Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
XBox 360, PS3
When Suda51 is involved in a game you know there's a far chanceyou’re going to get something that’s a little outside the box, perhaps even a smidgeon off the wall, and that’s why we love the guy so much. The past eleven years has seen Grasshopper Interactive release some of the most interesting, original and downright quirky titles in recent memory including No More Heroes, last year’s horribly underrated Shadows of the Damned and, now, Lollipop Chainsaw.
Even though Lollipop Chainsaw is perhaps a touch more obvious than the other titles from the developer, at least on face value, there’s just so much here that we can’t help but get excited about, even if the game does get off to a slightly slow start. As a third person actio-adventure-hack-and-slash-cum-shooter, it’s pretty clear what you’re getting yourself into when it comes to the basics, but Lollipop Chainsaw is about so much more than that.
We’ll start, however, at the beginning. You play as Juliette Starling, a zombie hunting cheerleader from the fictional San Romero High School. Juliette, aside from having a slightly unusual job, is pretty typical of what you would expect from a stereotypical blonde, big-breasted cheerleader. That is to say she's got a touch of the airhead about her, and seems to be unreasonably concerned with the more superficial things in life (drawing quite a parallel to the overall feel of Lollipop Chainsaw, in truth).
Juliette is accompanied by the head of her boyfriend Nick, who we are introduced in the game’s prologue. Despite being nothing more than a severed head dangling from Juliette’s belt, Nick contributes quite a bit to the game, particularly when it comes to its humour. Obviously Nick’s situation alone points at Lollipop Chainsaw being a touch ridiculous, but it’s worth nothing that even though it does seem a little much, it’s all presented in such a way as to make it feel genuinely believable (okay, maybe not believable) – that is to say, nothing is here for the sake of randomness or effect, it all serves a purpose and that’s why things work so well. Rounding off the cast are Juliette’s sisters and her father, who will be involved with the story’s progression as things move towards a particularly epic culmination.
Being a hack and slasher, the combat was always going to be the most important thing here, and to be fair to Grasshopper, it turns out to be a lot better than you might suspect on first glance. When we are introduced to the game initially, things feel a touch lethargic. There’s not a huge amount of control, and Juliette seems to go about her own devices, regardless of what you’re trying to get her to do. As you play further into the game and unlock additional capabilities, combos, attacks and attributes however, everything becomes a lot more responsive towards your direction. Within an hour or so you’re doling out serious abuse to the undead without even thinking about it, and it’s from that point onwards that you begin to realise that this is actually a pretty nifty game.
Although the controls are somewhat limited when compared to some games, there’s a fine balance between the three main attack types and how they can be linked together, as well as the additional capabilities unlocked as the game progresses, particularly the chainsaw canon – which will prove to be invaluable to you throughout.
One area where the game did let us down on occasion was its camera. This was something that also caused occasional headaches for us with Shadows of the Damned, so it’s an area that Grasshopper really do need to put a little more work into. For the most part it’s perfectly serviceable, however there will be times where you find yourself cornered close to a wall, and will need to mash buttons and jump around randomly until you can finally get control of the camera again to see where exactly everyone is. It’s not going to have you turning your console off or anything, but it doesn’t help when it comes to immersion.
Fortunately it’s one of the few minor issues suffered by the game, as everything ticks all the right boxes for us. The game’s visuals sport a fantastic cel-shaded quality, which works quite well with the comic book style presentation on show. In the midst of combat you’ll often find yourself commenting on just how great everything looks, with wave after wave of zombie contrasting so well with pink love hearts and vivid rainbows splashing across screen (yes, we’re being serious).
What really makes Lollipop Chainsaw stand out is the fact that it’s just so well put together, despite its seeming randomness. Whether it's the nice musical touches (fans of the 80s will enjoy the appearance of Toni Basil's Mickey and Dead and Alive's You Spin Me Round, while metal favourites like Children of Bodom feature throughout) or the seemingly effortless changes in gameplay style from action to top down Pac-Man style gameplay to shooter to retro side-scroller to rhythm game and more, Lollipop Chainsaw certainly couldn't be accused of being a run of the mill experience.
As random and all as it may seem, and it does seem very random, it’s the kind of thing that really typifies the overall feeling of Lollipop Chainsaw – focussing on the aesthetics while completely neglecting any deeper meaning. At least that’s how it tries to make itself appear for the most part, as you progress you’ll actually find out that there’s a teensy bit of soul gone into this, and it might shock you.We’re not going to spoil it for you, but deep down under the airhead exterior, Lollipop Chainsaw has a message. If you happen to blink at the wrong time you’ll definitely miss it, but trust us, it’s there, and we’re actually quite happy that someone actually went to the effort of shoehorning some semblance of meaning into an otherwise exclusively superficial experience.
Lollipop Chainsaw is very much going to be a “love it or hate it” type game; that has been evident since the very first screenshots emerged. Those who find it difficult to accept the seemingly random twists and turns in gameplay style will struggle to make sense of the bigger picture, but anyone who finds themselves even moderately afflicted with a short attention span will no doubt love the way Lollipop Chainsaw is structured, and it's got a surprising level of depth that should keep you coming back long after you've finished your first 6-7 hour play through.
It’s not a game for the purist, nor is it one for those who love a deep and involving storyline, but it was clearly never intended to be taken that way. It’s a game that’s all about fun and in-your-face action. Enjoyment is the currency it trades in, and it does a bloody fine job of it. There haven’t been many games released this year that can offer such immediate satisfaction without needing to involve the player in any meaningful way, and for that reason Lollipop Chainsaw manages to stand out.
It’s bat-shit crazy, out of its mind and just pure mental at times, but when taken both as individual sections of gameplay and as a whole, singular experience it works like nothing else out there. It really is a testament to the skills of Suda51 and the Grasshopper Manufacture team that this game has worked, because it could so very easily have been a complete and utter disaster. Game of the year so far? Not quite, but it’s certainly worth of inclusion in any top tens.