For me, Lollipop Chainsaw is bittersweet, as it marks the end of an incredible collaboration between Goichi Suda (No More Heroes), Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil), and Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill composer). That’s not to say these talented souls won’t work together again, but with Mikami returning to his roots, it could be a while. Their first collaborative effort, the fantastic Shadows of the Damned, set the bar pretty high for their next project. Does it live up to my expectations? Let’s find out.
The Baby Factor: Grab a martini shaker, toss some sex, a little Grindhouse, a lot of punk rock, a chainsaw wielding cheerleader, a dash of humor and shake it like a nanny with a baby. Then pour a generous amount directly into your fucking eyes and enjoy.
Lollipop Chainsaw really isn’t quite like anything we’ve seen before. It has elements of other beat ’em ups and the art style is a mix of Grindhouse and colorful cel-shading similar to one of Suda 51’s previous games, No More Heroes. It has everything we’ve come to expect from a Suda 51 game: it’s funny, colorful, quirky, bizarre, and clever. Unfortunately, it also has some of the things I hate about Suda 51 games, and that’s the combat, abundance of insta-kills, short campaign, and how painfully linear it is.
This is the type of game you can finish in an afternoon, maybe two. There isn’t a multiplayer to lengthen the game’s life, but there is an abundance of unlockables, including a slew of fittingly skimpy outfits for Juliet Starling. The campaign is incredibly short, and it’s more of a mixed bag, rather than a consistently amazing experience like the similarly short Shadows of the Damned (last SotD reference, I promise!).
Unsurprisingly, the visuals are one of my favorite things about this game. It looks great and manages the impressive feat of mixing Grindhouse with its vibrant and playful personality. Everything looks great, but the things that really stand out are the characters. The zombies are hilarious and come in a variety of flavors so you’ll have to mix things up during combat, and the bosses are inventive and delightfully bizarre. If anything, Suda 51 and friends (awesome name for a Saturday morning cartoon, by the way) know how to do boss fights. I’m never bored and they’re always unforgettable little diversions from the hours of hacking my way through the normal enemies.
The combat is something I’m not a huge fan of. In No More Heroes and Shadows–err, other games, the combat has never been very good. In a beat ’em up, that’s something that needs to feel responsive and satisfying, and in Lollipop Chainsaw, it really doesn’t. Despite being a cheerleader, in the beginning, Julie feels almost tank-like. Her sweeping chainsaw slashes take way too long to connect with enemies, and her pom-poms are largely useless until later on. The lack of combos is mostly expected, since they want you to unlock new moves to feel a sense of progression, but at the beginning you have a too shallow arsenal of moves.
The basic enemies, like the hordes of zombies you’ll be spending a majority of your time mowing down over the course of the game take too much time to kill. I shouldn’t have to spend thirty seconds on a single zombie; I should be able to make quick work of them so I can move on to the more powerful enemies.
Also, insta-kills suck, and while they’re not as bad as I thought they would be–Suda 51 like them a lot, it seems–the fact that they’re here at all bums me out. There’s one section in particular near the beginning of the game where you have to keep zombies from reaching a cake made of explosives. If they reach the cake, it’s game over for you. This section goes on way too long and if you fail you have to start over. Not cool, man, not cool.
Most of the time, the humor successfully straddles that very fine line between juvenile humor and self aware comedy. Basically, you’re going to laugh as often as you cringe.
I’m a little surprised at how linear the game is. Outside of a few semi-hidden rooms filled with lollipops and/or coins, there’s really no exploration. For an action/adventure game with a genuinely interesting world brimming with unique characters, this is a huge let down.
Oh, and the camera is fucking weird. It’s less noticeable in more enclosed areas, but when you’re running down a hallway it starts jerking forward like it’s in the hands of a particularly out of shape camera man who’s having trouble keeping up with you.
For each incredible idea Lollipop Chainsaw brings to the table, it has a bad one to go with it. The world is fantastic, but because you’re forced down a constricted path, it feels too small. The enemies are fun and creative, but the combat is sluggish and you’re forced to contend with a frustrating camera. The story is engaging and witty, but it’s also very short and it’s peppered with strangely placed loading screens. There’s a lot to love about this game and it marks the beginning of the late June to mid-August drought. If you can get past its handful of flaws, you won’t leave Lollipop Chainsaw disappointed, and in a sea of shooters and sequels, this is a sweet escape.
The Final Word: If you’re a fan of Suda 51’s previous efforts, you should already have this game. If you’re in the mood for something that’s just different, I also suggest giving this a try, though you should probably just rent it.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Lollipop Chainsaw, which was provided by the publisher.