Grasshopper Manufacture has released a pretty solid library of games. It was set up by gaming luminaries Suda 51, Shinji Mikami and Akira Yamoaka. Shadows of the Damned managed to be an entertaining, chaotic trip through hell. Grasshopper then set its sights on small-town America with Lollipop Chainsaw. But was it a Past ‘Blast’?
Produced by Kadokawa Games and Grasshopper Manufacture, Lollipop Chainsaw tells the story of all American cheerleader Juliet Starling. Juliet spends her days eating lollipops, cheering and being incredibly annoying while her nights are spent battling legions of the undead with her zombie hunting family. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer crossed with The Walton’s.
The story, what little of it there is, is penned by Hollywood writer and director James Gunn. Suda 51 sprinkles his trademark brand of lunacy over the proceedings as creative director and overall the writing is pretty funny if at times bordering on highly irritating in the case of Juliet. The tale of severed heads, disco zombies and over-sexualised teens is entertaining enough and delivered with a strong tongue in cheek theme that enables it all to be likeable if you can look past all the upskirts and creepy lollipop sucking from the games’ lead.
Story and writing, however, aren’t Lollipop Chainsaw’s main selling point, and I only mention them first because the gameplay, the meat of the game, is so painfully average. Juliet’s adventure plays out in your basic hack and slash style with the titular cheerleader exploring the games’ six levels, saving classmates, decapitating zombies and eventually taking on an end of level boss.
The basic “light, light, heavy” God of War style gameplay was broken up admirably with some pretty cool moments that I won’t spoil here, but aside from these moments and a few QTE’s, gameplay in Lollipop Chainsaw basically amounts to running through corridors hammering a few attack buttons then running on. Now this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, the previously mentioned God of War and many other titles stick to this formula and are brilliant games, but combat in Lollipop Chainsaw feels incredibly dull and formulaic. After unlocking a few combos I found myself sticking to the same two for the entire game, never experimenting with any others because the combat is so dull that I was just ploughing through it.
There’s little enemy variation outside of the tried and true “exploding enemy, flying enemy, slow enemy, fast enemy, rinse and repeat” approach to character design which just adds more to this glazed over “hit things until they stop moving” feel of much of the game. There is a few bells and whistles such as the “Sparkle Hunting” mechanic which rewards multiple decapitations at the same time and the inclusion of a few semi-vehicular sections but these trimmings do little to improve the overall experience.
Games like Lollipop Chainsaw live and die by the quality and feel of their combat. God of War worked brilliantly because it made you feel like the most powerful badass in the world, Bayonetta worked because you felt like an agile and magically sadistic killing machine. In Lollipop Chainsaw controlling Juliet in combat, navigation and even in the poorly presented QTE’s just feels like a chore.
It’s clear from the large amount of unlockable costumes and the online leaderboards that Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that’s meant to played multiple times, especially when it can be beaten in around six hours on normal difficulty. This is a great idea and one shared by many games of this type, however, this idea falls down a little when there’s nothing worth actually unlocking from all this work. Outside of the before mentioned costumes and a few pieces of concept art, Lollipop Chainsaw does little to hook gamers in for that third or fourth run through.
It’s not all bad though, the presentation in Lollipop Chainsaw is exceptional. The gorgeous cel-shaded look of the game blends in with its overall comic book feel, hand-drawn hud elements flash up looking like a golden age comic and every inch of the menu system follows this theme. It really looks like a pulp comic from the 1950’s, albeit a far gorier and filthier version.
The boss encounters are the only hint of how off the wall and great this game could have been. Taking cues from music genres Lollipop Chainsaw’s bosses are fantastically designed. One level you’re fighting a punk rock zombie that uses swear words as attacks the next you’re on a flying black metal Viking ship shooting at a severed head covered in corpse paint. These encounters really are entertaining, showing that if this level of detail and thought had been given to the rest of the game it could have been something special. However the gameplay complaints still remain and while these boss fights look and sound great, they’re far too easy and boring to actually enjoy.
Music is also used to great effect. I couldn’t help but grin like a moron when I heard Children of Bodom playing in the background as I dodged lightning bolts being fired from the sky. The section where the Dead or Alive hit “You Spin Me Right Round” booms out while Juliet is using a combine harvester to mow down zombies is also a slice of genius.
It really is a shame about Lollipop Chainsaw. In retrospect, the game had some really funny, interesting moments but none of these occurred when I was actually controlling the game. The music, presentation and the concept of the game are great – it just feels rushed and poorly executed. There is little about the game to recommend to fans of the character action genre that can’t be found somewhere else where it has been done better. Besides the titillation and the gore, there really isn’t much to Lollipop Chainsaw, it’s as if years of eating nothing but Chubba Chubs has made Juliet a little anaemic.
I also wanted to like this game, I really did. I love zombies, I love this type of game and I loved the concept but there just isn’t enough actual game here – and that hasn’t changed years on. In all honesty, if you’re looking for a great character action game with a sexy lead character and insane gameplay, buy Bayonetta.