Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Warner Home Games
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: 06/12/2012
Gochi Suda, aka “Suda51,” has always been hit or miss with me. Oddly enough it’s his games that actually get localized for North American shores that I tend to dislike and the ones that stay in Japan (or Europe) than I enjoy. I felt the No More Heroes games were overhyped and underperformed. I liked the premise of Killer 7 but it fell flat to me. Other games like Flower, Sun and Rain and Contact were…merely okay to me. On the other hand, I absolutely loved Fatal Frame IV (Which I still can’t believe Nintendo didn’t bring stateside), Super Fire Pro Wrestling 3, and I felt Michigan: Report From Hell was vastly underrated, but then it’s a first person survival horror game that feels a lot like a point and click adventure game at times, so that’s pretty much a title developed specifically for my interests. It’s in English for the European PS2, so you should import that if you can…
However, Lollipop Chainsaw seemed to be one of the few US released Suda51 games that I had a feeling I’d really enjoy. I love button mashing beat ‘em ups like Rocksteady’s Batman games and Lollipop Chainsaw looked and felt like an Oneechanbara with Westernized characters. Of course that’s what worried me. Although I love the Oneechanbara series (as does fellow DHGF writer Mark B.), neither of the games that were brought to North American (one for the Wii and one for the Xbox 360) did very well – either critically OR financially. Because Lollipop Chainsaw looked to be very similar I was worried critics and gamers were building up all this hype for it because it was a Suda51 game and then they would savage it like the Oneechanbara titles. So far though, that hasn’t happened. I’ll leave it to you the reader to decide if it was because Suda51 was attached to this title, because a small publisher without a lot of spare cash to throw around (D3) did the Oneechanbara games or if critics that reviewed both actually though Lollipop Chainsaw was a better game. I’d rather not speculate.
Now that I’m done with Lollipop Chainsaw I can say I’m glad I played it, I enjoyed my time with it, But I have no real desire to ever pick it up again. Does that mean the game isn’t worth your hard earned money or that it’s simply one with limited replay value like a lot of point and click adventure games? Let’s take a look.
It’s the 18th birthday of Juliet Starling and she has big plans for her big day. Unfortunately someone else has plans on this day as well. Plans that include opening a portal to a dimension of the undead and letting people be infected with a zombie virus while also calling about five revenant demigods to usher in the destruction of the world. So all in all, it’s not the best possible birthday for Juliet if she was your average cheerleader just trying to balance school, hobbies and her boyfriend. Lucky for Juliet she is the middle sister in a family dedicated to killing the undead and other assorted monsters like Sasquatches and Frankenberry. A cheerleader that kills monsters? Okay yeah, Juliet is very Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque, but she does have a very different personality is still a cheerleader and has a severed head for a boyfriend instead of a series of vampires. I definitely prefer Juliet to Sarah Michelle Gellar or Kristy Swanson as she’s funnier and weirder by far.
You’ll play through six stages and a prologue, killing hundreds of zombies, helping out your family along the way and saving your classmates from an eternity of undeath. I found the game to be extremely funny at times and I laughed quite hard at certain moments, along with the overall surreal nature of the game. The dialogue is sometimes completely insane and out of place, but it just fits the quirky, tongue in cheek nature of the game.
One area where some gamers might have a problem is with the litany of sexual epithets and slurs hurled at Juliet by various enemies, especially the first boss in the game. You’ll hear things like slut, bitch, whore, and even the dread C word used to describe Juliet by her enemies. I can definitely understand how this will make some female gamers uncomfortable but just remember, a) the things being said about Juliet are obviously not true (she’s straight edge, wholesome and apparently virginal) and b) it’s evil dudes and dudettes saying these things to make you enjoy killing them all the more. So in that respect I can give it a pass. There are some areas where claims of misogyny and the over-sexualization of Juliet are harder to wave off, such as her comments that she finds herself fat, the fact you earn a trophy for panty peeking, his perverted sensei and the various costumes you can collect and dress Juliet up in. I won’t deny that some female gamers will potentially be bothered by these things. I wasn’t, but I’m also a guy and a folklorist well versed in Japanese culture, so all of these things are just, “Well, that’s Japan.” to me and trying to force a Western sensibility on an Eastern game is misguided to me. Unlike say, “Let’s retcon a lot of rape into Tomb Raider.”
