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Lollipop Chainsaw review

AT A GLANCE
  • The inherent joy of chainsawing zombies
  • Inventively funny script and soundtrack
  • Grasshopper's unique style
  • Lacks variety
  • Too short on content
  • Not good enough to support its pedigree

New original properties: they're something that gamers lament never seeing often enough. At times, it seems as though the video game industry is snagged in a sequel mill. Yet, every once in a while, a new game promises to break the mold with something new to offer. There's a flip side to that "new IP" coin, though.  When a new title comes from an established developer and falls short, those expectations can be a real burden. That's sadly the situation with Grasshopper Manufacture's Lollipop Chainsaw. It has so many unique components, but it failed to come together to be something truly special.

Grasshopper's pedigree - 2011's Shadows of the Damned, the No More Heroes series -- will grab many hardcore gamers' attention, if Lollipop Chainsaw's completely zany concept doesn't do it first. Juliet, a seemingly normal cheerleader at San Romero High, arrives at her school to celebrate her 18th birthday, only to find the learning establishment in ruins thanks to a zombie outbreak. With the head of her decapitated boyfriend Nickie attached to her hip, Juliet cheerfully rips apart the undead legions with her trusty chainsaw and the demon hunting skills her family has known for generations. It's the kind of out-there idea (Suda 51's take on the original "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" film) you'd expect from Grasshopper, and they delivered masterfully in that respect.

At the start, the unambitious zombie-killing action is fun and easy to grasp. After adapting to the controls in the prologue, we quickly took to mixing up the four face buttons to take down the growing monster hordes, and carving off limbs with Juliet's weapon of choice. The action was further enhanced with the addition of "Sparkle Hunting," a combo-reward system that gives you bonuses for decapitating three or more zombies at once. It pushed us to improve our fighting skills while showering us with rainbows and sparkles, something we wish was used more often in mature games. And indeed, the blend of ultraviolence with childish glee does feel distinctly Grasshopper, given the team's track record with these thematic ideas.

However, that cheery disposition and initial bliss wears itself out after the first couple of hours. You begin to note a lack of fluidity in the combat, with combos being repeated too often with little need or ability to connect them. Once you find the rhythm that works for you, there's little drive to try out new attack combinations, and as you kill dozens of the same enemy types over and over again, you'll notice the dreaded "R-word" (repetitive) rear its ugly head. The depth is further limited by the leveling system, wherein you spend coins to unlock health bonuses and new moves. Thanks to our limited supply of coins, we continually had to choose between the two, skipping over possibly enriching combos in favor of increasing our health and strength. Ultimately, Lollipop Chainsaw's core combat is content to be enjoyably vanilla, and feels resigned to reheat mechanics that felt fresh six years ago instead of updating to gameplay that stands head and shoulders with today's modern standards.

Lollipop attempts some combat variety via techniques big and small, like introducing ranged attacks or giving you a stripper pole to swing around every now and then. Out of those two approaches, we preferred brief asides like the pole attacks, because extended use of additions like the cannon and the attacks using Nick's head reveal their shallowness. The ranged attacks, in particular, induce headaches, such as when third-person shooting is introduced with a baseball-themed minigame that works poorly. Worst of all, Lollipop leans on QTEs far too heavily to try and keep players engaged. Even if they start out as entertaining, most of the side features eventually wear out their collective welcome.

Despite its mechanical shortcomings, Lollipop Chainsaw at least gets its locales right, with each level taking Juliet to strange worlds, including a local arcade that's infested with demons or a nearby farm with its psychotropic mushrooms. Each stage is special in its own screwball way, but they're all held back by extreme linearity. The short detours and secrets peppered throughout the stages only highlight straight line Juliet otherwise travels in from zombie fight to zombie fight. The seven stages in the too brief campaign (around eight hours long) might be unique, but they share the same problems.

We may fault Lollipop Chainsaw for its monotonous zombie-slaying combat and bland level design, but it's ahead of the pack in other elements, thanks to the incredibly well-done script. Written with the help of James Gunn -- Hollywood screenwriter behind 2004's Dawn of the Dead remake along with under-appreciated horror gem Slither -- the script offers up his skewed take on the incredibly twisted world and situation the characters find themselves in. Plus the writing doesn't just flash brilliance in the cutscenes; we found ourselves continually smirking at the silly exchanges between Juliet and Nick as they run through the halls of San Romero High.

The great writing helps establish the characters, a move that helps retail interest throughout the weakest elements of the game. No area improves more thanks to the witty dialogue than boss fights against the rock 'n roll zombie lords that are causing all the trouble. Voiced by quality film actors (though they may not be world famous), each gave some extra oomph to level-ending encounters that were -- for the most part -- fun but fairly stock. Don't expect the same level of inventiveness from this game's the boss battles that you saw in Shadows of the Damned or No More Heroes, but the humor enhances rather rote encounters.

For a single player game that's not as long as we wish it was, Lollipop at least tries to add some replay value in interesting ways. The game has an economy that drives you to score higher and purchase some of the dozens of items to unlock, whether it's new combos, special attacks, skimpy costumes, or music (LC's soundtrack is one of its strongest assets, featuring classic songs of the 1980s alongside new music from superstar composer Akira Yamaoka). The game encourages you to try for high scores whether you want to beat a friend on the leaderboards or get Achievements/Trophies, which at least gives it some replay value.

