Lollipop Chainsaw review (PS3)
Is Suda 51′s new action game worth cheering about?
“The zombie apocalypse sucks, but in a way it’s kinda fun!”
There couldn’t be a worse time to release a game about a ditsy cheerleader with a tiny skirt and an intellect to match. Recent controversies like the E3 booth babe fiasco, the Tomb Raider reboot rape mix-up and the Hitman nun-killing debacle have simultaneously jumped onto the bulge under the rug where so much gaming misogyny has been swept, and the resulting explosion has formed an environment inhospitable to the likes of anything touting sex as its selling point.
But here’s the thing: despite its smutty veneer, Lollipop Chainsaw is really not that kind of game. In fact, Chainsaw is nowhere near as concerned with its upskirt jokes and unrelenting sexual innuendo as it is with its desire to be a camp, postmodern parody of every vice that it seems to promote. And oddly enough, it succeeds, and the result is a surprisingly entertaining action-hack ‘n slash that’s just as enjoyable to play as it is to poke fun at.
You play as Juliet Starling, a well-proportioned American high school cheerleader who comes from a long line of zombie-slayers. Naturally, as per every zombie movie ever, there’s been an outbreak which must be thwarted, and it’s up to Juliet and her headless boyfriend/keychain Nick (no, not a typo) to do so. As with the rest of what becomes an increasingly wacky plotline, Chainsaw pays strong homage to the Russ Meyer era of sexploitation films, complete with biting satire and lampooning of anything valued as traditional, but it’s the combination of this grindhouse vibe, modern writing and pop culture references that make the whole package so much greater than the sum of its dirty little parts.
Hollywood writer James Gunn helms the sarcasm-ridden script, but even his clever and lengthy list of one-liners that punctuate every bit of the game, pales in comparison to the unbelievable amount of references to eras worth of music, religious iconography, filmmaking, video games, and even this video game itself. I chuckled repeatedly at almost everything said by decapitated boyfriend Nick, the voice of reason who calls out the game’s own absurdity and occasionally breaks the “fourth wall” by commenting on your gameplay style, and I marvelled at the myriad tippings-of-the-hat to zombie flicks like Dawn/Day/Land of the Dead and other B-grade classics. Heck, there are even references to Game of Thrones, Facebook and a drunken High School Musical tattoo, and it’s as rewarding to spot these often subtle nods as it is to rip zombies into dozens of pieces.
Speaking of which, it’s not a game without the gameplay, and it’s here that Lollipop Chainsaw is a bit of a mixed bag. Dispatching zombies is done with light and heavy chainsaw strikes and pom-pom attacks, with combos being strung by using Juliet’s chainsaw and pom-poms together. And, while there’s plenty of combos to unlock and a variety of moves to suit whatever your killing requirements may be, Juliet’s movements seem stiff and animations are often artificial in both feel and appearance. These faults are forgivable though as this is very much a game about chasing high scores, so if you’re the type of gamer who’s worried about racking up points and unlocking bonuses instead of Juliet obeying the laws of physics, then some slightly rough gameplay shouldn’t hamper your enjoyment one bit.
Also smoothing over the somewhat clunky combat are an impressive number of mini games, all appropriately wacky in true Suda51 style. There’s a giant, 8-bit Pacman game, zombie-head basketball, an Elevator Action rip-off and more, and while these are not always implemented perfectly (I’m looking at you, zombie baseball) they’re a great way to carry through Chainsaw’s bizarre and irreverent tone. Further adding to the game’s eccentricities is some seriously superb art direction, with gaudy colours and comic book menus complimenting well designed character styles and enough tongue-in-cheek kitsch to put the Las Vegas Strip to shame.
The cel-shaded visuals of Chainsaw aren’t exactly up to today’s demanding standards, and there’s often weird juxtaposition between really well-rendered elements and some fairly ugly ones, but it’s a price worth paying for an overall style that completely thumbs its nose at the hordes of clones we’re so used to seeing nowadays. Despite the visual department being hit and miss though, the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever heard in a game, mixing everything from Arch Enemy and Five Finger Death Punch, to Human League and The Chordettes.
There are also plenty of tunes from Japanese composer Akira Yamaoka that really shine, even above the commercial tracks, but no matter what the genre of music, it’s clear that each song was considerately matched to the style of level it accompanies; cackling to Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” while Juliet shreds zombies with a combine harvester is particularly fitting.
When I first started playing Lollipop Chainsaw I was immediately wary of writing a review in this aforementioned “sexist climate”, but after playing through it non-stop and jumping into a second playthrough almost immediately, I have to admit that despite its “sexist” tendencies and occasional flaws, it’s still one hell of a blast to play. In fact, we could even argue that Juliet is portrayed as a respectable heroine who is in fact smarter and more competent that any of the game’s male characters rather than her being a mere sex object made of nothing but T&A. The simple truth though is that whichever side of the sexist fence you’re gaming on, Lollipop Chainsaw remains a quality title that really should be enjoyed by prudish players and prepubescent pervs alike.