Lollipop Chainsaw Review

Juliet Starling has had a strange upbringing. She may be a popular pom-pom waving cheerleader at San Romero High School, but those strawberry blonde pig tails hide a dark family secret. Her zany older sister, her crazy younger sister and her motorbike riding Elvis impersonating Dad, all join Juliet in the unusual family business of zombie hunting. This comes in handy when, on Juliet’s eighteenth birthday, San Romero High is attacked by a zombie outbreak and her boyfriend, Nick, is bitten and infected. Fortunately, Juliet knows a thing or two about zombies and before the infection can fully spread she lops off Nick’s head with a chainsaw, performs a magic spell she happens to know and prevents him from becoming fully zombiefied – albeit at the expense of being a disembodied head, that Juliet then proceeds to carry around for the rest of the game attached to her hip. Understandably, Nick is less than impressed, but at least he avoids the hunger for brains.

Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also Available On: PS3
Release Date: Available Now

Juliet then goes on to confess to Nick about her less than conventional family life and sets about saving the day, with Nick reluctantly along for the ride. His outsider-looking-in perspective on the family profession acts as a constant reminder for just how insane the situation is and frequently gives rise to some hysterically funny dialogue. Her wacky all American upbringing is not as concerning as her Japanese heritage — and I am not just talking about her sexual deviant of a sushi slicing expert sensei. My enjoyment of the game was constrained by a number of factors, the most prominent of which is so frequently thrust in your face it is hard to ignore. The over sexualization of the lead character is at times a little crass…when it is being restrained; at others it is bordering on the sickly perverse. I should not feel that I have to apologise to a whole gender, just to have fun with the mechanics of an otherwise enjoyable third person hack-and-slash combo-heavy action game.

The constant — and I do mean constant — camera shots that very deliberately give you upskirt shots of Juliet’s skimpy cheerleading costumes, soon wear down even the patience of someone who has an appreciation of the quirky Grindhouse feeling they are aiming for. Having an achievement related to manually rotating the camera to an upskirt shot further cheapens the experience and it all lead to me actively being pleased to change in to a less revealing outfit. That this respite is found in a pair of hot pants and a skimpy top speaks volumes in itself. I do not consider myself a prude, but there is a line. Japan is often mockingly criticised for it’s “selling of school girl knickers in vending machines” and while the prospect of a pig tailed school uniform wearing cheerleader may be the source of sexual fantasy the world over, Lollipop Chainsaw takes it to an extreme that perhaps the rest of the world is somewhat uncomfortable with.

I have, up till now admired the zany Sudi 51 of Grasshopper Manufacture, and his games, from afar. I missed out on Killer7, had sold my Wii by the time No More Heroes was released and, despite the lead character being named after my football team and the demo of Shadows of the Damned making me laugh, I did not like the Resident-Evil-style tank controls bought to the table by Shinji Makami. It strikes me that Grasshopper Manufacture are one influential boardroom executive away from making great games. They just need one strong voice in there saying “Suda, that’s crazy, I like it. Let’s just tone it down a bit. Just a little. Just to make it more palatable to a wider worldwide audience.” Perhaps they are happy to make a very personally catered game that is less successful, but I fear that too much of this behavior will prevent Grasshopper from being able to afford to manufacture anything else.

I really wanted to like Lollipop Chainsaw and there are a number of reasons that someone would. The basic mechanics of combat are simple, not in a critical way, but in a way that makes the game easy to pick up and play, allowing for a level of customisation that permits you to learn the more complicated combos as you progress, while still managing to keep combat interesting. The level design is varied and provides an entertaining background to the creepy sexual carnage. The majority of your enemies are your standard braindead shuffling morons, which when arriving by the schoolbus load, allows you to build score shattering combo kills. These will give you even higher rewards if you manage to include some of the harder to kill higher level “named” zombies in your final chainsaw beheading death stroke. The level set in an arcade particularly shows a lot of fan service to gamers, with some memorable sections playing homage to some classic games of the past. The soundtrack is of a very high quality and the end of level boss fights are often cleverly associated with the music that goes with them. The artstyle may not be to everyone’s taste, but I like the cartoon-esque, almost hand drawn feel and think it suits the mismatched colourful cacophony of blood spurting zombie corpses and rainbow-trailing chainsaw attacks.

Lollipop Chainsaw is not beyond having issues over and above easily offending the fairer sex (and any male other than highly sexed teenagers or randy Japanese business men) Many of the cut scenes seem deliberately framed to avoid the need for lip syncing, almost to the point of awkwardness and elements such as Juliet’s phone seem tacked on to accomodate this. You will complete your first run through of the game in 5-6 hours. This is a little on the short side, but that said there are plenty of reasons to replay with online leaderboards and a number of collectables – some found throughout the levels and others to be unlocked via the in game currency. It is highly unlikely you will be able to afford all of the combos on your first playthrough. There is a harder mode setting and even more difficult “Very Hard” setting that unlocks when you finish the game. Both these modes feature differing enemy types, varying number of zombie foes and alternative placement of life giving lollipops.

The only problem with the harder difficulty is, if attempting any of the score, time or speed run throughs, you will have needed to replay levels in order to unlock the higher level combos. When attempting a run through on Very Hard, I reached the end of a section and was expecting to relax with a bit of retail therapy. Usually my only annoyance with the shop was the limited, and repetitious to a point of irritating, lines of Juliet’s dialogue, but on this occasion the shop, dressed as a chicken took arms against me and beat me round the head with a stick until I died, sending me back to the very beginning of the level – and all to rapidly back to the safety of title screen and difficulty setting. Still that was a first for me. I have never been killed by a shop dressed as a chicken before. There are fun surprises in Lollipop Chainsaw that I am glad I got to see.

Fun, simple combat that requires unlocking of combos moves to compete at later levels
Vibrantly bold colourful artstyle that screams fun
Reasons for replays at normal and harder difficulty settings
Over sexualization of main character makes me embarrassed to play
5-6 Hours playtime on normal level is a little on the short side
Some lazy game design elements & annoyances detract from core gameplay experience

Giving this game a score was troublesome and I have to say that I marked it down for the continual crass over objectifying of the lead character. Most gamers would agree that as the medium of videogames advances we would like to be taken more seriously and as such this seems like a knicker flashing leap backwards. I am not against sex being in a video game and have recently praised the handling of sex scenes in my Witcher 2 review. I also thought quite highly of another recent example of a Grindhouse style game, House of the Dead: Overkill, but both those examples handle sex and overly sexualized characters in a more mature or respectful manner that just seems like they were catering to an adult audience, as opposed to doing so for a cheap juvenile thrill that ultimately cheapens the whole experience. If that is not an issue for you then you will likely think better of the game – even if others around you may consequently think less of you.

Review copy provided by Premier PR
Official Game Site

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  1. The game-play’s a blast and I adore the sparkly nonsense aesthetic. I could even got over the oversexualization. What I simply could not understand was the consistent need to reduce the main character to a series of derogatory expletives at almost every outlet.

    I’m all for the well placed expletive but it became gratuitous and offensive after a point.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review, Tim. Great read.

  2. Lukas Heinzel

    It seems you wentwith too much expectations , positive and negatives, to just enjoy the game(besides your mistake to didnt play the No More Heroes 😉

    I agree with your controll issue crticism, but the narrative us just so damn good, it shines over all problems. I can understand, what amanda critices, she has a different perspective.

    By the way, i still think its a mistake to have a x/5 System, if you would get rid of that, people would concentrate more in the review and would actually read it.

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