Lollipop Chainsaw has the same problem that Shadows of the Damned did, in that it’s fun, but you only really need to play it once and it’s maybe six hours long. It’s got a lot more to keep you coming back than Shadows did, to be fair, but that is saying nothing at all.
The sixty-dollar price point is the biggest issue here. At fifteen or twenty dollars, Lollipop Chainsaw would be an absolute no-brainer. It’s a fast-paced brawler with a bit of depth to its combat engine, with lots of variety in both the gameplay and the environments, and it takes almost no time to learn how to play. You can rely on the game for a pretty fun weekend, and I’m sure it’ll have a small community of dedicated speed-runners, but… it’s maybe six hours long. If you paid full retail price, you’re going to feel ripped off as the credits roll.
Lollipop Chainsaw is the result of a collaboration between Suda 51, Akira Yamaoka, and James Gunn. It’s got Suda’s weird sense of humor and a lot of No More Heroes’s DNA in the combat system, Yamaoka’s typically amazing soundtrack, and Gunn’s contributed a lot of light, breezy dialogue that doesn’t interfere with the gameplay.
Describing the game is going to require one of those paragraphs I can’t believe I’m writing, so here goes. Juliet Starling is the middle daughter in a family of zombie hunters, as well as team captain on the cheerleading squad for her high school football team, the San Romero Knights. On the morning of her eighteenth birthday, Juliet wakes up late and gets to school right in time to discover that one of the class outcasts has unleashed a zombie apocalypse on the entire town. Juliet pulls out her weapon of choice, a magical chainsaw, and gets to work.
She isn’t quite in time to save her boyfriend Nick, who gets bitten by one of the zombies. To save his life, for certain intensely specific values of the word “save,” Juliet decapitates him and uses a magical ritual to allow him to survive as just a head. He spends the rest of the game hooked onto the back of her skirt, providing running commentary and the occasional puzzle solution.
There’s a relatively obscure Japanese game called Oneechanbara, which is often referred to as “that game where a chick in a bikini cuts up zombies with a katana.” It is barely playable at all, but the bikini factor’s made it popular enough to receive multiple sequels. Lollipop Chainsaw is basically what happens when someone sits down with that same basic idea – scantily clad young woman kills the legions of the undead – and decides to both make it good and viciously satirize it.
When Juliet chainsaws a zombie open, it’s accompanied by hearts, rainbows, and sparkly explosions. Her basic attack string involves pom-poms and constant positive self-reinforcement. She heals by eating lollipops and is completely unphased by three dozen zombies lurching towards her. She’s a happy cartoon character who’s invaded a grindhouse zombie B-movie and intends to kill everything she sees.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “subversive,” although it’s way less creepy than the marketing campaign made it look, but Lollipop Chainsaw has a deeply weird sense of humor that carries it along even when the gameplay falls short. It’s got a number of audio glitches and the difficulty’s really uneven; almost all of my deaths on my initial run through on Normal difficulty came from failing a minigame or screwing up a quick-time event, and when I did die, the checkpoints are surprisingly far apart.
Overall, though, the biggest problem with Lollipop Chainsaw is its length. There’s no way to justify picking it up at a full sixty dollars unless you’re going to get absolutely one hundred percent of everything in it, from achievements to high scores, and that might take you a week. If it shows up in your neighborhood, it’s a nearly perfect rental, and on that basis, I can recommend it.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Lollipop Chainsaw provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.