Lollipop Chainsaw intentionally embraces everything that's fun about the trashy horror films of years gone by, so it's hard to fault it for aping the style of a B-movie. However, B-games aren't as blissfully enjoyable as B-movies, and Lollipop Chainsaw's production values and gameplay are more of a chore to experience than sitting through 90 minutes of grindhouse gold. If you expect groundbreaking insanity and innovative gameplay based on Grasshopper's legacy, Lollipop Chainsaw falls short of expectations. If you can successfully curb those expectations, then you've got yourself something quirky for a simple weekend playthrough, even if it's a game with some ups and some real downs.

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

58 comments

  • Edias - June 20, 2012 4:50 a.m.

    After having had some time to play this, I feel like critics are being unfairly harsh on it. It's not perfect, but it's far better than the scores would seem to imply. It's an above average action game with a solid soundtrack which is set in a crude but entertaining world. The target audience should, at the very least, be pleased with it. It's not God of War, Bayonetta/Devil May Cry or Vanquish, no; but it's good in its own way. It just seems like action games are getting a bum rap these days. It's like they have to be over the top or they're discredited, while mediocre FPS games are getting solid scores all around; and there are far more of those. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
  • KingDjango - June 16, 2012 9:10 p.m.

    While I am disappointed that it wasn't given a high score,I feel like the review was actually fair and well balanced...so kudos for not being a douche and giving a biased and completely one sided review like Mitch Dyer of IGN did!
  • AuthorityFigure - June 15, 2012 9:54 p.m.

    I think it's be more successful if you played as a stupid zombie and killed cheerleaders, not the reverse.
  • Malintendog - June 14, 2012 4:27 a.m.

    I personally had low expectations for this game and was positively surprised when I actually played it. I was afraid that it would play too much on the fan service, but it uses it more as parody than anything else. All the pretty colors, the spectacular music, not to mention the phenomenal voice acting really wins me over. I do agree that the gameplay gets stale very quick. It's a good game, but it's not a 60 buck game.
  • CitizenThom - June 13, 2012 8:10 p.m.

    I thought the prologue and first chapter were a good tongue-in-cheek and entertaining experience. The gameplay's pretty straight forward, but challenging in my opinion. At least a 7.5~8 gaming experience in my opinion.
  • Shanetexas - June 12, 2012 6:19 p.m.

    Akira Yamaoka? Should a old-school Silent Hill fan like me rent this just for the music?
  • Edias - June 12, 2012 4:02 p.m.

    Sounds like a game that's best played in short bursts, which suits me just fine since my game time is rather limited.
  • robotdickens - June 12, 2012 2:45 p.m.

    Still sounds decent from the end rating. I don't know, maybe I'll pick it up when it drops to 30 dollars.
  • EnigmaSpirit - June 12, 2012 1:53 p.m.

    There is DLC so that you can look like the girls from Highschool of the Dead, Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka?, and Deadman Wonderland. I'm excited just to see those in action.
  • LordZarlon - June 12, 2012 1:53 p.m.

    Yet another Japanese game that is more style than substance.
  • AuthorityFigure - June 15, 2012 9:57 p.m.

    The stupid East vs West debate is groundless. It's just as easy to think of US titles that do the same.
  • ObliqueZombie - June 12, 2012 1:08 p.m.

    Well-spoken review, Mr. Gilbert. Great points. Looks like I'll pick this up when it's discounted, because the witty dialogue and clever script already has be wanting to try it out.
  • HitmanSB07 - June 12, 2012 12:35 p.m.

    What's up with the amount of people that think Suda 51 is the name of the game company? Grasshopper manufacture is the company, Suda 51 is the guy.
  • Cwf2008 - June 21, 2012 10:37 a.m.

    Because Suda 51 sounds more like a game company than a guy
  • MattOfSteel - June 12, 2012 12:28 p.m.

    Shame the gameplay is that shallow. Honestly, it only took the 3 minute videos to prove to me that the game was just a hack-n-slash instead of a varied action title. I think that 6 is well-deserved. Such a damn shame that Suda 51 can never seem to get all their ducks in a row. They always have to do one stupid gameplay quirk that sullies the experience.
  • KnowYourPokemon - June 12, 2012 11:14 a.m.

    *Looks at other reviews to see they've all given this game better reviews* *Then realizes this particular reviewers extremely high expectations for games in general* *Continues to play the game and have fun*
  • Mamudo - June 12, 2012 11:11 a.m.

    I'm still going to get it. There are other games where the game play doesn't shine but the world and characters redeem it. As long as it isn't broken and full of glitches I can deal with combat that doesn't blow me away.
  • StoneDreadnaught - June 12, 2012 10:58 a.m.

    I'm picking this up just to help prevent Suda 51 from fading away.
  • CrashmanX - June 12, 2012 10:57 a.m.

    6 out of 10 isn't what I was excpecting. I was honestly expecting a 7 or 8 but whatevs. I'll still rent it at the very least. I mean come on, it's Suda51. I'm bound by blood to play their games.
  • Person5 - June 12, 2012 10:50 a.m.

    That's a real shame, I was looking forward to this game quite a lot, had it preordered at Gamestop and got ready to pick it up even. But after reading this review as well as the Gamestop manager's opinion of the game after she recounted her own experience with the game, I put the money I had on this game on a different game. This review told me that the game was good for maybe fifteen dollars, not sixty. So I'm going to wait for that price to drop, and at about fifteen I'll pick it up and see if I made a mistake or not today.

Showing 1-20 of 58 comments

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