Suda 51 is known for making the gaming equivalent of campy b-movies that you really either enjoy for the goofy experience or avoid altogether for the general crudeness of the design and humor. I tend to fall in the former category. His last outing, Shadows of the Damned, I enjoyed a great deal despite somewhat clunky controls.
Lollipop Chainsaw is his latest game, handled in association with filmmaker James Gunn (director of movies such a Slither as well as a few Troma films). Just in case the title of the game did not give it away, these two guys working together should give you a pretty clear idea of what you’re getting into.
You play the game as a high school cheerleader named Juliet who also happens to be a trained Zombie hunter who carries a chainsaw in her school bag. The story starts the morning of her birthday and she is late meeting her boyfriend Nick before school, so she’s racing on her bike as fast as she can. Then suddenly… Zombie apocalypse.
Juliet is an interesting protagonist, there’s an ironic sweet innocence to her which makes her likable, though also pretty creepy when you consider she is ripping undead former classmates apart with a smile and a giggle.
As sexualized as she is visually, she tends to be unrealistically naïve and childlike. She cares about teenage problems such as winning nationals with her cheerleading squad or her love of lollipops possibly making her fat (?!). Despite apparently having been a zombie hunter since infancy (killing her first zombie with a sharpened rattle) her undying devotion to her crazy family and her boyfriend make her downright charming.
She’s far from the only colorful character in the game. Her family also adds some quirky personalities to the mix. Her older sister, Cordelia, is a hardcore assassin with a sniper rifle. Her father looks like one of the Elvis impersonators from Las Vegas and has a tough guy attitude. Then there’s her younger sister, Rosalind, who is completely insane and destructive. I found her personality and look reminiscent of Delirium of the Endless (from The Sandman graphic novels).
Finally, there’s the boyfriend, Nick. If you’ve paid attention much to the media released about the game you probably already know he spends most of the story as a decapitated head. Above all other characters in the game, he is our anchor in a cartoony world. He tries desperately to handle everything that’s going on around him rationally as everyone else we meet seems to accept this all as the status quo.
One minute he’s waiting for his girlfriend to give her a present, the next he’s bitten by a zombie and said girlfriend has decapitated him to save him from turning into one of the undead. From that point on he suffers indignities from Juliet’s family, as well as essentially being a belt accessory hanging off of her butt. That is a raw deal no matter how devoted a boyfriend you might be or how much you may like your girlfriend’s butt.
The humor in the game is really the key to enjoying the experience. If you found the premise amusing, chances are you’ll probably enjoy the tongue in cheek tone the game has throughout. The conversations between Juliet and Nick in particular are responsible for a pretty sizable amount of the laughs I had.
From Juliet asking Nick if he wants to have children someday (regardless of the fact he’s lacking the necessary equipment) to Juliet’s rather weak attempts to convince him of the “benefits” of being just a disembodied head.
On the more technical side of things, the controls for the game follow the trend of most Suda 51 games in that they are functional but flawed. They certainly don’t stand up against the big name action games like Devil May Cry or God of War. At the beginning of the game, the combat feels stilted and switching from one kind of attack to another takes more down time than it really should.
As you continue through the game you unlock upgrades and attacks through shopping sites that appear at specific points in each level. There are also extras unlockable through these shopping areas like extra outfits, songs and concept art. I would imagine only the most obsessive compulsive would play through the game repeatedly to bother unlocking everything.
On top of the purchasable abilities, at fixed points Juliet receives gifts from people that are usually different abilities like the chainsaw blaster or the chainsaw dash. Most of the gifts end up being more useful in very specific circumstances or almost useless in most situations when compared to the attacks you purchased.
The hack and slash sections of the game get broken up by minigames here and there which tend to run the scale from fun to enraging. Zombie baseball in particular is an abomination because of the chainsaw blaster’s terribly implemented auto aim feature.
The level and enemy design offer up some variety in visuals and style. None of it is particularly awe inspiring but it’s cool to jump from a high school to a farm to a huge arcade. The bosses you fight at each stage are representative of different musical styles, which play while you go through each stage.
I particularly enjoyed level 2 against a huge Viking playing a drum set on a flying boat while songs from bands like Children of Bodom were playing in the background. There’s also a punk rocker who screams obscenities that fly at you, a drugged up hippie, an auto tuned funk/ disco singer with a UFO, and a rock and roll guy with an ever transforming motorcycle.
Each boss fight is fun with different stages to them, but I wouldn’t classify any of them as particularly challenging. The game in general suffers from being a bit too easy. I played through the game on normal difficulty and never felt as if I was in danger of dying. In fact I never had less than 3 health lollipops in my inventory at any given time.
In general, the game has an arcade feel to it, and in that vein it is also a bit on the short side, taking maybe 6 hours to complete if you’re not speeding through it. Added length will only really come to those who replay the game or individual levels trying to get better scores and unlock all of the outfits, etc.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a flawed game. I would be lying, however, if I said I didn’t have a blast playing it. The game inspires a lot of laughs and you’re always curious as to what insane bit of imagery they’ll throw into the next level.
It is definitely not for everyone, if you don’t enjoy Suda 51′s games or the kind of humor to be found in b-movie schlockfests, this doesn’t have enough depth to really make up for it. Even if you do, the brevity of the game makes it hard to recommend as much more than a rental unless you are the kind of gamer who’d replay a game like this over and over again for a high score.