2, 4, 6, 8! Killing zombies feels so great!
In the interest of full disclosure: I went into Lollipop Chainsaw wanting to love it. I’m sure the proper rule for reviewing games is to go into each one as a blank slate, but I just couldn’t help it. If there are two things I love, they’re cuteness and gore—so having a Japanese developer promising to mix both together was a project with my name on it right from the start.
And, from a stylistic perspective, Lollipop Chainsaw delivers in spades. Lead heroine Juliet Starling is a total darling—don’t worry, I’ll feel ashamed of using that line later—who has no problem carrying most of the game on her shoulders. She’s attractive, she’s spunky, and you can’t help but fall in love with her as she gleefully saws through zombie hordes while trading back-and-forth quips with her decapitated-head-for-a-boyfriend, Nick. These conversations, in fact, are far and away the best part of Lollipop Chainsaw—thanks to the work put in by filmmaker/writer James Gunn. For most of the game, his dialogue—for both heroes and villains—is sharp, witty, and appropriately campy.
I say “most,” because Lollipop Chainsaw sometimes slips into somewhat uncomfortable territory. Sure, this is a game specifically crafted to honor B-movie horror schlock—but as hard as Juliet works to be more than just male-gamer spank material, random comments scattered throughout the game go too far in belittling her. For those who were worried that Lollipop Chainsaw would be nothing but sexist garbage, I’m happy to say that it’s instead very charming and exceedingly smart—and then moments like those crop up and threaten to undermine that statement of support.
What undermines Lollipop Chainsaw as a whole aren’t the random comments of NPCs, however—it’s the “game” portion of this videogame. As a package, there’s just so much to like: those strong characters, Gunn’s writing, the engaging storyline and settings, and a soundtrack—a product of the combination of Silent Hill veteran Akira Yamaoka, Mindless Self Indulgence frontman Little Jimmy Urine, and perfectly selected American retro-pop—that’s the aural icing on the cake.
With all those stars on the squad, Lollipop Chainsaw’s gameplay feels like the homely, awkward girl who ended up being a cheerleader because the team had an extra slot to fill. While Juliet shows off an abundance of agility during cutscenes, chaining between her three main basic attacks lacks the grace and fluidity of more polished action titles like Bayonetta. You’ll find a roster of maneuvers to unlock, but these only really provide additional dial-a-combos instead of smoother combat. Juliet’s main defense from becoming zombie food is her jump—which acts as a dodge of sorts—but it’s often ineffectual, especially given that many enemies have no intention of obeying proper hit-stun etiquette.
All of these things leave Lollipop Chainsaw feeling more like a clunky ’80s arcade brawler than a modern action title; in fact, clunky is how I’d describe numerous aspects of the game—the camera that enjoys fighting with you as you try to move it, the overreliance on quicktime-event button presses when such things are more bothersome than bettering, and the constant cutscenes that break the gameplay flow (especially annoying in a game that encourages multiple playthroughs of stages).
As a game, Lollipop Chainsaw is never terrible—but it’s also never terrific. When every other aspect of what Grasshopper Manufacture put together here is so unashamedly fun, knowing what Juliet’s zombie-hunting adventures could have been with better polish is utterly disheartening. The collection of complaints and concerns I have about the gameplay doesn’t stop Lollipop Chainsaw from being something I’m glad to have experienced—but it does really hit home that I’m getting tired of defending developers for gameplay decisions that should no longer be happening in 2012.
SUMMARY: Lollipop Chainsaw could have been something really special—had a variety of unpolished elements and outdated gameplay mechanics not gotten in the way. While this cheerleader is overflowing with heart, soul, and spirit, her sloppy execution unfortunately keeps spoiling her routine.
- THE GOOD: Finally getting to live out my dream of being a cute, zombie-killing cheerleader….
- THE BAD: ..The rougher parts of the game are like finding out that hot cheerleader has an STD.
- THE UGLY: Having somebody you just saved tell you they’re going to masturbate to you later.
Lollipop Chainsaw is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.