almost become what it was trying to make fun.

However, in the second half of the game the humour starts to pick up a bit, offering up a few genuine chuckle-worth in moments. In particular, Juliet’s beheaded, and rather unlucky, boyfriend Nick starts to come in to his own, dropping quite a few good one-liners, snide comments and  some fun banter with Juliet, much of which, as you would well expect, revolving around his particuilar…..sitatution. Much of the humour is still crude, but it’s better executed and delivered than the first half of the game managed. While I never busted my gut from laughter, there were quite a few moments that had me grinning or chuckling to myself. Butt as an entire package, from start to finish, the humour does come off as feeling somewhat forced at times, like somebody sat there trying really hard to make it funny, but found themselves having to rely on cheap gags too often, almost covering up entirely the moments of genuine humour that are to be found. It’s almost as though this is a game written for 13-year olds sporting an 18+ rating.  But while Lollipop Chainsaw may not stand amongst the titans of humour in gaming, however limited in numbers those may actually be, in the end it comes out offering a few laughs.

In essence Lollipop Chainsaw’s style of humour, story and mayhem could  be viewed like a good summer-time action flick: go in to it expecting something with a lot of depth and intelligence and you’ll be left feeling disappointed. Rather, you go into it with your brain in neutral and a load of popcorn and simply enjoy the ride. In the same way Lollipop Chainsaw should be approached with the analytical part of your mind firmly off so that you can simply kick back and enjoy the barrage of rude jokes, zombie farmers with a suspicious  love of chickens and the mad-cap antics of Juliet’s family.

Inside the shiny and, uh, often perverted shell is the gameplay itself, and that’s where Lollipop Chainsaw sort of lets itself down. On the presentation front the game is nothing if not unique. Say what you like about it, but it has its own distinct personality that sets it apart from the crowd. After all, it’s not often you play a game where the lead heroine has a chainsaw with an in-built phone and a head for a boyfriend. The core fighting mechanics of the game, on the other hand, are decidedly average and  generic. As Juliet’s lithe form would suggest she swirls and whirls through combat with some really beautiful animations, but ultimately this is just a button masher at heart that doesn’t feel that doesn’t offer a whole lot of fun, at least not after the first hour.  At the heart of the combat system  is the usual layout that we see in this sort of game: light, heavy and low attacks mixed in with the B button which is usually the jump button but in combat it lets Juliet leap over enemies and dodge attacks. Strangely, though, there’s no block button, something which Lollipop Chainsaw feels like it could have benefited from considerably thanks to the crowds of zombies you often have to deal with. Get into your first few fights and it’s almost an automatic reaction to hammer away on nothing but the heavy attack as that whips out Juliet’s prize pink chainsaw, which gaming logic says should rip through zombies like a hot knife through…..well, zombies, and therefore be the most effective way of dealing with them The reality is, though, that just whacking them with the chainsaw isn’t the most effective form of attack. Sure, you can slice off limbs, but hitting people with the chainsaw actually feels more like whacking them with a big stick until finally managing to take off their head after multiple blows.  However, it’s like this for a reason because the combat system is built around the concept of getting zombies groggy using Juliet’s light but deadly pom-poms. Stop giggling, Pom Poms are a valid method of attack. Sort of. Anyway, the concept is that a groggy zombie becomes incredibly easy to decapitate with a chainsaw strike. Beat on them enough and an indicator will flash above their head, at which point a swift saw-strike will slice of their heads, equalling one dead zombie and some shiny medals for you to spend in the shop on upgrades and new moves . It’s a great idea on paper, but on practice it’s actually quite irritating and tiresome as zombies can take a lot of damage before becoming groggy. This wouldn’t be so bad if you were just fighting a few enemies at a time, but these are zombies, so, y’know, there’s freaking loads of them, meaning that taking out a group quickly becomes more boring than exciting. Even more bafflingly is that zombies later in the game become even bloody harder to stun, even if you’ve been upgrading Juliet’s strength along the way! How the hell does that make any sense?

