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- Lollipop Chainsaw
- CLR [rating:4.5]
Release Date: June 15th
Platform: xbox360, PS3
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment, Kadokawa Games
Genre: Action hack and slash
Auteur Attached: Suda51 (Goichi Suda)
Lollipop, Lollipop, Ooh Lolly Lolly Lolly
When I first saw the promos for Lollipop Chainsaw I was two parts nauseated and one part resigned to the fact that the over-sexualization of barely legal teens was just something I would have to get used to if I wanted to be a happy citizen living in the 21st century. From the outside, Lollipop Chainsaw is everything that’s wrong with society today – violence, obscenity and crudeness all rolled together in a katamari of Daily Mail headlines. From the inside, however, it is a tongue in cheek parody – although not quite a satire – of modern values and stereotypes.
The game’s main protagonist, zombie hunting high school cheer leader Juliet, is, like, totally blonde and sugary sweet. She wakes up and it’s so lame because like, it’s her birthday and there are zombies everywhere. Not cool! Out comes the heart-patterned chainsaw and the pom-poms and soon zombie heads are flying, with flips and flourishes galore as Juliet twirls around the battlefield with elegance and grace. So totally, like, awesome!
If that paragraph destroyed your will to live, then so will this game. The dialogue is all-American sweet sixteen slang, high pitched and with that lilt at the end that makes everything a question? You know how when you raise your voice at the end? The thing that drives Stephen Fry absolutely nuts? This game is full of it. And that’s something players are going to have to come to terms with if they want to have a good time.
To engage with Lollipop Chainsaw’s mindless rhetoric, you have to leave your high horse at the door. Nothing can really prepare you for the chorus of Toni Basil’s Mickey blasting out of the speakers when you activate your accumulated star power for some special, souped up attacks, and nothing can ease the pain of listening to the Chordettes Lollipop ad nauseum whenever you browse the in-game store for upgrades and unlockables. Along with the language play, music plays a massive role in Lollipop Chainsaw with the playlist being fully customisable once you have unlocked a few tracks by clearing stages. It adds infinitely to the game’s oomph; Grasshopper’s other titles like Shadows of the Damned had some pretty nifty soundtracks, but Lollipop Chainsaw is a whole new breed of toe tapping tunes, including contributions from Skrillex and Dragonforce.
Set to music, the game’s combat itself flows like a cheerleader dancing her best routine. Fans of Bring It On and But I’m A Cheerleader will recognise instantly that zany pep, the nearly obnoxious optimism that permeates every pore of Juliet’s picture perfect figure. She zips around the battlefield doing somersaults and flips and kicks, relying on the guidance of the player to bring her performance home. In a similar vein to arcade style fighting games, players can choose to either mash an attack button of choice, destroying the enemy with a lot of punch but no pizazz, or to carefully execute combos which reward the player with more “zombie medals” with which to purchase upgrades. If Juliet decapitates three zombies or more in a single chainsaw swing, she activates “Sparkle Hunting” which grants the player the sight of headless zombies in space as well as a multitude of bonus medals. It has to be seen to be believed.
OH MICKEY WHAT A PITY YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND
Juliet doesn’t go it alone on Z-Day. As it turns out, her entire family are trained zombie hunters, although Mom seems to have totally missed the threat and stays at home baking cake, calling Juliet periodically to let her know what mundane mishaps are thwarting her birthday plans. Her sisters and father, along with her Sensei Morikawa, appear every so often to give assistance in combat and to present Juliet with birthday gifts – coincidentally, all of the gifts are upgrades for her chainsaw, turning it into a gun and a “dash” machine respectively. Each character is suitably entertaining and fleshed out so that they feel like a real (if entirely dysfunctional) family, giving Lollipop Chainsaw a suitable amount of human feeling without becoming too mushy.
There is one final, unfortunate soul who is dragged along for Juliets misadventure – her boyfriend Nick, attacked by zombies in the game’s prologue and decapitated by Juliet in an attempt to save his life. He spends the game as a head attached to Juliet’s belt, offering a dry commentary on the insanity that surrounds him. Grounded and sensible compared to his airhead girlfriend, Nick occasionally joins the foray when Juliet places him on the bodies of headless zombies. Through a series of quicktime events he can help Juliet navigate to the next part of the map, before rejoining her at the hip and complaining of being dizzy as she cartwheels everywhere.
Yes, unfortunately you did read that correctly. Quick time events. Thus far it has been Lollipop Chainsaw’s unspoken shame, a blight on an otherwise excellent title and the sole reason a half star has been deducted from the game’s score. Quick time events are an inexcusable get out of jail free clause used by developers when they can’t think up a better mechanic, and they manage to simultaneously cause stress to the player while preventing them from demonstrating any sort of real skill. Tapping buttons quickly isn’t playing a game, not in any real sense, and it jerks Lollipop Chainsaw out of its beautiful haze of glitter and candy and back into “Oh, this again” territory.
Thankfully, quick time events aren’t the only break from the game’s day to day combat. A huge variety of other mini-games and interludes keep the pace going, successfully changing up the score without interrupting the game’s momentum. From immensely satisfying harvester sequences on the farm (field of zombies with added giant blades means you’re in for a blast) to an entire swathe of old-school arcade themed games which include backwards Pac-Man and dodging the ball in Pong, you can rest assured that you won’t spend six or seven hours repeatedly mashing the attack button until everything around you dies (if you do play this way, by the by, you’re doing it wrong).
Boss battles are equally varied, and rather than proving to be frustrating brick walls they instead provide satisfying milestones, forcing you to vary your techniques and play ball as they duplicate, turn into motorbikes and shout swear words at you which cause physical damage. With the difficulty cranked up things can get intense but never impossible, the mark of a well balanced game which rewards diligent play rather than dumb luck or grindfests.
YOU SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND, BABY, RIGHT ROUND
What struck me most about Lollipop Chainsaw, aside from the fact that I enjoyed it so much I played it through in a single seven hour sitting, was its portrayal of and commentary on social standings and stereotypes in youth culture. It didn’t wax lyrical about the importance of diversity or holding hands and making peace, but instead took each iconic figure (jock, goth, punk, nerd, hick) and cranked it up so hard that everyone became as ridiculous as the next guy. By then blighting every caricature with the same undead facial scrub – zombies are, after all, generic, shambling irritants – they were placed on a level playing field for Juliet to slaughter. It’s almost poetic.
Lollipop Chainsaw is by no means undone by its extreme violence or sexuality, the gross exaggeration and comic-book style of both removing any possibility of taking the issues seriously. It’s certainly not a title suitable for anyone younger than the age rating of 18, but it’s initial cutesy nature might confuse parents incapable of reading the PEGI warnings. Younger children will miss the game’s nuances, take its portrayal of women and sex literally, and fail to understand what the game is trying to achieve. While it may seem like the silliest of titles, some emotional maturity is really in order to truly appreciate what Suda51 is up to.
Lollipop Chainsaw is the game that 2012 desperately needed. Surrounded by rushed, drab titles cashing in for a quick buck, it stands out as a game with character, real entertainment value and solid re-playability. It even managed to have more variation than the original Mass Effect 3 finale, in that there’s more than one ending to unlock, which was a pleasant surprise in an otherwise linear title. It’s a genuine delight to pick up and play, and in a year of massive AAA title delays and the worst E3 conference in memory, it’s what every gamer deserves: something fun.