Review: Lollipop Chainsaw
By: Jeff Rivera
I'll be the first to admit that I rolled my eyes when Lollipop Chainsaw was first unveiled and we got our first look at Juliet Starling beating up zombies and decapitating them with a chainsaw. The idea of a what seemed to be overly sexualized teenage girl protagonist in a mashy action title just didn't seem all that appealing aside from the kitsch factor, but the end product proved to be something more clever, more respectful, and above all, loaded with fun gameplay and memorable moments.
The basic premise is that you're Juliet Starling, the head cheerleader at San Romero High School. It's the morning of her 18th birthday, and on her way into school she runs into a bit of trouble with zombies. Rather than freaking out, Juliet prepares to fight, because unkown to her fellow classmates, Juliet and her family members are zombie hunters. After killing off the first wave of zombies, Juliet finds that she's too late to save her boyfriend Nick, who has been bitten. She performs a spell that allows her to cut Nick's head off without killing him to prevent the zombie virus from reaching his brain. From there, Nick, attached to Juliet's belt, and Juliet set off to clear up the zombie outbreak and deal with those who are responsible.
The gameplay in Lollipop Chainsaw is fairly straightforward, but new levels of depth get introduced as you progress through the game. You basically have a light attack, a heavy attack, and a jump button for combat. There are also a few special items that have limited use. The combo system is easy to understand, which is built around a dial-a-combo system. As you defeat enemies, you'll earn coins which can be used to unlock new combo moves, health and strength upgrades, new costumes, and other collectibles. At times, Nick's head can be placed on a headless zombie and through a QTE minigame he can be used to accomplish special set pieces.
Despite its simplicity in the combat system, Lollipop Chainsaw's greatest strength is in the constant variety of scenarios. Most of the time you'll be taking on waves of zombies, but there are lots of one off (or scarely repeated) moments that prove to be interesting asides. These moments hit at just the right pace to keep things moving along well, and you're always going to be curious as to what wacky thing is coming your way next.
Another pillar of the game is its humor. With some of the weirdest, yet funny, dialog I've ever seen to some of the strangest set pieces in gaming today, Lollipop Chainsaw never gets boring and it's constantly coaxing smiles out me when I play. At times the dialog misses the mark, but it hits often enough to make up for the stumbles. There were a few moments where Lollipop Chainsaw literally made me laugh out loud, which is pretty rare for a video game to do.
There's tons of unlockables and hidden objects in Lollipop Chainsaw. Scattered around the world are special zombies, golden lollipops, and new costumes (costumes are actually purchased via in-game currency) for Juliet. In order to get everything, you'll definitely need to play through the game more than once and probably on harder difficulty levels. For those that love collecting thigns in games, Lollipop Chainsaw will keep them busy for a long time. Thankfully, none of the collectibles are completely necessary to fully enjoy the game.
The game also has two different endings possible. Whether you save all of your classmates (they appear in certain set moments) or not will have an impact on the ending, so to see both you're most likely going to have to go back and replay levels where you missed a classmate or two. This might bother some people who don't like replaying content to achieve a "better" ending, so it's worth mentioning if that sort of thing concerns you.
As for Juliet Starling as a character, I was somewhat surprised at how she was handled in the game. Based on all the marketing, the Jessica Nigri appearances at shows and expos, and the early released footage, it looked as if Juliet was going to end up as a stereotypical and overly sexualized dumb blond cheerleader. Instead, we find a lead character who is self-aware, smart, and in control of the way people view her. Yes, there are still some unfortunate moments where they go the cheap route and use some upskirt jokes or cleavage gags, but they're very few in comparison to the moments where the game recognizes that Juliet just kicks butt and has some brains under those pigtails. In fact, it's Nick, Juliet's jock boyfriend, who proves to be the helpless and dumb character in Lollipop Chainsaw.
In the end, the gameplay doesn't stack up favorably against some of the heavy hitters we've seen this generation, such as Bayonetta, but Lollipop Chainsaw doesn't exactly try to sell you on deep combo systems. Instead, Lollipop Chainsaw gives you a passable fighting engine and wraps a fun and silly world around it. There are always some that will be totally scared off by the bubble gum theme, but for those that choose to give Lollipop Chainsaw a fair shot, they'll find a surprisingly clever and addictive experience.
4 Stars out of 5