New combos can also be added to your arsenal via the in-game shop, as well as new special moves that do help to give combat a bit more variety, but ultimately this is a button-masher at heart, and once you find a few effective combos you’re likely going to spam them to your heart’s content as there’s little to no reason to vary your attack style, even for the occasional new zombie that gets thrown into the mix. The real problem, though, is that fighting the zombie hordes just doesn’t feel that slick, a problem personified by a split-second of slow motion that accompanies your strikes. Obviously this is meant to try to give them more impact, but instead it just makes combat feel slow and ungraceful, which rather goes against the lithe form of Juliet herself.  In the end the combat just comes off as feeling like almost any other generic button-mashing action-adventure game’s and quickly becomes repetitive. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t excite, either, or stand out from the crowd either, which is disappointing given the games mental presentation style.

Aside from the core combat mechanics, there are a few other tricks in the mix. As you slay the undead hordes of shambling freaks a power meter fills up, which once activated gives Juliet a small period of time in which zombies can be decapitated with a single strike. But far more interesting is the role that poor limbless Nick can play in combat. By spending a Nick-Ticket you can enter a roulette mini-game, and depending on where you stop you get one of several different attacks, like twirling Nick around your head to knock down zombies, or whacking a helmet on his head and firing him at zombies! Nick-Roulette actually gets old pretty quickly and generally isn’t that effective, but for the first few times it’s amusing as hell, although could simply be because of the charming mini-cut-scenes between Nick and Juliet ever time you use it.

A little bit of  extra fun is thrown into the combat in the form of Sparkle Hunting, which is where you can earn yourself extra medals to spend in the shop by killing multiple zombies at the same time. This encourages you to enter each fight a little more thoughtfully and to use the light attacks to herd zombies together so that you can swipe off multiple heads with a single chainsaw swipe, bringing a little more depth to the otherwise fairly shallow fighting. Succeed in lobbing off three or more heads and you’ll be rewarded with a screenful of colors and a breakdown on how many medals you’ve earned. It’s sort of awesome to have your skills recognized in such a bright way: it panders nicely to that in-built human need for recognition, although sometimes it can be a little annoying as it breaks up the flow of combat. The only real flaw with the idea is that slicing off three heads at once often feels more like luck than skill, unless you happen to be dancing around in the one-hit kill power mode. . However, it does add to the replayability of the game. No matter the quality of the combat itself, Lollipop Chainsaw harbors a love for the old school high score games, encouraging you to go back and replay levels for that elusive higher score and bragging rights.

Along the way Juliet will also get an upgrade to her precious pink chainsaw that allows her to use it as a gun for some long-range action, something which, in theory, should give the combat a little more depth. Sadly, though, the blaster is let down by some really awkward aiming, leading me to only use it when I absolutely had to for certain sections of the game, such as one mental section where you end up playing baseball by blasting off heads and defending the runner. Yeah, you read that right, baseball, Lollipop Chainsaw style.

Even in just the short 5-hours the singleplayer takes to complete, the combat can start to drag and become repetitive, simply thanks to its nature and because you’re going to be doing  a great deal of fighting. Happily Grasshopper Games have tried to mix things up with a couple of different ideas sprinkled throughout the game. Like the humour, though, the various different chunks of gameplay thrown into the mix are a tad inconsistent at times. There’s some genuinely fun stuff here that breaks up the pace nicely, like mowing down zombies in a combine harvester to a classic song. At other times you might find yourself against the clock in a game of basketball where you’ve got to score hoops by beheading zombies. These little detours help to break up the near continuous combat and keep thing feeling fresh.

But then things do go down hill. Some sections  have you place Nick  on top of a highlighted headless zombie so that he can take control of the body and open up a way for you to advance through the level. These sections play out as simple quick-time-events where you’ve simply got to press the button corresponding to whatever is flashing on-screen at the time, and while it’s amusing the first few times to watch Nick saunter around,  it quickly falls into the realm of being completely tedious. Other poor sections come when Juliet has to use her Chainsaw Dash move to literally run through a section of level at high-speed, having to collect canisters on the way to keep going and hitting big jumps. Again, it’s a cool idea in theory but in reality controlling Juliet in these sections just feels horrible, resulting in them being arguably the weakest of the little mini-games and diversions.

