Lollipop Chainsaw is one of the most obnoxious games I’ve ever played. When you imagine a ditzy-Britney Spears-cheerleader-inspired zombie hunter who dons as little clothing as possible, you may be mildly intrigued. Or maybe you wanted to check out Grasshopper Manufacture’s latest slapstick-infused gore fest. No matter how much I wanted to laugh at the pop-culture one-liners, or enjoy the excessive gore, I was constantly reminded that this is a super obnoxious game, full of obnoxious characters, obnoxious camera angles, obnoxiously repetitive levels, and obnoxious controls. Your enjoyment playing Lollipop Chainsaw is largely dictated on your tolerance of things commonly perceived by the general population as obnoxious—if you don’t mind soul-piercing voices, short but repetitive actions, and the absurd for the sake of absurdity than you may—may—like Lollipop Chainsaw.
If that sounds too mean, note that Grasshopper is probably doing this on purpose. There’s a level of sexism in the protagonist, the overtly sexual cheerleader zombie hunter Juliet Starling, which makes it hard to believe we would see a mainstream game like this in 2012 that wasn’t a spoof. I could probably go off about how dumb it is for a game to focus so much on boobs and upskirt camera angles, but that’s just the crotchety old man speaking, not the sort-of-older gamer speaking. What I found more annoying was how inundated I was with dumb pop culture references. After nearly every graceful kill Juliet said some one-liner from a dumb pop song, or a dumb TV show, or a dumb movie. I suppose some people get a kick out of this stuff: “Hey, I saw someone say ‘hit me baby one more time’ once, I totally get it!” Maybe the developers were trying to make the pop culture references so annoying that it made up for the mediocre gameplay.
If you’ve played one silly zombie game you’ve played them all—at least, that’s what Lollipop Chainsaw taught me. The gameplay is like a dolled-up version of God of War with Juliet gracefully swirling around, sawing away at hordes of baddies. There’s even the mandatory kill-x-number-of-zombies before moving on thing going here. Combat is generally smooth and enjoyable, and it’s a breeze to eliminate gangs of brain eaters with your youthful cheerleading abilities—pom-poms and all. You’ll kick zombies square in the face, give them a few one-twos before buzzing them straight in half, starting from the ground and working your way up. The various upgrades, by way of new moves and extra health, are a welcome addition, and something worth star collection for, but you can feel pretty content with your starting abilities.
You will fight through various environments and against an assortment of super dumb enemies—I mean, super dumb. At one level you’ll fight a bunch of jocks-turned-zombies. They’ll charge you like you’re a quarterback, while baseball players will take quick swings at your skull, hoping for a homer. You’ll even find goth kids, which in my personal belief make the best ‘squishy’ sound when you smash their skulls in with your magical fists of furry. If you are clever enough, you’ll even get cool bonuses for lopping off more than three zombies’ heads in a row. There are bosses here, all of which have a basic weakness that you are forced to exploit. For the most part, bosses aren’t terribly difficult, and they offer a small divergence for the otherwise repetitive nature of the hack-‘n-slash genre.
All is not lost. There are some really strong elements in this game, particularly Juliet’s character. Yes, the game likes to exploit her sexuality –even if it is to make a point about females in videogames—but Juliet is also strong-willed, warm, confident, and deeply caring for the head of her boyfriend, Nick. See, she saves his life early in the game and uses some magic to keep his head intact and alive. She attaches it to her waist—on the rear, of course—and this turns the game into a bit of a buddy adventure. The pair share dialogue and are both invested in each other’s survival. It’s one of those gore fest love stories that sees the lady ripping apart zombies to save her man; how inspiring. Nick is a strong character, too, so don’t feel like this is a dude-hating affair.
Lollipop Chainsaw tries very hard to grab a quick laugh. The dialogue is definitely the most noticeable attention grabber, but it’s also prevalent throughout the game’s levels and environments. It’s a high school theme setting that throws just about every bit of Americana known to man in your face. Suda has a remarkable affinity for this, and it’s clear Lollipop Chainsaw is just another chance to dig into all things American life, and American families. Oddly enough, families are central to the narrative of Lollipop Chainsaw.
The issue again comes to a few good ideas outshined by repetition, and a joke that gets old early through the six levels. I get it; the game is ultra violent and ultra sexual, and since gamers like those core ideas, we should all like it. Or, the game is just taking a big turd on all the serious gamers and saying, “hey, try and enjoy another game after you play me, bitch.” Well, it works at the beginning, for sure, but the gore is boring, the enemies are pretty much cookie-cutters, the sexuality is kind of painful, and the combat is pretty basic. Your little side activities and “bonus” weapons are fine to offer a change of pace, but it’s not enough to set things straight in the end.
Lollipop Chainsaw has its quirky, funny moments, but it’s ultimately too repetitive and basic for its own good. This is one I know a lot of people were looking forward to, and while I understand some will like the short 5-6 hour campaign, I still can’t help but wish there was a bit more to offer. It’s a highly competitive field of game developers these days, and Grasshopper barely edged ahead of utter mediocrity with Lollipop Chainsaw.