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Lollipop Chainsaw is the latest game from Goichi Suda, better known to those in the industry as Suda 51. In the west the Japanese video game director is probably best known for the No More Heroes series, which debuted on the Wii, and Killer7 a bizarre shooter that attracted a cult following during the last console generation. Lollipop Chainsaw sees Suda team up with Hollywood film maker James Gunn to give us a title jam packed with over the top zombie slaying and a good dose of humour. It’s so much fun that I can almost forgive Gunn for penning the disastrous Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed back in 2004.
Players take control of the lovely Juliet Starling, a high school cheerleader who happens to come from a long line of accomplished zombie hunters. What is it with cheerleaders taking on supernatural menaces? First we had Buffy staking vampires and now we have Juliet decapitating the walking dead. I guess the acrobatic training cheerleaders go through make them ideal candidates for pulling off the martial arts required to kick paranormal ass. Anyway, when the game begins Juliet is hoping to celebrate her birthday but those plans go awry when a zombie epidemic sweeps over San Romero High School.
The source of shambling corpses is a gothic kid named Swan. The outcast, whose wardrobe seems borrowed from Marilyn Manson, is somewhat miffed at being rejected by the student body. Using a mystical book, Swan begins summoning zombies from another dimension into our world with the aims of punishing those who shunned him. I have to admit that’s more creative than simply buying a firearm for a spot of Columbine bowling. Needless to say Juliet will have to stop the emo’s scheme aided by her main squeeze Nick – a decapitated head attached to her belt. The poor bloke loses his body early on in the game after getting infected by a zombie bite. Having nothing below the neck must suck, but as a consolation he at least gets to spend the entire game next to Miss Starling’s toned buttocks.
Lollipop Chainsaw is basically a fighting game which mixes ultra violence with colourful visuals. The way it handles reminds me a lot of No More Heroes, but thankfully missing the money making chores which interrupted NMH’s high octane action. Juliet spends most of the adventure hacking away at zombies using her chainsaw, with inbuilt telephone, in conjunction with rapid melee strikes. The idea is to bash opponents with a series of kicks and pom pom swipes to daze them which leaves the blighter prone to decapitation. Severing a bad guy’s cranium awards you medals and coins which can be used at the store to purchase new attacks for Juliet, upgrades, in game music and most important of all revealing outfits to wear.
Although Nick has the slight disability of having no limbs he does have his uses. Plonking his noggin on headless zombies gives him temporary control of the carcass permitting him to reveal hidden areas via quick time events. His head can also be fired at waves of enemies once the prerequisite skill is unlocked. Speaking of skills, seeing as how it’s Juliet’s birthday, Starling earns new moves as the story goes along thanks to chainsaw upgrades generously gifted by her family of fellow zombie bashers. By the time the game ends not only will you use the saw to maim foes with melee attacks, but you’ll also get bullets for vanquishing targets from range and a motor than gives Juliet a short burst speed dash.
Graphically the game manages to reach a very high standard of quality. Juliet’s character model does look better drawn than the zombies she fights, but that may just be due to the fact that a pigtailed teen is more aesthetically pleasing than a rotting corpse. The in game graphics mesh well with the American comic book style images used during cut scenes and loading screens. Although the game lives up to its 18 rating, due to the foul language and lashings of blood spewing from severed appendages, a lot of the gore is disguised by the colourful design that splashes the screen with rainbows and shining coins that burst out of vanquished enemies. My only real complaint is that the camera could be a little better, but thanks to the linear level designs and lock on feature the vantage point only becomes a problem when toggling the chainsaw’s ranged weaponry.
One of the game’s highlights would have to be the sonics. Voice actress Tara Strong is perfect in the role of Juliet and I especially enjoyed her frequent exchanges with Nick played by Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor of Smallville fame.) Their humorous banter does a good job of diverting your attention from the button bashing combat which could get monotonous were it not for the constant gags and slick visuals. Lollipop Chainsaw also boasts an excellent soundtrack which includes some oldies like Lollipop from The Chordettes or the rocking Heroes Of Our Time by Dragonforce. Seeing that Juliet is cheerleader its no surprise to learn that Toni Basil’s Mickey plays when you activate your special meter and I especially liked hearing Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round in the background as I mowed down zombies in a corn field whilst driving a combine harvester.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a lot of fun whilst it lasts, but unfortunately it doesn’t last very long. I managed to get through it all during a weekend so I cannot give it five stars out of five. There’s around seven stages, covering the school and surrounding district, which each can be completed in under an hour. By the time you have clocked in six hours of play you’ll be nearing the finale which is a shame. The short running time and slow loading screens are ultimately what keep me from awarding it full marks. Still the short story may be a blessing in disguise as the combat isn’t exactly deep and could get potentially dull had they artificially padded things out to make it last for more than ten hours.
If getting through the story is your sole objective then it’s hard to recommend a purchase as a rental should suffice. I personally however would encourage fighting game fans to pick up this gem, even if it means waiting a bit for a price drop. If you don’t mind grinding levels there’s a lot of collectibles to earn, some of which can only be acquired by besting all the difficulty settings. Those who enjoy earning high scores will also find enjoyment in replaying levels to earn a place on the online leader board. Yes the premise is silly, but between the lively graphics, chuckles, constant action and some novel mini-games it has a charm many other titles on the market lack. I mean when was the last time you got to kill zombies whilst swinging off a stripper pole? Nuff said.