The bosses, on the other hand, are probably the most consistent element of the entire game. Even better, they’re consistently great. The very first boss battle the game chucks at you has you going up against Zed, a punk-rocker zombie whose insults literally take physical shape and try to crush your curvy cheerleader body. To take his ass down you’ve got to first trash his amplifiers. Even with the mediocre combat, going up against Zed is pretty freaking awesome. Likewise is battling a zombie hippy complete with guitar and one particularly strange battle involving a giant three-headed chicken. Not only are these a joy to play through, but they’re also arguably some of the funniest moments in the game, serving to break up the pace of slaying standard zombies beautifully.

And another area in which the game certainly delivers is its music and graphical style. Lollipop Chainsaw boasts a pretty impressive list of bouncy tunes for you to listen to while chopping up the undead hordes. Admittedly I’m not personally a huge fan of the style music the game often goes for, but I can still appreciate that the tunes chosen match the overall feel of the game very well. On the graphical side of things Lollipop Chainsaw has gone with the cel-shaded/anime style with plenty of vibrant colors and lovely art-design. There are areas where it fails a little: the levels look pretty damn boring on most places, but almost everything has a great vibe to it that suits the humour and insanity of the story, especially when it comes to the bursts of colors and hearts during combat and other little touches. Also worthy of mention is that some of Juliet’s animations, particularly in combat, are terrific, Make no mistake, though, this isn’t a technically impressive game by any stretch: there’s plenty of pretty flat textures and little problems, not to mention a lack of detail in the levels  despite them being pretty small and linear. Still, the overall style of the game more than makes up for its lack of technical prowess.

The strangest thing about Lollipop Chainsaw, apart from the obvious fact that it’s insane, is that despite its numerous problems and moments when I was thinking, “The combat is really starting to drag,” or “It’s just being vulgar for vulgarities sake,” it’s a strangely endearing and compelling game to play. There’s simply a strange charm to Lollipop Chainsaw that is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t played it. Of course, much of this strange compulsion to continue playing the game comes down to that oddly hypnotic effect that button-mashing brawlers, both good and bad, often exude: there’s a certain rhythmic and relaxing quality to pummeling through enemies that makes it hard to stop.

Which is why as I come to the end of this review I can best describe Lollipop Chainsaw as a perfect example of a rental or bargain bin game. Get it via Lovefilm or purchase it for £20 or less in your local game store. Do either of those things and you’ll likely have fun in Juliet’s wacky world of zombies and perversion, but as a full price title the combat is simply uninspiring and the humour often comes off as trying to hard and being vulgar for the sake of being vulgar. However, despite everything said in this review, I feel that fans of Suda 51’s previous work are likely going to thoroughly enjoy Lollipop Chainsaw.

The Good:
+ When the humour hits the spot, it’s funny
+ Some fun gameplay diversions.
+ Boss battles.

The Bad:
– The humour doesn’t often hit the spot.
– Combat gets boring.
– It’s short.

The Score:

Graphics: 7.5
A nice, vibrant art-style suit the games wacky nature well, but level designs are boring and it’s not a technically impressive game.

Sound: 8
Sometimes the voice acting can grate, but mostly it’s good. The music is fantastic for the game.

Story: 6
A decent tale of zombie invasion with some twists, but nothing that special, and the humour only occasionally hits.

Gameplay: 6
The combat just doesn’t set itself apart from the crowd and feels a little stiff in execution, and most of the other gameplay elements aren’t that great, either.

Lifespan: 6
A five-hour campaign with a little replay value.

The Verdict:  6
Strangely compelling and charming,  Lollipop Chainsaw has a certain quality that keeps you playing, but ultimately this is a decidedly, “meh” hack and slash adventure game wrapped up in a unique shell of insanity, encapsulating well the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

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