Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lollipop Chainsaw - Zombie Slaying With A Twist

Among the many titles I looked forward to this year, one of them was Lollipop Chainsaw, created appropriately by Suda51. Early screenshots and trailers gave me a good idea of what to expect and almost immediately I grasped onto the idea of a zombie game with a cheerleader as the main protagonist, though it probably helped that said cheerleader was featured prominently. I was hyped enough in fact that I went to a midnight launch party that had a few people there who worked on the game.

You could even play the game in an immobile decorative bus.
After starting the game up the next morning, I was surprised to have been able to play through the entirety of the game, so I realized then that I'd have to write this review up a bit earlier than I expected. Now that I've given myself a chance to think about my experience, I'd say that while I'm very satisfied, I feel that it could have been improved in some way.

The core premise of the game sounds simple at first. It's a hack and slash game about a cheerleader wielding a chainsaw exterminating her school of a zombie infestation. What makes this a bit stranger is that on top of that, her boyfriend, Nick, ends up being a disembodied head hanging by her skirt and a man named Swan  has summoned forth various zombie rock gods as part of a ritual to destroy the world by turning everyone into a zombie. It was these ideas that sold me on the game in the first place and I enjoyed the story that played out as a result of it. Sure it's silly and over-the-top, but thankfully in all the right ways to keep me invested and excited the whole way through.

This is due in part to the characters, who have such unique personalities that seeing them hit can produce hilarious results. The most fun I had was with the main character, Juliet Starling, who constantly skirts the line between innocence and violence in her dialogue and actions. Interactions between Nick and the rest of her family were some of the best, with sanity clashing against an entire family of zombie hunters who treat the most supernatural phenomena as no big deal. Even the rock god bosses come off as wild and insane, though a little one dimensional, but in a cheesy way that preserves the feeling of the game nicely.

Still, the game is very hilarious and finds some new way to get at least a chuckle out of the player. Character dialogue is a big factor in this, but other physical actions such as seeing rainbows erupt out of corpses or running over zombies in a combine helps with more visual gags to round itself out. The prevalent meta-humor from James Gunn's script is also funny at the right times, including a scene in a later level that explicitly refers to zombies and video games (specifically the player character killing zombies in a video game that are playing a video game about killing zombies).

In terms of actual gameplay, this is where Lollipop Chainsaw falls apart a little. Levels usually have you clearing a room of zombies to advance, sometimes with a variation in that you have to either kill a specific number of zombies or accomplish a specific task. Either way, the fighting begins to feel a little repetitive since there are only two main types of zombies, strong and weak, and plenty of sub-types with their own moves, like football zombies being able to tackle you and police zombies being able to fire bullets. It's not like you need increasingly specific strategies to kill each individual type, since common strategies will work wonders in the long run, which I can see helping with accomplishing the goals faster before they reach certain levels of tedium.

The levels themselves however do sometimes inject a lot of variety to keep things interesting. However this can lead to some of the more frustrating portions of the game, such as killing zombies while Nick runs three times around a baseball diamond possessing a headless body. Every level seems to have at least one frustrating section that takes a few tries to get past, so I feel that a little more balancing in the various sections would have made them less of a nuisance. I could also say that lowering the amount of loading screens would help as well, since there are plenty of them to go around.

Weapons that Juliet has at her disposal are her default chainsaw weapon, which can turn into a gun, and even Nick himself, who utilizes a game mechanic where using a Nick Ticket can select a somewhat random ability using his head. They all function well and serve to invite creative ways to kill off the zombie hoards. The only problem with the chainsaw would be the lack of available combos from the beginning, since even the most basic combos need to be purchased from the store for use and certain items and combos are only available at specific points in the story. This still did not prevent combat from being fun at times from the crazy combat implements.

When you do get to the rock god bosses, known officially as the Dark Purveyors, you'll find that not only do they all embody some specific genre of music, but they are all multistage fights. This was something I didn't anticipate, but I found gradually that knowing this can help you plan during the fight to deal with whatever strategy they'll use. They are also the type where generally whatever you learn during the level becomes the way to kill them, a fact which did not really bother me due to the ways they are made interesting (in what other game would you find a boss that literally shouts giant words as one of their attacks?).

On the subject of music, I thought that the game was very well scored and had an excellent selection of licensed songs as well. From electronic and psychedelic to heavy metal and rock, the entire soundtrack fits the game perfectly. I laughed hard when I heard Toni Basil's Mickey play upon activating Juliet's sparkle power the first time; same with hearing Lollipop play while in the in-game store. Graphically, the game looks a little outdated, though still within this generation of consoles. The unique visual style makes up for this, including the cool comic book motif on the HUD and menus, as well as the button prompts.

While Lollipop Chainsaw is short, you can beat it in a day, its unique characters and sense of humor help to make up for its annoyances. Fans of the works of Suda51 will likely find this game intriguing enough, but I also encourage others to give this title a shot no matter how they feel about zombie games. As far as I'm concerned, I had a fun and unforgettable time.

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