Lollipop Chainsaw Review
Game: Lollipop Chainsaw
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Enteratinment
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Zombies have become commonplace in video games. Whether it’s a game dedicated to the undead, or a title that has a popular mode dedicated to the walking corpses, they are everywhere. Another thing that is rife in the world of gaming at the minute is the discussion on female protagonists, and sex on the whole, as it is depicted on gaming consoles.
Grasshopper Manufacture and Suda 51 are well known for splitting the crowd. Some enjoy their outlandish take on comedy and gameplay, others see their games as immature affairs that only service kids who are looking for a cheap laugh. If you’re in the latter, I can safely say Lollipop Chainsaw is not for you. It doesn’t take itself seriously for one moment. It’s colourful, camp and outrageous. But does all that translate into fun? I’d imagine Juliet would say something along the lines of, “OMG??!!?! LIKE, TOTES!”.
STORY: A big day in any young person’s life is their 18th birthday, which i’s where Lollipop Chainsaw kicks off. Juliet Starling wakes up on the morning of this momentous day, gleaming from ear to ear. When she arrives at her place of education – San Romero High School – to meet her beloved boyfriend Nick Carlyle, she is greeted by a massive zombie outbreak. This is when we learn that behind Juliet’s sweet and “butter wouldn’t melt” exterior, there’s a tough zombie slayer with a chainsaw in tow.
This zombie apocalypse was caused by a local goth kid in the school, Swan. Sick of being picked on and ridiculed, the Robert Smith-come-Marilyn Manson type character has summoned five Godlike zombie entities to take on Juliet and break down the boundary between Earth and the brilliantly named Rotten World, where all of the universe’s demonic forces are. Thoughout the story, Juliet’s sexuality is played upon, and on occasion enemies will say some questionable things to the teen. However, these things add to the despicable nature of Juliet’s rivals. Early on, Starling confirms the fact that she is a strong and authoritative figure, who is a little ditzy at times, but is by no means stupid.
GRAPHICS: This is an Unreal engine game, but doesn’t have all of the browns and greys we’ve become accustomed to in this generation of consoles. The game has a glorious bright and vivid colour palette. Even when Starling is slaughtering zombies, sparkles shoot out of their disembodied torsos. The game has a look similar to an animated cartoon – not so much cell shaded per se – but a mix between something from the My Little Pony reboot and a title from earlier on in this generation.
As we are coming to the end of this generation, games are starting to graphically max out on current hardware. Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t have as much facial detail as other titles on offer in the past twelve months, and the cutscenes aren’t anything to write home about. However, it would be wrong to completely count out the aesthetics of the game, as ever-changing surroundings keep things fresh from the very beginning.
SOUND: Every single morsel of audio in this video game hits the nail on the head. There is an eclectic mix on offer for fans of any genre, from punk to metal, pop to funk. It has some of the best uses of licensed music I’ve ever heard in a video game too. One particular highlight is the sequence where Juliet uses a combine harvester to mow down zombies whilst Pete Burns serenades the player with the Dead or Alive classic, “You Spin Me ‘Round (Like A Record)”; simply inspired. That isn’t the only instance of music fitting into a section of the game perfectly, though that individual occurrence had me bursting into rip-roaring laughter, while singing the 80s hit with gusto. The in-house created tracks are also terrific, sporting some great pop-punk riffs and great thrash metal.
Tara Strong is impeccable in the lead role. She portrays the young Starling with innocence and bravery, as well as some stellar comedic lines. Starling is the stand-out star of the piece, but a close second is her doting boyfriend, Nick. Michael Rosenbaum garners sympathy as Nick, from the player for his situation, as he’s a disembodied head that hangs from Juliet’s skirt thanks to a ritual performed by the San Romero High cheerleader. Nick is the voice of reason in the piece, always questioning what exactly is happening, before throwing himself head first into the action (sorry!). The relationship between the two is really endearing in many ways and is developed wonderfully as the story progresses.
GAMEPLAY: It all harks back to the days of yore. Lollipop Chainsaw takes a lot of its inspiration from arcade classics and the element of combos. It’s all about the score and how you utilise your attacks on enemies across the levels of the game. As well as your trusty chainsaw – which is about as big as Juliet herself – you have your pom poms. Starling’s pom-poms act as a way to make zombies groggy, before you shred them to pieces with your chainsaw. Essentially, you can eliminate the walking dead one at a time, but because this is a score attack game, there is the want to make three or more zombies groggy before sawing their heads off. Sparkle Hunting – as its called – leads to bigger scores and more zombie medals. The more enemies you eliminate, the more your meter at the bottom of the screen fills up. Once full, with a simple button press you become invincible for a timed period whilst Micky by Toni Basil plays.
Zombie medals come in Gold and Platinum. The player obtains these by annihilating their foes or saving NPCs from becoming a zombie’s next meal. The NPCs you are saving are fellow classmates that appear in certain areas with a big “SOS” over their heads. When the player saves them from imminent death, Starling reaps the rewards of more zombie medals. These medals are used to buy upgrades, combos, BGM, extra threads for our cheerleading heroine and art, from her favourite shop; Chop 2 Shop. These Chop 2 Shop kiosks are prominently littered across all of the levels, meaning there is no reason to panic buy at any moment.
Once you enter each area, a counter appears in the bottom left hand corner indicating how many adversaries you have left to eradicate before moving onto the next set of snarling dribblers. There are a number of mini games in each level that break up the “enter room, clear room” dynamic such as Zombie Basketball, and your boyfriend isn’t one to be left out in the cold either. Nick is used to gain access to specific areas by placing his head on glowing blue headless anatomies, which trigger QTEs. As you progress in Lollipop Chainsaw, you gain access to the Chainsaw Blaster, which turns your tool into a shotgun to blow zombie heads off very effectively. Along with the combos – which aren’t too extravagant to memorise – the gameplay in Lollipop Chainsaw does not become stagnant or mundane. The majority of the boss battles are really enjoyable affairs too, with duds being few and far between.
LONGEVITY: The main story will run for approximately six hours, but don’t let that deter you. It’s a perfect length for the style of game and Grasshopper have designed it for replayability. There are preloaded high scores on each level, with your Dad’s high score being the top mark to aim for, and if you beat his grade you’ll unlock further items. After finishing any of the 7 stages, you can also play them again in ranking mode and face off against other Lollipop Chainsaw players around the world.
VERDICT: Grasshopper Manufacture have created a gem in Lollipop Chainsaw. From the outlandish story to the satirical dialogue, the premise of Juliet Starling’s adventure is deliciously over the top. Detractors of Grashopper may see the protagonist as a backward step in the portrayal of female video game characters, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Starling is painted as a tough girl with a backbone, that just so happens to have a personality ripped straight from The Only Way Is Essex or Geordie Shore.
The gameplay stays fresh as new ways to attack the zombies present themselves in regular intervals in the form of upgrades and combos. The music has been chosen with care to form a soundtrack that is as ludicrously delightful as the game itself. Lollipop Chainsaw is brilliant in its stupidity, magnificent in its immaturity, and an absolute delight overall. Don’t always judge a book by its cover. What might look like Take A Break on the outside, could very well be Ulysses on the inside.