Chainsaws + Gratuitous Zombie Slaying + Crude Humor = One of the Best Games Evar! And if that isn’t enough, Tara Strong voices the main character! You know, THE Tara Strong. As in Princess Clara & Toot of Drawn Together; Rikku from Final Fantasy X & X-2; Twilight Sparkle, My Little Pony; Bubbles of Powerpuff Girls… I could go on and on with her credits. If you still don’t recognize her voice, check her out on IMDB. If you’ve never seen anything she lends her voice to, you haven’t played a video game or watched a cartoon in the last 15 years.
I don’t know if I am capable of being politically correct while writing this opinion piece, because the very nature of this game is to offend and push boundaries. If you’re one of those people who can’t play a game without taking it seriously and your feathers ruffle at vagina jokes, then this game isn’t for you and you shouldn’t waste your time reading the rest of this entry. For the rest of us who laughed out loud while playing Bayonetta and appreciate sparkling rainbows backdropping zombie limbs flying across our television screens: There is no question we must play this game. This is all about target audience, folks.
The sexual humor is the only comparison I can make to Bayonetta, because Lollipop Chainsaw does not have the in-depth and polished battle system, and the stories run no other parallels. LC is a mostly action, sometimes gimmicky shooter romp through zombie ridiculousness. Suda51 is the mind behind this game, so if you’ve played Shadows of the Damned you know what to expect: Lots of ridiculous sex humor and a fun (but sometimes clunky) battle system. Juliet Starling is the main character in this game. Yes, she’s female, and yes, I think that is the basis for people’s panties getting all twisted up over this game. In Shadows of the Damned, the player controls Garcia ‘F***ing’ Hotspur, a rough-around-the-edges Hispanic demon killer. Playing a male character led to most of the offensive stuff equating to dick jokes. Generally speaking, our society seems more comfortable with those. In LC, zombies spout off random, nonsensical insults (I won’t divulge any because, really, that’s half the fun), colored with typical female-targeted terms like ‘whore’ and ‘slut.’ I spent the entire game waiting to hear the mother of all derogatory female slurs, the uber-offensive “C” word, and didn’t hear or see it once. Far as I can tell, it is completely absent from this game, leaving me to wonder what all of the fuss is about. Really. I mean, aren’t we all desensitized when it comes to the aforementioned words, or is it just me? I wasn’t offended because A.) I like raunchy jokes, and B.) I understand the greater irony of it all. Juliet’s personality is the polar opposite of the slutty cheerleader stereotype. She is a hot, blond, popular cheerleader who also happens to be a trained zombie slayer (the family business)… but when it comes to sex she’s about as clueless and innocent as they come. The end result is a hyper-sexualized innocent virginal chick that doesn’t seem to get the vulgar insults zombies throw at her while she slices off their limbs with a pink chainsaw. But now I’m on the verge of taking this game too seriously, which I already said we can’t do, so I’ll move on.
Let’s discuss the battle system. You have a hack’n slash gory action game with blood and zombie limbs galore. It doesn’t take very much work to earn an eyeful of zombie limbs and heads flying across the screen. In fact, if you can manage to kill at least 3 zombies in one fell swoop, you get to see the blood spraying and body parts flying in slow-motion with rainbows and medal bonuses! This is called “Sparkle Hunting,” thus ensuring you will thoroughly enjoy every minute spent medal farming and trying to earn the trophy/achievement for slaying 7 zombies at once. Zombie medals are used for buying new skills, permanent upgrades, and consumable items. There are also platinum medals, which are rarer, and used to buy new outfits and other unlockable goodies. I find that purchasing abilities and upgrades leads to pretty well-paced character progression. I like games that don’t throw everything at me in the beginning; I feel overwhelmed and never learn all of the attacks. LC allows the player to learn one combo at a time.
The combos are not too complicated, just various usages of the attack buttons. Only a minimal amount of practicing button timing is needed. For the PS3 version, square is the pom-pom attack button which makes zombies “groggy,” leaving them vulnerable to chainsaw attacks with triangle. I strongly suggest purchasing Juliet’s Butt Bump ability as soon as it is available. It is a square attack that will make the tougher zombies who have life bars groggy instantly. Follow it up with a simple swipe of the chainsaw, and you two-shot some of the more annoying enemies in the game. It almost feels like cheating. Holy Combo is the final combo, which costs 999 medals and is also a showstopper. If there is a sequel (please, gaming gods, let there be a sequel), I would ask for a combo-cancellation command. Zombies are indifferent to being knocked around by a chainsaw, and will annoyingly interrupt your cheerleading prancing often. Needless to say, Juliet the human doesn’t have that innate ability, meaning as soon as one zombie sucker-punches you out of what you THOUGHT was a fancy combo, the rest of its buddies will take turns ganging up on you. On the bright side… unless you are damaged by a dynamite zombie (equally annoying) or a cop zombie (zombies with guns! Why?!), you’ll take less damage than you might expect. We made a point of purchasing the permanent health upgrades and rarely died from raw physical damage.