All in all, I enjoyed the storyline of Lollipop Chainsaw. It was nothing deep, dramatic or especially memorable, but it was a light hearted, if gory, silly affair poking fun of a lot of different tropes, both gaming and all things zombie related. I liked the characters and the way the game balanced the comedy, the serious nature of a zombie epidemic and a healthy dose of Franz Kafka thrown in for good measure. This is definitely a game geared towards young dudes though so again, but if you didn’t know that just from the cover shot, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Story Rating: Good
I really liked the visuals in Lollipop Chainsaw. The worst thing that I could say about the character models was that Juliet had some messed up team in the first Zombie Basketball closeup. The main human characters like Juliet, Nick and her family all look really good. There’s a lot of detail to their character models and everyone is animated smoothly. NPCs like the students you rescue have noticeably less detail to them, but still look great in the cut scenes and a little less so outside of them. A lot of NPC models are reused throughout the game, both human and zombie, so while there isn’t a lot of variety, at least the faces you’ll repeatedly see are well done.
Zombies are similar to humans except that many of them are exaggerated in feature and design. This is especially true for the bosses who come from another reality so it makes sense that they don’t lok quite right compared to the actual humans. There are a lot of different zombies, from overweight farming zombies to giant mecha zombie chickens, so expect to see a lot of weirdness. The rank and file zombies look like type of cannon fodder you’d find in any zombie slaughtering game, but when one stands out, it really stands out.
Background are well designed and, due to the button mashing action, may go unappreciated by the average gamer simply because there isn’t time to really gawk at things. Still what’s here is really well done. Across the board, everything in Lollipop Chainsaw looks great. There’s an occasional bit of slowdown in larger battles and the frame rate has problem in certain areas, but that’s more an engine/gameplay issue than a graphical one.
Graphics Rating: Great
I absolutely loved all the aural aspects of Lollipop Chainsaw. The voice acting is top-notch. All of the actors take their characters seriously, while remembering to add humour and weirdness to their lines. The end result is a wonderfully acted bit of weirdness. The sound effects, such as chainsaws cutting off limbs or heads exploding are well done and even things like the clucking of zombie chickens or the noise of a combine sound realistic.
Where the game truly shines is with the soundtrack. It’s a beautifully done blend of original tracks made specifically for the game and songs by name brand artists ranging from Dead or Alive and “You Spin Me Round” to tracks by Dragonfire and Atari Teenage Riot. There are three licensed tracks you’ll hear the most though: “Lollipop” by the Chordettes (when shopping), “Mickey” by Tony Basil (whenever star mode is activated) and “Cherry Bomb” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (when you start up the game). Best of all is that you unlock songs as you progress throughout the game, and you can even set your own five track soundtrack to loop as you play. That’s a really nice touch and I have to say listening to Lollipop Chainsaw was even more fun than playing it.
Sound Rating: Unparalleled
4. Control and Gameplay
Unfortunately, this is where the game is a bit lacking. I encountered the occasional bit of slowdown, but that’s minor compared to several other issues. I had the game crash three times in a row on the Fulchi Fun Level right after I did the “pole dancing” bit, so it’s obvious that there is a bug there. I also noticed that in the gondola climbing game (inspired by the old Spider-Man game for the Atari 2600) that the collision detection and the animation on screen are off by roughly ten frames. So if you dodge right before or right after an object comes at you, the game will read it as a hit instead of a dodge. This is going to be especially frustrating for those of you who will try for a bronze trophy related to this game where you can’t attack anything; only dodge. This will be even more apparent when you play it as attacks are random rather than pattern based and if you don’t attack, you can be caught repeatedly in situations where all you can do is look on and die. Just a head’s up to be prepared for that.
Worst though might be the camera for the game. We’ve had terrible camera associated with third person action games since the 32-bit era and yet having a quality camera still seems to be out of reach of most developers – much like long hair that animates properly. I’ve never understood why either is true, but the former is definitely in effect in Lolipop Chainsaw. There are times when you literally won’t be able to see Juliet and other times where the camera is just wonky. Now you do have a limited amount of control over the camera, including an ability to reset it, but the camera will just go back to a weird automated angle a lot of the times after you reset. Others will have the viewpoint from Juliet’s front instead of behind her. That’s just weird. I think I battled the camera more than zombies in this game. Again, just a head’s up that there is potential for frustration here, especially on Very Hard mode. Thankfully as this is a button masher, you can just memorize combos to get you out of a terse situation.
