Lollipop Chainsaw follows the tale of Juliet, an eighteen-year-old cheerleader whose second biggest fear in the whole universe is that all those lollypops she’s eating will make her butt, like, way fat. Her greatest fear, however, is that she’ll somehow manage to upset Nick, her hunky new B-average boyfriend. Normally, with her not-so-modest skirt and bubbly attitude, this may not have been an issue, but Juliet has a problem: she’s part of a secretly-trained family of zombie hunters, and some people might see that as just a bit weird. Nick leaves to meet the clan for his girlfriend’s birthday dinner, only to be waylaid by some kind of catastrophe causing the dead to be much less dead than normal. As Juliet heads out to find him, an impertinent zombie tries to drive a bus over her bicycle, she whips out a giant pink chainsaw, and the game begins.
It’s difficult not feel some sense of attraction to Juliet’s world of brazen sexuality, bus-driving zombies, and disembodied boyfriends. But even for those gamers who prize novelty over mainstream, the first time you shift from cutscene to gameplay, most of that shimmer begins to wear off.
You’ll spend most of the game saving classmates and killing zombies, swinging the game’s titular chainsaw to attack while sucking on its titular lollipops to heal. Juliet isn’t very smart, so Suda 51 kept things simple for her: one button for the chainsaw, one for the pompom kung-fu, and one to jump. Use these in two or three different ways, and about five to ten minutes later, hopefully you’re the last one standing in any particular zone.
These segments can get repetitious fast, and Lollipop Chainsaw does a good job of breaking them up with quirky little quick time events and minigames that ask you to do anything from hop across the heads of a crowd of zombies to pole dance in circles with your chainsaw hooked over your elbow. Most, if not all, of these don’t require much thought or skill to accomplish, but give the game just enough variety to help transition between its more tedious grinds.
Killing the zombies will grant you two types of currency: gold coins for standard slaughter, or platinum ones for doing something more impressive (either besting a boss, or mowing down three or more zombies in a single swing). Common coins can then be used to purchase stat boosts, lollypops, or combos, while the tougher-to-find platinum scratch gives access to new get ups. As you may imagine, it’s all pretty standard combat gear; a revealing maid uniform, or tight, pink leather suit with an open zipper running down to the crotch.
Most of the zombies you’ll slay to earn money follow the same basic combat strategy: move toward Juliet. While in the broader context of zombie mythos, this may be perfectly fair, its translation to game mechanics leaves most fights feeling stale. Pair that with some hefty healthbars, and fighting through even the most basic of zombie goons becomes a chore. The majority of combos you’ll eventually unlock do little to spice things up, and while the game works at adding little gimmicks like fire and bomb flavored zombies, nothing seems to ever pull the game’s baseline combat out of the workable, but uninspired action game muck.
Even so, the game offers an interesting environment of campy sexploitation and off-beat humor to help keep you engaged through the rough spots. Lollipop Chainsaw strikes a difficult balance between sexualizing a protagonist who became a legal adult less than twenty-four hours ago and keeping things mostly inoffensive. If the game ever took itself even a little bit seriously, the premise would crumble into massive bad taste, yet by keeping things completely ridiculous, it instead leaves you only with a few guilty chuckles, and an admiration for Juliet’s bravery.
That unique narrative package may have been enough to overshadow the mediocrity of the game’s mechanics (perhaps even elevating it to eventual cult status) had its humor ever hit more than one note. Perhaps the reason why the player’s experience wears thin so quickly is how insubstantial the jokes are. The first time you see Juliet bend fully over to open a doorway, her rear end squared up center camera, it’s funny. It’s funny in a “there was no reason for that” sort of way, adding to this atmosphere of over-the-top grindhouse shtick. It’s also funny the first time you try to adjust the camera, only to see her coquettishly (and ineffectively) grab at the hem of her skirt to keep you from peeking in. But there comes a point where the girl’s panties just aren’t that comical anymore. Somewhere around the third or fourth time you catch a glimpse, the joke has moved from chortle to eye roll to sigh.
I realize that it’s strange to think that even one forced glance at someone’s underpants would ever be intrinsically funny – pulling that idea out of any real context certainly sounds bereft of maturity and decent farce – but perhaps that’s the little bit of magic that’s still to be found with this game. I found myself laughing where I would never have expected, like when a student I saved responded with “My favorite president is Herbert Hoover!”, or when a zombie I killed in the hallway yelled “Now I hate you more than Carrot Top!” right before I sliced him in half. That irreverent, often juvenile humor is such a delicate victory, however, that it collapses at the slightest misstep, leaving you impatiently jamming the “X” button to kill the third copy-paste zombie in your way while grasping at the hope that there’s something fun just ahead through the next door. Sometimes there is, but after about three hours in, odds are you’ve already seen it.
Bottom Line: While it’s difficult to ignore the surface appeal of an oddball title like Lollipop Chainsaw, what are merely workable mechanics, and some overused humor can’t keep the experience afloat.
Recommendation: If you hunt down games more for uniqueness than crisp controls, wait for the price drop or give it a rent.[rating=3]
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.