Lollipop Chainsaw: Seriously Just Go Buy It

Lollipop Chainsaw is the newest title from Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture, following up such offbeat titles as Shadows of the Damned, No More Heroes, and Killer 7.  Unlike most of those games, which languished in relative obscurity only to be enjoyed by a niche audience, Lollipop Chainsaw rode an incredible wave of Internet hype prior to its release, due in no small part to the not-really-a-scandal involving cosplayer Jessica Nigri at this year’s PAX East.  Whatever the reason, this game was making the news well before it hit shelves, a rarity these days for anything not safely nestled within a Triple-A franchise.  So how’s the game?  Can it survive beyond the hype?  Does it stand out in a market in which zombie games are nearly as numerous as the zombies themselves would be in a worldwide pandemic?  The short answer is “absolutely”.  For the longer answer, you’ll just have to keep reading.

The main protagonist of Lollipop Chainsaw is Juliet Starling, a cheerleader who bikes to school on her 18th birthday only to find her town suddenly overrun with zombies.  Luckily Juliet hails from a family of dedicated zombie slayers, so an outbreak of this sort ranges somewhere between “minor inconvenience” and “incredibly entertaining”.  Boyfriend bitten?  No problem!  Just perform a magic ritual to keep his head alive, chop that sucker off, and hook it onto your belt.  The boyfriend in question, Nick, makes for an excellent straight man against Juliet’s unending enthusiasm.  It’d be easy to take the role of decapitated head-on-a-belt and just play it for pure comic relief, but Nick’s situation actually raises some interesting and thoughtful points throughout the story, and he goes way beyond the role of quippy sidekick.  Credit for this dynamic also has to be given to voice actors Tara Strong and Michael Rosenbaum.  Both are extremely talented with a respectable body of voiceover work, and both definitely bring their “A” game here.  The conversation where Juliet cops to killing “a whole tribe of Frankenberries” is hands-down the funniest thing I’ve heard in a game in quite some time.

The story is thin, but what zombie outbreak story isn’t?  Resident goth kid Swan, tired of being rejected by his classmates, has performed a ritual to raise the dead and bring about the end of the world.  Aided by a handful of musically-themed “boss” zombies, he’s taken over sections of the town ranging from the high school, to a farm, to a video arcade.  Juliet, with occasional help from her two sisters and master zombie hunter father, has to stop him.  Where Lollipop Chainsaw excels is not with story but with style.  Like they say: it’s not the destination, but how you get there, that counts.   This game raises the dead not only in terms of zombies but also in its gameplay, with fast paced arcade-style combat.  There’s no time limit, but the levels compel you to complete them as quickly as possible, killing zombies quickly, efficiently, and simultaneously where applicable.  The better you do, the more money you’ll earn for upgrades, which allow you to go back again and do even better, all in the hopes of beating Juliet’s dad’s high score for the level, which again unlocks even more things.

“Wait just a minute!”, you say, “Replay levels?  I play games once and then trade them in!  And each new game I buy must be at least 50 hours long, so who has time to replay levels?”.  Look, I’ll be honest with you.  If the only way you can justify game purchases is by a mathematical equation comparing the price to the time between opening cutscene and end credits, you’re probably going to be unhappy with Lollipop Chainsaw.  Just go ahead and add it to the tremendous list of fantastic games you will never play because they’re “too short”.  The emphasis here IS on replaying levels, and getting better at them, and enjoying yourself while doing so.  The plus side of a short but incredibly well-made game is that it never wears out its welcome.  I will often find myself enjoying a game thoroughly, looking forward to the replay before I even finish it, when I hit “the wall”.  Either there’s one terrible level, or a lengthy boss fight, or a game which should be 10 hours turns into 20 because of market demand for super-long, bloated games.  For many reasons, I rarely get around to that second playthrough.  Well let me tell you something, friends.  I played Lollipop Chainsaw TWICE, in its entirety, in the first two days that I owned it.  And I’m going to keep playing it.  It’s fun, and because nobody stretched it out arbitrarily to meet some sort of Skyrim-mandated market demand, it never stops being fun.

