Published on June 26th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
Lollipop Chainsaw Review
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform: Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3
Release Date: June 12, 2012
Preppy cheerleader in one life, zombie hunter by another; it goes without question that Juliet Starling is not your average teenager. But on that note, Lollipop Chainsaw isn’t your average zombie hunting game, either. Coming from the imaginative minds of Grasshopper Manufacture, director Ikeda Tomo and producer Suda51, Lollipop Chainsaw takes a wildly different direction from your typical, dark and gritty zombie-based entertainment.
As the title suggests, Juliet’s weapon of choice is the standard issue zombie slaying weapon, the chainsaw. Unlike the usual spray of gore when thrusting the business end into a zombie or two, Juliet uses her saw to behead her shuffling foes in a shower of glitter, rainbows, coins, and copious amounts of blood. The mentioned pleasantry is strung together with joyful quotes. Yes, this game is a little odd, but it’s nothing unexpected from Grasshopper, which consistently delivers games with bizarre themes and a dark sense of humor.
Lollipop Chainsaw carries the tradition of Grasshopper’s trademark lunacy, but unfortunately it also inherited another trait synonymous with the company, and that is the less-than-perfect controls.
In the world of LC, Juliet is an excitable high school cheerleader who sports a short skirt and pair of blonde pigtails. Her family has a long standing tradition of being zombie hunters, and Juliet is no exception. On her 18th birthday she jumps on her bike to meet with her boyfriend Nick, but gets stopped by a horde of zombies, which is always annoying. Brandishing her chainsaw, she sets out to fulfill her duty and rescue as many classmates as possible.
Sadly, she’s too late to save Nick who tragically gets bitten on the arm. Without any other choice, Juliet uses her chainsaw to sever Nicks head. She then uses her zombie hunting training, and magical guess to save Nick by attaching him to some life preserving device. She also gives him a small dress tie for good measure.
The game has great looking comic book style graphics and a very bright color scheme that works well with the theme. Each of the game’s six lengthy levels are completely different from one another. Juliet slays zombies at her school, a farm, the streets, and even an arcade where she enters a few of the games a la “Tron.” The voice acting isn’t so bad either, surprisingly. The game is also full of great moments from cutsey special effects, to a hilarious drug trip, to mini-games such as zombie head basketball and zombie baseball, and to the way Juliet cheers you on if you mess up a combo. The game also has a varied soundtrack, featuring such songs as “Lollipop” by The Chordettes and Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Right Round.”
Killing zombies earns you coins which come in two varieties, regular and silver. Coins are used at shops which dot each of the levels. These upgrades allow you to purchase new combo moves or items that can increase Juliet’s health, attack range and more. The silver coins are used to purchase extra costumes and collectible goods such as music (you can create your own soundtrack) and concept art.
It took a while for me to get used to the controls. There are three attack buttons: high chainsaw swing, low chainsaw swing and pom-pom attack. Along with those moves there is a jump button which allows Juliet to hop out of the way or leapfrog enemies. Pressing any of the attack buttons while in the air causes Juliet to attack downward in various ways. Give a zombie a quick buzz with the chainsaw, cut into a zombie crawling on the ground, or knock a one or two away with her legs, all can be done with utilizing the attack and jump combination.
There are multiple ways to silence the zombie horde. One way is to take out zombies by hitting them with Juliet’s pom-poms until they are dizzy, signified by stars flying over their heads. Dizzy zombies can then be beheaded with one quick swipe of the chainsaw, but if you get good enough you can go Sparkle Hunting, which requires you to take down multiple zombies at once. Multiple beheadings reward more coins, and taking down tough zombies while Sparkle Hunting pays big money.
Juliet’s boyfriend Nick, as I said before, lost his head in the opening act, and spends the entire game hanging off of Juliet’s skirt as an unwilling zombie hunting fashion accessory. I wasn’t sold at first, but Nick was a character that really grew on me. With a dry wit and sarcastic attitude, Nick becomes the passive voice of the audience and manages to bring balance to the insanity that is Lollipop Chainsaw. In a way, Grasshopper turned a talking head with a tie into the most normal character in the game.
Nick isn’t just there for show, however. At certain key moments Juliet can place Nick’s head on a headless torso to initiate a quick time event game where Nick is used mostly just to open up a path. Nick can also be used as a weapon in one of the many chainsaw upgrades given to Juliet as birthday presents throughout the game.
I mentioned that Lollipop Chainsaw suffers from control issues, and truthfully it is the controls that hurt the game the most. While Juliet happens to swing her chainsaw with better speed and grace than what most teenage girls can certainly muster, combat is just too slow and clunky. Most zombies are able to knock Juliet down with just one hit, initiating a button-mashing sequence to get back up. Just to avoid that initial attack often requires you to start a combo before even reaching the zombies. This turns clunky combat into a game of chance, in which you hope that you can take out the zombies before they have a chance to strike you down again, which is something they definitely can do mid-combo.
There were times when I would be surrounded by zombies, and every time I started to back up after being floored, another zombie would begin an attack that would knock me down before I could move. This turned an already annoying fight into a furious chorus of tapping buttons and frustrated sighs.
Combat does get better as you earn more combo moves, though frustrating moments like the one I described will still happen, however they begin to happen less frequently. In the end, the fighting ultimately boils down to one powerful combo to be overused, and constant button mashing. The combat really is my primary gripe against Lollipop Chainsaw, but as combat is what you will be doing 80 percent of the time, frustrations are abound.
Other than fighting zombies, you will also be fighting the camera at almost every given turn. In many cases I couldn’t see what was attacking me, and during the fight I had to worry about hitting the right thumbstick every so often just to realign it. It gets even worse in small hallways, where the camera would often lose all sense of control and whip back and forth both during fights, or by simply walking around.
It’s really too bad that Lollipop Chainsaw takes such a blow from so many issues, because I found the rest of the game to be great; it’s well paced and funny. I also enjoyed Juliet’s character and her interactions with poor body-less Nick, whose constant pessimism made me chuckle. With a few small tweaks the game could have been just as enjoyable as Grasshopper’s previous game, Shadows of the Damned, but this just isn’t the case.
I suppose there is one other thing that really grinded my gears and that was the video game themed level in the latter half of the game. While it wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t very well designed. The level provides homages to a few retro titles such as Pac-Man and Breakout, but there really wasn’t a lot of enjoyment value there.
There are plenty of enjoyable moments in Lollipop Chainsaw. From character interactions, to graphics, and to the dark humor, the game has the calling of an underground hit. However the lousy controls and terrible camera just do the game too much harm. Also, there really wasn’t a whole lot else to do once the game is complete. A straight shot through will take you around seven hours depending on whether you replay missions for more coins.
There is a leader board in which you can challenge other players worldwide to find out who the best zombie slayer is, but not everyone cares for that. Without any multiplayer or reason to restart the campaign, or adequate controls, Lollipop Chainsaw becomes a game that, sadly, is more fun in concept than it is to play.
+ Great comic book style graphics
+ Dark humor
– Poor controls
– Out-of-control camera
– Not much replay value