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From the ever unpredictable mind of Suda 51, Lollipop Chainsaw brings teenage fantasy to slaughtering the undead. Armed with some pompoms, a heart engraved chainsaw (that doubles as a phone)! And the shortest skirt in gaming, Juliet Starling aims to bring some much needed flavour to the zombie genre.
Juliet is having like the worst birthday evar. A loser Goth kid named Swan has forged a connection with “Rotton World” to summon the “Dark Purveyors” and unleash a zombie outbreak on San Romero High School. Once Juliet’s boyfriend Nick gets bitten, some emergency “magic” surgery is performed to save his head from the infection. After words with her Sensei (yes, she has a Sensei) and attaching her boyfriend’s still alive decapitated head to her belt, Juliet sets off to kill those zombie douchebags.
The story of Lollipop Chainsaw is as ludicrous as its concept, yet remains interesting throughout. Suda’s punk rock attitude is presented proudly and makes it clear that the game is poking fun at zombie culture. Fantastic voice acting and cohesive characterisation allows for the admittedly shallow premise to flaunt its campy nature and keep you playing to find out what crazy scenario comes next.
Where the script causes problems are the clearly misogynistic tones of the exploitive humour. Juliet is an insecure bimbo that’s seen as nothing more than a sex object and there’s no misinterpretation of that. From rescued classmates stating that they’ll be masturbating to her later to the first boss naming her a “cock-sucking whore” and other sexual slurs as his attack; the sexualisation is relentless. Choreography of both cutscenes and in-game moves takes every possible opportunity to get an up-skirt glimpse on Juliet or have her large breasts bounce due to her cheerleading.
Thankfully nothing on display has any seriousness or underlying message, but the barrage of crude jokes will risk turning off sensitive or female gamers. There’s nothing wrong with immature, low brow humour when in parody, which Lollipop Chainsaw does well, but you need to be fine with that before hand.
Akin to arcade beat-em ups from the ‘90s, Lollipop Chainsaw is a straight brawler with a heavy reliance on the “X” and “Y” buttons. Going from room to room, you clear out zombies and collect medals whilst listening to genuinely funny jokes between Juliet and Nick. It’s encouraged to buy combo moves with the currency earned from killing enemies to keep the action from becoming stale, but the execution of combat is sloppy. Movement feels sluggish and not being able to animation break can lead to some unavoidable hits. Never does the game become unplayable or broken in any respect as the combat style is approachable in its simplicity but Juliet is no Bayonetta when it comes to Queen of the brawler.
Keeping the game varied, Grasshopper Manufacturer included a bunch of mini-games to help advance the stage progression with some QTE distractions. These sections are very forgiving and don’t break up the forward momentum in Lollipop Chainsaw’s game design, bar one section in Stage 2 that can cause a bewildering road block where victory almost seems random.
Boss fights (typically a staple in Grasshopper games) are a surprising disappointment in Lollipop Chainsaw. The character design and locales for the fights are as fantastic as you’d expect from a game with this much flash. Generic is the best way to describe the boss battles. Challenge is sorely lacking, every boss has three sections to their fight and basic tactics of jumping around like you’re on a sugar rush on Juliet’s lollipops and mashing heavy attack is all you require to beat the game on standard difficulty. No fights are boring but they’ll be remembered for their character rather than the gameplay.
Lollipop Chainsaw oozes style that only exists in games that understand what demographic they’re aiming for. Watching rainbows and sparkles spout out of a zombie’s neck whilst listening to Toni Basil’s “Mickey” is common in this game but will never be emulated elsewhere. A mixture of ‘80s pop, death core and dub-step bring together one of the best licensed soundtracks in gaming without clashing with Akira Yamaoka’s original compositions. The combination of sophisticated presentation and dumb context allows the snappy humour and grunge aesthetic form a hybrid that feels natural without pandering to the lowest common denominator.
As a complete package, Lollipop Chainsaw is the best game from Suda 51’s studio. Everything feels in place with its characters, style, script and amazing soundtrack. Mechanical problems and shallow gameplay hold it back from realising the game’s full potential and a short five hour campaign without extra game modes or plans for DLC leaves it lacking on content. If you’re comfortable with crass misogyny and style over substance, let some sparkle into your life.