So that’s the BAD about Lollipop Chainsaw and make no mistake, those are all terrible things that could have been fixed with a little more quality control, but for the most part, the game plays quite…okay. It’s a button masher with each button corresponding to a different attack. One button does a high chainsaw attack, another a low, a third button lets you jump/dodge and the fourth is for pom-poms and fisticuffs. One analog stick controls your movement while another controls the camera and the D pad triggers your supply of Lollipops (health restoring items). Everything works pretty decently, although the game would regularly bring up the “use lollipop” screen which pauses the game when my hands weren’t anywhere close to the D-pad. At first I thought it was an issue with my regular PS3 controller, but nope, it happened with three different ones, so there’s definitely some detection issues with the game. As well, the more combos that you unlock in the game, the harder it is for the game to detect which combo you are doing. This can happen with any button masher where the different between several combos is how many times you press say, the square button before hitting the triangle, but it’s very apparent in Lollipop Chainsaw and it gets annoying if you want a little more precision to your game.
There are a few other moves, such as the Nick Roulette, where you can use Nick’s head in a variety of different way, although this seems to have the issue with triggering when you don’t press it that the Lollipop usage suffers from. Almost every time I received a “Nick Ticket” (which lets you use Nick), it was triggered almost immediately. Not a big deal, but annoying as hell. The other thing worth talking about is “Star Mode.” In this mode, you’ll be doing one-hit kills to your enemies and a lot of damage to bosses. It only lasts for a limited time and then you have to start charging the meter back up with regular kills. This is great for clearing out hordes of enemies and earning Platinum Zombie Medals.
There are two kinds of zombie medals. The aforementioned platinum ones, which can only be earned by killing bosses or doing multiple hit kills known as “Sparkle Hunting” complete with glitter and rainbow effects, and gold medals, which are earred by saving classmates, killing zombies and breaking stuff. Platinum Medals purchase extras like new costumes, music tracks and artwork. Costumes are insanely expensive though and unless you are looking for a trophy or three, the things unlocked by platinum medals are a little underwhelming. Gold medals unlock stat upgrades, useable items and new combos. I suggest strongly to go for stat upgrades first and once you’ve finished that to unlock combos. The health and damage increases are far more worth it the first time through.
All in all, although I enjoyed the concept, story and presentation of Lollipop Chainsaw, I can’t say I especially enjoyed PLAYING it. It’s decent for what it is, similar to the two Watchmen beat ‘em ups that suffer from the same problems that plague Lollipop Chainsaw. Basically the game was a better looking and light hearted Oneechanbara with worse controls. It’s about what I both expected and wanted from the game. Nothing more and nothing less.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre
Lollipop Chainsaw is a short but fun affair. It shouldn’t take you more than six hours to beat the game on any of the three difficulty levels (a fourth is unlocked after you beat the game). There are two endings to game, based on whether or not you saved all your fellow classmates. After that, you’re pretty much done with the game. It’s a very linear affair, so it’s not like anything is going to change on separate playthroughs. Sure you’ll get more and tougher enemies on higher difficulty settings, but that’s about it. The only reason tkeep playing the game after you beat it is if you are a completist, looking to find all the “name” zombies, or get all the costumes, music tracks and moves for Juliet. You’ll need to play through the game several times to unlock everything and/or get all the trophies. I beat the game twice and then played through most of the levels on ranking mode, but I never felt a real desire to get everything or earn a Platinum on this. It was pretty much a “one and done” sort of game for me. I appreciate that there are collectables and leaderboards to compare your score with other players, but none of that matters to me. Unless you really want to spend another dozen hours replaying the same stages collecting stuff for the sake of collecting stuff, there’s not a lot of reason to stick with Lollipop Chainsaw after you beat it.
Replayability Rating: Mediocre
Don’t expect to have too hard of a time with Lollipop Chainsaw. Even on the highest difficulty setting, you can easily get through each stage without dying. It’s just a matter of memorizing combos on hard when random button mashing will get you by on easy. The vast majority of the game is exceptionally easy and that’s fine because Lollipop Chainsaw is far more about the presentation and story than it is about actually playing the game. It doesn’t make the game any less fun. It just means the game is about letting you mutilate zombies in various ways, be it riding on a bus, running them over with a tractor or shooting their heads off. The challenge is more about beating the high score set by Juliet’s dad than getting through the game itself and that’s done by combos, sparkle hunting (killing multiple zombies at once) and speed runs. That’s a fine way to design a game. Star Solider R worked on the same premise. It’s just that some gamers who were expecting the game to be challenging will find dealing with combo detection and the camera to be harder than killing any of the opponents in the game.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
There are things about Lollipop Chainsaw that I love and things I don’t really care for. One thing I thing fans and detractors of the game alike can universally agree upon is that it’s basically a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie, not the series) and Oneechanbara. It’s such an odd statement to say, but I can think of a dozen button mashers where the game revolves around a scantily clad female protagonist who sets out to kill a veritable horde of the undead. I could probably think of more if I put my mind to it. So in this respect, Lollipop Chainsaw is just another in a long line of game using the same formula – it’s just this time it has a big name, a large publisher AND a ton of marketing money attached to it.
