By Leif Johnson
At first I treated my review copy of Lollipop Chainsaw like a porno. Sure, my wife had laughed at the game’s cover, plastered as it is with a busty cheerleader with a lollipop aimed suggestively at her lips, but years of experience with Japanese games had left me expecting raunchier antics in the actual gameplay. And so I waited until after midnight to slip it in my Xbox, cranking down the volume so as not to wake her with the heroine’s expected squeals and breathy gasps. And much to my surprise, I found that I’d played through most of the game in one sitting. My first words when my wife woke up and saw me still glued to the screen? “Darling you have to see this.” After that, she couldn’t stop watching it herself.
Lollipop Chainsaw Trailer
That’s not to say that Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t have a lot of fun with its Mature rating. This is the story of Juliet Starling, a cheerleader whose eighteenth birthday (so convenient!) goes sour after a zombie invasion takes over her beloved San Romero High. We first see her as the camera glides across her freshly legal body in her bedroom, and then we hear how she and her zombie hunting sisters “all wear their vaginas proudly.” Later, a Miyagi-styled mentor develops a habit of stumbling face first into Juliet’s cleavage, and once her zombie massacre begins, one of the classmates Juliet rescues quips that he “never thought I’d be saved by someone with such great tits.” And so forth, down to an achievement for looking up Juliet’s skirt.
This is the story of Juliet Starling, a cheerleader whose eighteenth birthday (so convenient!) goes sour after a zombie invasion takes over her beloved San Romero High.
Naysayers will complain that schlock like this celebrates exactly the kind of silly crap that keeps video games from being called art by grumblebones like Roger Ebert, but that’s like judging the entire film industry by Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse and the genre it celebrates. In fact, it’s rather tasteful for what it is. Lollipop focuses on a playful “girl next door” brand of sexuality that will appeals Playboy readers in particular, and you rarely get the impression that there’s something unwholesome about our pom-pom wielding zombie slayer.
Instead, Lollipop’s story thrives on funny stuff seasoned with ample helpings of cheese. The bulk of the game’s humor hinges on Juliet’s interactions with her boyfriend Nick, and Juliet’s devotion to him makes it clear that she’s anything but a promiscuous jezebel. For one, she chops off head to save him from zombification and uses it as a talking belt ornament–occasionally, she even uses him as a weapon. Nick eventually gets a little whiny about life as a head, but I can’t say I blame him for that.
The combat itself lacks the complexity of games like Bayonetta, but I can’t say that I was disappointed to learn that helping Juliet plow through 30 zombies doesn’t take memorizing button sequences that could be safely used for nuclear detonation codes. There’s just enough complexity that you’ll die if you try to button mash your way through San Romero High and environs, and enough variety that you’ll sometimes need to switch out to a shotgun-style “chainsaw blaster” or knock zombies senseless with punches from your pom poms. It’s all great arcade-style fun, especially when you master the technique of slicing off multiple zombie heads at once and watch as they burst into rainbows and hearts instead of the predictable blood and guts.
This could have all devolved into six or eight hours of repetitive chainsaw slaughter in lesser hands, but Grasshopper Manufacture/Suda 51 shifts gears at every turn. One moment I’d be fighting flaming zombies off a dynamite birthday cake; the next, I’d be playing a macabre game of basketball with zombie heads. As soon as I’d wearied of saving Juliet’s even ditzier little sister from towering zombie chickens on a farm, I’d find Juliet using a combine to mow down 300 zombie farmers to the tune of Dead or Alive’s 1985 hit “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” One entire stage plays like ‘70s and ‘80s arcade hits like “Breakout” (with chainsaws!), and the over-the-top boss fights include everything from autotuned space zombies to groovy hippie crooners who play tricks on Juliet’s brain. If you prefer one over the other, none of these shifts last long enough to grow tiresome.
I just wish it looked a little better. Juliet herself looks timelessly cute in her unlockable outfits (which include everything from daisy dukes to a swimsuit that’s just a few threads away from nudity), but much of the world itself looks like it was lifted from a game made in 2005. Perhaps that’s because we’re supposed to spend all our time looking at Juliet’s curves, but it’s a drag when potentially breathtaking settings such as an unfinished cathedral look like something out of an assignment for a programming course. The sound, punctuated as it is with recognizable hits as well as catchy original music by rocker Jimmy Urine, makes up for these stumbles to a large extent, particularly when you realize that they recorded multiple versions of files that could have been unbearably annoying, such as Juliet’s repeated cries of “Chainsaw Blaster!”
Yes, it’s gloriously stupid from start to finish, but Lollipop Chainsaw is the most fun I’ve had in a game in a few months. With Juliet, Grasshopper Manufacture/Suda 51 created a heroine that’s as formidable as she is sexy. It also begs for replay.
I’d be more concerned about its overall length of six or eight hours if I weren’t already playing it again for different endings, new unlockables, and leaderboard domination. This is a game that remembers that oh-so-serious narratives and ridiculously intricate combat variations don’t necessarily amount to an enjoyable game, and it’s a welcome step back to the days of unpretentious fun.