Lollipop Chainsaw is the latest exploitation opus from the mind of madcap game designer/auteur Suda51, the man behind Shadows of the Damned and the No More Heroes series. Even five minutes into the game, it is impossible to deny that it is a highly, er, ‘unique’ experience at least in terms of narrative. After a racy intro establishes main character Juliet Starling as a high-school cheerleader cum zombie hunter (sexualised to the point of lunacy), the player is thrust straight into the hack‘n’slash action. “OMFG,” squeals Juliet as she charges towards the looming hoards (underwear showing, whirring chainsaw in hand), “You undead douchebags!” Heads and limbs are sent flying, with pints of claret juxtaposed against stereotypically ‘girly’ images of glittering hearts, stars and rainbows, all to a kickass riot grrrl soundtrack.
With such an emphasis on excess it is little surprise that the plot is paper thin, revolving around a zombie plot to open the gate between our plane of existence and ‘the rotten world’ using a heady combination of ‘black magic and explosives’. This is all revealed by a stereotypical Japanese Sensei who enjoys collecting women’s underwear in his spare time. Of course.
A storyline this vapid and nonsensical would be forgivable (even encouraged) in this context if the gameplay was up to scratch. Unfortunately for developer Grasshopper Manufacture, however, it comes up as short as a decapitated deadite. Although armed with her trusty pom-poms, chainsaw and later a firearm (not to mention her boyfriend Nick’s decapitated head), Juliet’s moves are markedly limited. While added ‘awesome skillz’ can be purchased at various junctures (more on this later), the most useful and varied of these are unlocked so late in the game that it hardly seems to matter anymore. The upshot of this is that the game rewards repeated playthroughs as these abilities can be retained in regular as well as ranked mode, should the player wish to climb the online leaderboards.
Unfortunately, on the first playthrough at least, Juliet is stuck with a repetitive (if delightfully gory) series of attacks and dodges further hindered by an unintelligent camera and the fact that Juliet has to finish one animation before attacking again. All of this turns combat into a clunky grind, the attacks feeling awkward and ineffectual, as opposed to fluid and fun.
A vague levelling system is in place (upgraded abilities and skills available from regularly appearing ‘Chop 2 Shop’ stations) as well as a rage metre device which can be filled by ‘sparkle hunting’, or decapitating three or more zombies at once to you and I. This also doubles up as a means to collect coins which can be spent on the aforementioned upgrades and abilities. Reach the top of the rage metre and Juliet goes into a frenzy of high-powered attacks.. While none of this is particularly innovative or stimulating, it is a welcome addition to the otherwise bland combat system. Furthermore there is a vast array of unlockable treats, which can also be purchased at the Chop 2 Shop using your hard-earned coinage. These include answerphone messages from Juliet’s parents, outfits of varying skimpiness and boob-laden concept art.
A smattering of devastatingly dull boss battles and QTE-heavy minigames are thrown into the mix in an attempt to spice up proceedings but an over-reliance on these gimmicks render them equally repetitive. There are exceptions, including a basketball game in which the player scores points by relieving zombie jocks of their heads, sinking them through the hoop at a frenetic pace. Furthermore there are occasional chucklesome set-pieces such as handy poles which Juliet can use to twirl around, slicing up her foes in an appropriately titillating manner. Again, however, when you’ve seen these tricks once they immediately lose their impact.
Thankfully Lollipop Chainsaw at least looks nice for the most part. The game world is full of eye-popping colours and sumptuous shading, with comic-book style loading screens breaking up proceedings. There are also heavy anime influences in many of the cut scenes and a map which could have been plucked straight from a Rob Zombie video, with Juliet’s chainsaw leaving luminous sparkly trails in its wake and heat haze after heavy use. Sadly this is somewhat marred by ugly combat animations and a lack of distinction between locations – much of the game becomes a familiar slog of booting a door in, clearing a room, rinsing and repeating. Of course being a Japanese game, high score is of utmost importance and a little longevity is added after unlocking online ranked mode. Regardless, chasing that top spot on the leaderboard will never be much more than a grind if the combat isn’t up to muster.
If it isn’t already painfully clear, the totally rockin’ soundtrack aside, the only real appeal Lollipop Chainsaw has is the unashamedly over the top aesthetic and gutter-level dialogue. Sadly, even this isn’t enough to keep anyone other than the most puerile-minded amused with the endless quips about tits, panties and masturbating wearing about as thin as Juliet’s attire.
There are, however, a few diamonds in the rough, with occasional pop culture references raising a smile. “Now I hate you more than Carrot Top!” snarls a zombie, as Juliet’s chainsaw rips his arm off, with a fellow student revealing that his favourite president is “Warren G Carter”. Furthermore, Nick’s dialogue is expertly written, offering a welcome reprieve from the heroine’s endless wittering about looking up her skirt. “Hey, it’s Mr Fitzgibbon”, he whoops as a desk-wielding zombie teacher hurtles through a window. “He gave me a D last week, kill him!” At points Nick’s inadvertent witticisms are reminiscent of cult teen flick Heathers, albeit with a fraction of the smarts.
While Lollipop Chainsaw could be seen as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on American hedonism, it arguably goes well past parody into the realm of uncomfortable skin-fest. Even worse, for all its excess it is just plain boring.