IGN’s review of Lollipop Chainsaw opens up with a clear statement that nobody would ever state that the combat was one of their favourite parts of this game. You may point to any number of other things, but the combat would never be one of them. Sooooo guess what IGN? The combat was one of my favourite things about Lollipop Chainsaw. I call your bluff IGN!
Lollipop Chainsaw is the new Suda 51 joint, and that should tell you everything that you need to know right there. I think most everyone can agree that Suda’s games are, at the very least, unique. Perhaps not in game play execution, but definitely in style, presentation, and overall content. I’ll admit I’m pretty unfamiliar with the work that came before No More Heroes, but once I played that I knew I would be checking out everything else the man does, if only because I know I will see some shit that I have never seen in a game before.
Lollipop Chainsaw is no exception to this.
You play as Juliet, a blonde high school student who has just turned 18. She has a boyfriend, she’s on the cheerleading squad, and she also happens to be part of a family of zombie hunters. Following a short prologue chapter, Juliet’s boyfriend Nick is bitten by a zombie and taking drastic measures, Juliet hacks his head off with a chainsaw. She then straps his head to I guess her skirt (never really was too clear on that), which is where he spends the remainder of the game. He has retained the ability to speak (a fact even he is baffled by) and has dialogue exchanges with Juliet throughout. There’s more to the story (I mean not much more but there are some twists along the way) but at the very least that should give you an idea of what you’re in for here.
What I love about Lollipop Chainsaw, and Suda 51 games in general, is that they are as video game-y as a video game can get. There is absolutely no focus on trying to look real or be grounded in any semblance of reality. Like Nick’s ability to speak despite being a head. We know it doesn’t make sense, the game acknowledges this, but then never proceeds to offer any explanation at all, aside from “hey magic”. Most games need to explain the science or history of anything outside the realm of reality. Juliet has rainbows and hearts shoot out of her chainsaw because fuck it, why not. It keeps things interesting because you know there are no rules within this universe so literally anything can happen at any moment, and it will make equal sense since nothing at all makes any god damn sense to begin with. It’s a big reason why I loved Saint’s Row The Third so much. It’s always fun to play a game where you are never quite certain what insanity is waiting for you in the next chapter.
Despite all this madness, Lollipop Chainsaw is, at its heart, a beat ‘em up. You will spend the majority of the game using light and heavy attacks to smash your way through hordes of zombies, all the while unlocking additional moves as you go along. This seems to be the most divisive part of the game. Many have called it slow; I would instead use the word deliberate. There’s a methodical pace to the combat that many don’t seem to enjoy. I for one welcomed it. You can’t simply mash on buttons and hope everything works out ok, you have to time your movements effectively. Light attacks work best to merely stun your enemies, at which point a good swipe of the chainsaw will finish them off. The chainsaw, as one would expect a chainsaw to be, feels like there is weight behind it so wielding it for the heavy attacks is a bit sluggish. This means you can’t always rely on it as your go to weapon as enemies can easily sneak in a hit as you are tossing it around. You also have the usual dodge ability, although here you are using it to vault over and around your enemies. Personally I thought the combat worked quite well and yes it is a little less frantic than you might be used to, but you should get the feel for it very quickly. Plus eventually you can use the chainsaw in a dash attack, as a gun, and you can also perform various moves using Nick’s severed heard, so there is a lot of variety to be had here.
The game play is also varied up by introducing these pseudo mini-game activities, such as zombie baseball, zombie basketball, and a variety of homages to older school video games in one of the later stages. For the most part these are simply varied takes on the standard combat, but they do provide interesting shifts in the action, even if I did absolutely hate zombie baseball due to some questionable auto aiming. My advice is to turn that shit off immediately after acquiring the Blaster upgrade. Trust me, it makes a world of difference. Also is it really necessary for Juliet to proclaim “Chainsaw Blaster!” after almost every single shot you take?!
Visually the game isn’t anything too special, featuring some fairly bland environments and standard character models. The bosses do look good and are full of personality, but for the most part the game is mostly just serviceable in the graphics department. It’s the added little presentation elements, such as the rainbows that appear as you massacre zombies, that help to give it some unique flavour.
I do have to heap some praise on the audio though. First of all the voice acting is fantastic, with the highlight being Lex Luthor himself, Michael Rosenbaum, as Nick. He acts as the viewer, calling into question the insanity that is happening around him, while at the same remaining relatively level headed the entire time. He is the perfect contrast to the overly bubbly Juliet, who would likely start to grate on the nerves if she didn’t have Nick to play off of. The game also makes great use of its licensed soundtrack, with the expected “Lollipop” playing at the shop or on the costume select screen, as well as sprinkling in tunes like “Spin Me Right Round” as you grind up a bunch of zombies using a thresher. The cherry on the cake though is the use of Tony Basil’s “Mickey”, which is played anytime you go into special mode. I thought I would be plenty sick of this tune by the time the credits rolled but what do you know, the novelty has yet to wear off.
Of course one thing people always want to know in regards to a Suda 51 title is how funny it is. While I can’t put Lollipop Chainsaw above some of his other titles, it is definitely a humorous ride. There’s definitely a lot of shock/crude humour in there that doesn’t always work (you won’t even finish the first stage before you have one student comment on your tits, and another promise that he will be masturbating to the thought of you later) but I have to say a lot of it worked. Having a boss tell you he just jizzed a little after an attempt to kill him brings a smile to my face, what can I say? The banter between Juliet and Nick is almost always the highlight, and even manages to go the heartfelt route later on in the story.
One of people’s biggest gripes against Lollipop Chainsaw is its length, and I’m not going to tell you that they’re wrong. You can burn through the game’s 7 chapters (one of which is the prologue) in about 5 or 6 hours. I did it in two sittings and was a little shocked to find myself fighting the last boss so soon. Here’s the thing though - there is a crazy amount of replay value in this game. There’s time trials to finish, tons of things to buy in the store that require way more money than you will accumulate in a single playthrough, and some enemies and collectables only appear in the higher difficulties. Needless to say if you enjoy the game, there is plenty here to keep you busy.
Lollipop Chainsaw is definitely worth a look for its humour and presentation, but I was surprised how much the combat and overall game play pulled me in. It might not be Suda 51’s best, but any Suda is usually good Suda. …Suda.