Lollipop Chainsaw Review
Suda51′s latest masterpiece/abomination has garnered a great deal more media attention than any of his previous works, at least here in North America. The teenage protagonist in a cheerleader uniform is definitely more press-event-friendly than most of Suda’s other ‘heroes’, and zombies are certainly the thing right now. But with the added media attention came a fair amount of controversy as well.
Although previous games coming from Suda51 and Grasshopper Manufacture had their fair share of controversial content, the games were mostly content to languish in semi-obscurity here in the West, so they never made much of a blip on the media radar.
Lollipop Chainsaw’s aggressive marketing involved a spokes-model search, a traveling bus, tons of press events, a silly Penny Arcade Expo controversy, and numerous public appearances by the beautiful and talented Jessica Nigri (♥) playing the game’s sexy teen heroine. Even George Romero dropped by the Toronto release party. So with so many eyes on Suda51′s particular brand of satire this time around, people were bound to get offended.
Hot girls in video games is hardly anything new, and they are most certainly going to endure as such, so what makes LC so offensive? The word that seems to be floating around in the press most predominately is ‘misogynistic’, but there are a couple other issues worth mentioning as well.
Juliet is 18, so having her be the ultra-sexy heroine of the game raises issues, I guess, of how old you have to be before you are allowed to be an ultra-sexy video game heroine. Although it’s certainly at the lower end of the spectrum, I think 18 is a pretty reasonable answer to that question, actually. JRPG’s traditionally set that bar about 10 years younger, so I think as long as we’re legal, we’re probably doing OK.
You can unlock a plethora of sexy outfits in the game and dress-up Juliet to your heart’s content like your own zombie killing play-doll (This tasteless and not-at-all funny commercial didn’t help), but it’s worth mentioning that most of Juliet’s outfits really aren’t all that revealing.
With the exception of a couple of swimsuits, most of the outfits you can wear don’t show any more skin that an actual cheerleader uniform, and everything in the game is more-or-less on par with what you’d find in any fighting game.
But the big one really seems to be the misogyny thing, and this seems to stem primarily from the comments Juliet’s former classmates throw at her as she cuts them into pieces with a chainsaw. Yes, the zombies call her a ‘slut’ and a ‘whore’ and make more than a few pretty repulsive comments about some things they would like to do to her.
But there’s an important concept with these zombies that few are taking the time to examine. Much like Romero’s consumerist indictment of America by zombies that can’t help to flock to a shopping mall, the zombies in LC maintain their raison d’etre from their past lives. Firefighter zombies assure you everything is going to be OK as they eat your face. Hazmat zombies scream about containing the infection even as they attempt to spread it. Some zombies ignore you entirely in favour of continuing to play the video games they were playing before the whole annoying zombie apocalypse thing happened.
Juliet, though certainly a kinky girl, has a serious boyfriend whom she loves very much. She makes numerous comments about the importance of love, relationships and even monogamy. But her classmates call her a slut and a whore and talk about how much they want to do her and what a bitch she is because she won’t do them. Anyone that thinks these zombies are not a thoroughly accurate satire of high school students hasn’t been in a high school lately. Or ever.
Also: Chainsaw, so… you know… there’s probably a whole empowerment argument to be made there too…But whether LC is a brilliant satire or a tasteless skin-show, there is actually a game under there. And it’s pretty good too.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a style of action game that isn’t particularly prevalent (or popular) anymore. The focus isn’t on a lengthy single-player campaign (you can finish the game in 5-6 hours easily) nor is the focus on online multiplayer, as every single game in the universe seems to require now. The only multiplayer at all, in fact, is leaderboards, and that is really the focus with LC.
There’s only 5 levels, but the game encourages you to replay them to get better scores, find collectable lollipops and named zombies, earn more medals, unlock mp3′s, concept art, outfits etc. Harder difficulty levels actually change the placement and number of enemies, and some zombies don’t show up at all except on certain difficulties. The length is certainly going to be a major gripe for a lot of people, but ultimately the content is there if you want it.
The gameplay starts off painfully shallow, but you start unlocking new moves and combos almost immediately. You can also buy upgrades to health, strength and recovery time when you get knocked down(which will be often). Money isn’t free flowing, so you there is always a decision to be made on whether you want to unlock new combo, upgrade an ability, or buy some health replenishing lollipops.
But the real combat lies in utilizing your dozens of cheer-leading moves and combos, flying through the air, leapfrogging over zombies, then finishing them with brutal and fun chainsaw moves. If you can set up a scenario where you can decapitate 3 or more zombies with a single swipe of your chainsaw, you enter ‘Sparkle Hunting Mode’ and the screen explodes in colours and sparkles and you can earn valuable platinum medals (used to buy the good stuff, like mp3′s and new outfits).
Zombies can knock Juliet on her ass pretty easily, and there is no block, so if want to avoid spending most of the game wailing on the ‘get up’ button, you need to make judicious use of the dodge/jump button. As zombies get tougher and smarter(and as you unlock more aerial maneuvers) combat begins to take on a sort of ’hit and run’ feel, as you are constantly bouncing around, grabbing hits whenever you can, and unleashing your longer, more powerful combos only when you are absolutely certain you have an opening. It’s not Ninja Gaiden, but it’s not Ninja Gaiden 3, either. It finds a good balance between accessibility and challenge and the combat succeeds admirably as a result.
But this is a Suda51 game, so you can expect the excellent combat to be broken up by some pretty insipid minigames. Though they certainly change up the pace, most of the time you will want to get through them as quickly as possible and get back to the combat. Zombie baseball is particularly annoying, and is fundamentally broken until you turn off the auto-aim in the options menu.
Some exceptions include a fun foray through some retro-styled video games and a great sequence which has you driving a combine harvester through a field of zombies as You Spin Me Round plays in the background. That one is inspired, and brings back memories of a previous Suda51 minigame.
On that subject, there is a ton of licensed music and it is all perfectly placed. With songs by Dragonforce, The Chordettes, Children of Bodom, Joan Jett, Toni Basil and many more, the music is a game highlight. The score by Mindless Self Indulgence’s Jimmy Urine and Silent Hill’s Akira Yamaoka keeps up admirably, and creates a truly unique audio experience.
The writing (by under-appreciated Hollywood talent James Gunn) is hit or miss, but it hits more than it misses and the cheerful profanity and randomness of the dialogue (perfectly delivered by veteran voice actor Tara Strong and Lex Luthor) constantly bombards you with the unexpected.
In an industry where the same games are released and re-released year after year, selling millions more with each creatively devoid installment, a game this original and fun deserves a look.