Unlockable combo attacks are numerous, but they are mercifully short and easy to remember.  Instead of going full-on God of War with it, they said “Hey, what if you only had to hit like four buttons but the attack was still incredible looking and devastating?”.  Turns out, good idea.  Controls are simple and responsive, never frustrating.  The soundtrack is all over the place, but always suits the moment, and it never stops being entertaining.  The songs range from Toni Basil’s one-hit 80’s track “Mickey”, to Joan Jett’s “Cherry Bomb”, to tracks from Children of Bodom and Dragonforce.  Even Buckner & Garcia’s loving arcade-era anthem “Pac-Man Fever” gets some play.  If you get tired of looking at cheerleader outfit for some reason, Juliet has 19 unlockable costumes, none of which require any real-life money to obtain.  If combo-based chainsaw attacks aren’t always cutting it for you, sometimes your chainsaw can turn into a gun.  Or sometimes you can use your boyfriend’s decapitated head as a deadly projectile weapon.  The point is, Lollipop Chainsaw is short and sweet, and never sticks to one thing long enough to be boring.  Every level is fun, and no boss fight is overly long or complex.  There are collectibles, score attack modes, and unlockable items to keep you motivated through multiple playthroughs, if that’s your thing.  If that’s not your thing, and you value game quantity over quality, you’re probably going to be let down.  If, on the other hand, you do enjoy things that are fun, I cannot recommend this game enough.  Go buy it now, you can thank me later.

If I may wax editorial here at the end, just for a moment, I’d also like to say that if you profess to like Grasshopper Manufacture’s other fine titles such as Shadows of the Damned or No More Heroes, but are waiting for Lollipop Chainsaw to hit the bargain bin because those other games did…you sir, are part of the problem.  You are why Grasshopper Manufacture and other developers like them will likely be out of business midway through the next console cycle.  You are the litterbug to my crying Indian.  For once…just to try it out, say “I’m going to buy Lollipop Chainsaw right away because I hear it’s awesome!  And I will wait for a price drop on Halo 4 because those guys already have allllll the money”.  Stop brushing past the guy with the “Need to Eat” sign only to dump all your cash on that guy with the top hat and monocle. He’ll be fine without you for a minute, trust me.  We are reaching a critical juncture here, my fellow gamers.  I know we don’t have a lot of money right now, but neither do the guys who aren’t milking you for unlockable costumes and map packs.  Just think about it.

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About Ryan Searles

I like watching movies, and then talking about those movies. Sometimes I write things about them, which you should read. Other interests include boxed wine, video games, the works of Harlan Ellison and HG Wells, and being a general curmudgeon.

Posted on July 7, 2012, in Reviews, Video Games and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The entire last paragraph is perfect.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. That last paragraph describes perfectly what’s wrong with market economy. People want new, exciting, and entertaining things. They just don’t want to spend any money on the more exciting things, maybe because they’re worried they’ll be disappointed, so why not spend money on Halo 4? At least it should be the same type of experience as Halo 3. I’ve played games like Halo 3, therefore I know what to expect.

    Whereas with Lollipop Chainsaw, it’s a complete unknown. The unintended marketing, which even someone like myself without any of the new consoles heard about, probably helped quite a bit for the regular audience. I’ve also heard of Suda51, so that’s brand recognition right there. I agree completely that it is too bad that all the money is going to all the people that don’t need it. (Insert Robin Hood reference here.)

    To play devil’s advocate for a paragraph, I think it’s almost better to live on the cutting edge and make exciting almost life-of-death decisions. That’s how Final Fantasy started out. Besides, the people who need the money to make life changing games are getting their money. Just ask Tim Schafer, or one game that via Kickstarter (not to advertise) received over $5000 in donations from gamers its last 48 hours, or was it $7000 in its last 24 hours?

    I also agree that we need more games like Lollipop Chainsaw over Halo clones. (Unless someone turns a Halo clone into a subversive anti-FPS game, or something like a deconstruction of the genre itself. A sort of Halo clone turned into its own unique monster. I’d buy that game for a dollar, times infinity.) I will admit that my knowledge of new videogames is lacking, so maybe I don’t fully understand the culture and can’t see see the forest for the trees, but I think games like this are making a positive difference. I’ve heard more unique and exciting titles coming out in the past five years than in the five or ten years before that.

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