Everyone loves zombies, and everyone loves cheerleaders. What happens when you mix the two, along with a heavy-handed dollop of rainbows and sugar? You get Lollipop Chainsaw, of course, a game that’s about zombie slaying, complete with rainbows. And lollipops. How bad could it be? Let’s find out.
Lollipop Chainsaw is from the same twisted mind that brought us Shadows of the Damned (which was reviewed here a while back), a lovely fellow by the name of Suda 51. I have NO idea why the 51, but it wouldn’t be far off the mark to say that he tries to paint every game he makes with his own insanity brush. Zombies? Been done. A cheerleader who kicks ass and is not just a pretty face? Not bad. Zombies that explode into rainbows and glitter when killed by aforementioned cheerleader? Now we’re talking.
Of course, it’s not unprecedented that a pretty young schoolgirl with cheerleader talents becomes a force for good and an ass-kicker of note (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example). Our Lollipop Chainsaw heroine is Juliet Starling, a cheerleader from San Romero high who, by some dint of great luck, is blessed with being born into a family of zombie hunters. The game starts on her birthday as she is on her way to meet her boyfriend. Naturally, someone’s done something bad, and the school is suddenly overrun by a small zombie army. (Ed: Naturally. Happens all the time.) What a great birthday! For reasons I won’t go into, her boyfriend, Nick, is decapitated and spends the majority of the game as a disembodied head dangling at Juliet’s waist.
What Lollipop Chainsaw essentially chews down to is an action game where you compete on a score-basis. The game features a few basic attacks initially, and you can unlock new ones later upon murdering enough of your former school-mates. You can either beat the zombies to death with your pompoms, or whip out the handy chainsaw. Beating them up first softens them for instant kills with the saw, and killing multiple zombies at once nets you bonuses. Multiple zombie decapitation is a wonderful way to watch things go, especially since each multiple slaying is accompanied by slow-motion, rainbows, stars, and unicorn vomit. Gameplay is fairly simple, and nothing here is going to tax the brain. Reflexes, yes, possibly. Brain? Absolutely not. After you complete a level, you can replay it for score and time, and put yourself higher up on the international scoreboard. It’s nice that you don’t have to complete the entire game to replay stages. A cute touch is that the local scoreboard has you competing against Juliet’s own family for score.
In terms of graphics, the game is bright, colourful, and incredibly vibrant. If it were any more vibrant, there’d be unicorns and Care Bears all over it. Many of Juliet’s animations seem a little stiff, and I’m wondering if they cut corners with the motion capture. The zombies themselves are pretty much reskins of each other, and you don’t see a very heavy variation from zombie to zombie—just enough to let you know how to change your tactics to approach any particular zombie type.
As was mine, I’m betting your gut reaction to this game would be that it’s just another “objectification of women” thing. To a small degree, you’d be right, but then the more I played the game, the more I came to realize and appreciate just how much it takes the mickey from the whole objectification thing, as well as action video games in general, and zombie-slaying games in particular. There’s a nice huge debate right here for the taking, but think about the whole role reversal thing, and you begin to see Headless Nick as the object, unable to live without Juliet, and alive purely on her whim. I’d be spoiling the entire effect if I elaborated any further, but trust me, once that realization strikes, it makes the game funny as hell. The fact that the zombies explode in a shower of glitter and hearts should give you a small indication of just how much the game is poking fun at the genre, considering the usually dark, gory tone of most zombie games (Plants vs Zombies aside, of course).
Soundwise, much of the music is fairly heavy rock-based, and composed mostly by famed Japanese musician Akira Yamaoka and Mindless Self Indulgence singer Jimmy Urine. Well, except for the bits which include the saccharine 1958 song “Lollipop” by The Chordettes. And the 1979 song “Empire State Human” by The Human League. Or the 1981 song “Pac-Man Fever” by Buckner & Garcia. Or the other few heavy rock songs. It’s an odd soundtrack to say the least, but the weird thing is that it actually works. The voice of Juliet is performed by Tara Strong, who has a voice role in just about every video game imaginable, while Jimmy Urine, in addition to composing music, also lends his voice to one of the boss characters. Michael Rosenbaum, the voice of Nick, is best remembered for his role of Lex Luthor in Smallville. Other well-known voice actors in this game include Kimberly Brooks (best known among gamers for the voice of Ashley Williams in Mass Effect), Gregg Henry, and director Sean Gunn.
By and large, I enjoyed Lollipop Chainsaw. It’s a delightful change from the usual zombie tropes of creeping terror and blood. It’s also delightfully brainless. The game is full of funny pokes at the genres, and is actually a great deal of fun to play. There’s plenty of opportunity for replayability, considering the sheer number of collectibles in the game. If you’re a completionist, you’re going to have to play multiple times, since some of the collectible geegaws will only appear on the subsequent playthroughs of levels. My biggest gripe with Lollipop Chainsaw is the length of the game, sitting at 6 stages that you can easily complete in a single weekend. Of course, that doesn’t include replays to get all the good stuff, but it’s still much less game than I’d hoped. Despite that fact, it’s a hell of a lot of zombie slaying fun. Heck, I’d watch a TV series based on Lollipop Chainsaw, it’s that much fun. You hear me WB? Get on that right away!
Final Score: 7 very bright, colourful prawns out of 10
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: Kadokawa Games and WB Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Age Rating: 18