At the same, this is the first truly light hearted approach to this scenario that I’ve seen as well as the first to make fun of a lot of tropes both Western and Eastern, ranging from two different Elvis bits to the perverted Japanese sensei . So although Lollipop Chainsaw is just another girl in skimpy outfits fighting the undead game from Japan, it is the first with both a large budget and the willingness to make fun of itself from beginning to end. Thumbs in the middle here.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
I really loved the prologue and first two levels of Lollipop Chainsaw. I ended up replaying them several times to make sure I got everything and beat my high score. However as the game went on, my enjoyment began to wane. Consider the game is only a few hours long, that’s not an especially good sign. I really didn’t care for the Fulchi Fun Center (love the name though!) as that’s where the game crashing bug was and I thought the video game bits were stupid. I thought the final boss fight was a bit lame and anti-climatic, especially when the game ends on a freaking Quick Time Event. That always leaves me cold. So I guess my feelings on the game were all over the place. I loved the premise and set up, but the game seemed run out of steam towards the end. That didn’t stop me from going after the second ending and a few high scores though. Even with the lackluster last two levels, the majority of the game was a lot of fun and I was happy to have experienced it. Once I beat the game, I had no desire to replay it, nor is it something I’ll ever pick up again. It was entertaining crap, which was exactly what I wanted. No more and no less. If I had paid $60, I might have been disappointed, but Amazon had it for only $45, and I’d say that’s not a bad price point for the game. It’s about the cost of a movie ticket in terms of the dollars to time spent ratio and if I was a completionist style gamer, I could have easily gotten a lot more out of the game than I did.
Addictiveness Rating: Enjoyable
9. Appeal Factor
Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that is going to appeal to a lot of gamers. It’s funny, witty and has a great look to it. Most gamers don’t know about the Oneechanbara series, so it will seem a lot more original and out there to them. It’s a button masher, which Rocksteady’s Batman games have proven to be a sure fire winner. It has a pretty main character in skimpy outfits and a lot of zombie killing gore. It hits a lot of the core demographics gaming companies look for and the game manages to be fun in spite of a few control/engine issues. I do think Lollipop Chainsaw might work better as a movie or series (CGI Anime perhaps, like the Appleseed movies) as I had more fun watching the game unfold than actually playing it, but I honestly can’t see too many people that pick this up hating it. After all, you pretty much know what you are in for when you get this, so nothing about what I’ve said in this review should come as a shock to anyone.
That said, my wife seems to really hate this game and asked me to never play it around her. I asked what she hated and her response every time was, “EVERYTHING.” She really seemed to dislike the rainbows shooting from zombie bodies once you have decapitated them. So perhaps the problem is that Lollipop Chainsaw is one of those games that you will either love or hate after spending just a few minutes with it. I think the majority of gamers will have a ball with this, as it’s more inviting than the usual Suda51 title that gets brought stateside, but if you like button mashers and zombies, you’ll probably enjoy this in spite of the game’s negatives.
Appeal Factor: Good
There’s not much else to say about Lollipop Chainsaw. It’s a generally fun game to play although it has some issues. It’s quite funny and yet a little too vulgar for its own good at times. I liked the characters and I’d rather enjoy seeing a sequel down the road. There’s not a lot of depth to the game, and the only replay value is in looking for collectables or improving your high score. The game is exactly what it looks like: a simple linear zombie killing button masher. Simple isn’t a bad thing though. That means the game is inviting and easy to play. It’s entertainment you don’t have to think about. There are positives and negatives about that. Sometimes, you just want to play a new beat ‘em up or a game that is funny like Sam and Max instead of yet another angst-ridden RPG. With Lollipop Chainsaw you get both. It’s not a GOTY contender by any means, not is it particularly memorable, but it’s fun for what it is and that’s what matters.
Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Lollipop Chainsaw is an enjoyable game. It’s a simple linear button masher where you don’t have to think about anything; you just sit back and enjoy the ride. There are some control detection issues and the camera can be a mess, but it’s a fun little one-shot. There isn’t any real replay value unless you want to go back and collect objects and unlockables, but even as a one and done sort of game, Lollipop Chainsaw is worth playing through. Sometimes you just want a mindless beat ‘em up or a game with a good sense of humour. In Lollipop Chainsaw, you get both.