No, most of your deaths will be from the always annoying and always present gimmicky mini games. And I’m not talking about the quicktime events. While there’s PLENTY of those to go around, they didn’t cause me all that much grief. I’m conditioned to them I guess. I know my PS3 controllers like the back of my hand and have been honing my QTE skills since God of War came out. In fact, I rather liked the silly QTEs with poor Nick and the silly vault and trampolines. No, I’m talking about the quirky game mechanics and stupid things someone thinks are great ideas to change up the pace when I’m perfectly happy hacking zombie limbs like tree branches. Chainsaw Blaster definitely left the worst taste in my mouth. Juliet’s birthday present from her NRA mistress sister Cordelia is a gun add-on to her chainsaw. As soon as you get it, you’re forced to win a game of zombie baseball to proceed. If you don’t think to go into your options menu and change the Blaster aiming to manual from the default (auto) you’re going to be tearing your hair out in frustration because the game likes to automatically target enemies as far away as possible from the ones you need to kill first. So trust me and do it as soon as you turn the damn game on so you don’t spend the entire game hating the Chainsaw Blaster as much as we did. You can, however, use it to rack up some easy Sparkle Hunting if you’re shooting up a hoard of zombies.
The other annoying and periodically mandatory chainsaw modification is called Chainsaw Dash. It is used to traverse rainbow ramps over large gaps and rooftops. You have typical trails of currency to follow and collect. If you fail to pick up the tanks strewn about the path, the chainsaw will overheat and you need to wait it out or grab a tank to proceed. The controls for Chainsaw Dash bothered me at times. Holding down R1 initiates the dash. Like driving, I always expected the dash to stop when I let go of the button, which isn’t the case. Nor can you hit an attack button to cancel out of it until you purchase the abilities, and they aren’t even very good. To stop dashing without twirling around for two minutes, the evade button must be pressed. I wasn’t crazy about it for whatever reason. Steering the thing is obnoxious too, but isn’t that a given at this point?
In general, the game’s pacing is pretty good. Short, but well-paced. It certainly starts off with a bang. There is a prologue, featuring Juliet riding into her zombie-infested high school, popping off zombies with her bicycle, followed by six stages. The weakest link is, by far, stage three. Up until that point, Juliet is running around her high school, slaying zombies and saving fellow students. You want to save all the students. Yes, it unlocks the good ending, but more importantly, you’re rewarded with more random and amusing lines. Seriously, I could quote this game all day. Anyway, after spending the prologue and the first two stages exploring the parking lot, school, and outdoor stadium, I suddenly found myself on a… farm. Ah, what? It’s a pretty awkward and jarring transition, and I thought the stage progression felt slower too. While I am happy to add slaying zombified cows, horses and poultry to my resume, I would’ve preferred to replace a FARM stage with a movie theater or something. It would’ve made more sense than saving students in the middle of a cornfield. Add this to chasing around Juliet’s more annoying sister, Rosalind, and being forced to use the Chainsaw Blaster I already hated, and it quickly became the least impressive part of my LC experience. Stage four picks right back up where the game left off. Juliet and her family make their way to an arcade. Ideally they could’ve thrown in some more zombies, but the super creative games and super funny boss definitely made up for it. I won’t say much more about the rest of the stages, except that stage 6 is aptly named “WTF?”
The length of the game has me a little conflicted. On one hand, I really want to support the developers so they will continue to make games like this, but on the other hand, I have a hard time telling others to pay full price for this game if they aren’t in it for the grind. LC’s all about replay value. We breezed through the story mode in 4-5 hours, and I believe that included doing some medal farming on the prologue stage. In order to get your money’s worth in terms of playing hours, you need to go after unlockable goodies and trophies/achievements. This usually isn’t my cup of tea, but I loved my romp with Juliet so much and the game is so short, I’ve been partaking in the grind in between Assassin Creed III sessions. Between finding all of the collectables, trying to beat Dad’s high score, playing ranking mode and various difficulties, there’s enough to do if you so choose. Playing Hard mode isn’t hard at all, but getting some of the achievements/trophies are. I haven’t dabbled in Very Hard mode and probably never will… I’m too euphoric finding a game where I can breeze through a mode tougher than Normal and not want to tear my hair out. To be fair, I’m sure the one-liners and gimmicks would get old if the game were too long. Brevity works in the game’s favor in this aspect, but I was hoping for closer to 10 hours, which is the norm for a lot of action games nowadays.
Lollipop Chainsaw is the second surprisingly clever zombie game I stumbled across in 2012 and chastised myself for not playing earlier. Dead Island would be the first. Both of these games are on my nonexistent ‘Favorite Games of all Time’ list. Part of me wants to spend a couple of pages gushing about Lollipop Chainsaw’s ridiculous characters, hilarious pop culture references, creative boss fights, and unbelievable zombie descriptions (do NOT forget to browse your zombie collection catalogue from time to time)… but due to time constraints and not wanting to spoil the best parts about the game, I’m going to leave this game’s awesomeness to your imagination until you play it. And you should seriously do so. Like, yesterday.