Lollipop Chainsaw Review
In the opening cinematic, before I'd even gotten to the "Game Start" screen, Juliet had flashed panties, (almost) explicitly offered sex, mentioned her vagina, her love of cheerleading, and her now-18th birthday, and shoved a lollipop in her mouth. If someone catches me watching Buffy, I feel the shame of a middle-aged man watching teenage vampire hunters. But Lollipop Chainsaw is beyond embarrassment. I can't even get away with claiming "Uh... I'm reviewing this." Still, this is a game from Grasshopper Manufacture's Goichi Suda (the guy responsible for the unbelievably good, and mindbending, Killer 7), so I resolved to keep an open mind. I still doubted – Lollipop Chainsaw was developed in conjunction with James Gunn, the guy behind Slither, so I was worried it was exactly what it appeared to be.
Here's what pisses me off about Lollipop Chainsaw. The combat is great, with plenty of purely bizarre mini-games to spice things up. High school basketball is a lot more entertaining when it's Juliet and her chainsaw against zombies groaning and playing a zone defense. I enjoy brawlers, but I often feel like I'm out-of-control, button-mashing the day away. In Lollipop Chainsaw, I felt completely in control of the action. I'd do a little crowd management to get the zombies into position, choose my combo moves carefully and behead groups of zombies in a shower of glorious sparkles. I just don't want a game with combat this good to make me feel dirty when I play.
Is there a mature and responsible way to take on a fetishized 18-year-old cheerleader with a chainsaw? Probably not. Could it have been done better than it is in Lollipop Chainsaw? Yes. Despite chasing the dirty-old-man demographic, there is awesome combat in Lollipop Chainsaw, as well as cool mini-games and creative bosses (my favorite was the first, with his onomatopoetic attacks). I loved the odd arcade levels, right down to the "Pac Man Fever" playing in the background (though I still suck at Crazy Climber). The visuals are wacky and creative, but writing does matter, and many of the lines in Lollipop Chainsaw make me cringe. Occasionally, there's a clever quip that picks on Buffy (at least, the movie version), but there's not much to make me laugh. Humor would disarm the aggressive sexuality of Lollipop Chainsaw. Regular laughs would turn it into a spoof. Instead, the dialog makes it seem like the pizza man and plumber are about to start taking off their clothes.
I laughed when I learned that Juliet can kill zombies by pole dancing with a chainsaw. Not so much when she saved a classmate, and he said, "I never thought I'd be saved by someone with such nice tits," or another shouted, "Juliet, I'm so totally going to masturbate to you tonight." That makes the game feel like the porno it almost is. Lollipop Chainsaw is riding such a delicate edge, and the writing pushes it away from games like No More Heroes and towards trash like BMX XXX. The style and plot seem mocking and ironic. The dialog transforms Lollipop Chainsaw into something completely earnest and disgustingly puerile.
Get past the dialog and wrapping, and there is a strong game beneath the pulp pandering. It's down-home, not-so-wholesome Americanized teenagers, facing off against Goth angst and the evils of music through the ages. Strong brawling mixes with iconic boss battles. I didn't appreciate the restrictive arenas – flat rooms with invisible walls are linked by button presses and doors, but the positively amazing soundtrack perfectly captured the energy of the game. Few games set you to literally mowing down zombies with a combine harvester while cranking Dead or Alive. That won a lot of forgiveness from me.
Lollipop Chainsaw gets weirder (in a good way) as it goes on. The decapitated boyfriend gets integrated into special attacks, and if you think a conversation with a decapitated human head is odd, it gets stranger when that head goes all transvestite during a cut-scene. I did hate the final big boss battle, but only because I had to play through an incredibly long boss battle three times before catching the very final Quick Time Event. It was a cheap shot, and seriously killed my enjoyment of the final moments of the game.
Once you've played through the story mode, unless you're a perfectionist, there's not a lot to keep you engaged. You can strive to post high scores, unlock more combos and then post even higher scores (or just do it for the achievements). Otherwise, you're just in it to unlock even naughtier costumes for Juliet. Since that's the problem with Lollipop Chainsaw in the first place, it's not much of an incentive. With a touch of clever humor, a lot more gamers would get to experience some of the clever sequences late in the game. Instead, Lollipop Chainsaw is brown-nosing gamers who should just go surf for porn instead of booting up a console.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Platforms: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Reviewed on Xbox 360
by Kyle Ackerman