Review by JoelCouture
"Taking me by the heart when it takes me by the hand"
Lollipop Chainsaw is nuts. Loopy. Crazy. You're Juliet, a chainsaw-wielding cheerleader carrying around the severed head of her boyfriend. You play basketball by cutting off the heads of the opposing team, and then watching as they launch into the basket. You climb an office-building sized arcade where you have to play variants of Pac-Man and Elevator Action. Your most powerful mode of attack has you glowing while Toni Basil's Mickey plays in the background. You fight a giant zombie Elvis. This game is all over the place in the short time you'll be playing it, but you'll be starting right over again as soon as the credits have rolled.
If you've played hack and slash games before, you'll be right at home with Lollipop Chainsaw, but with some important differences. Rather than having the light/hard hits these games tend to focus on, you have more of a high/low, where your attacks work over different sections of enemy bodies. You can attack high, hoping to lop off an arm or two before taking the head, or attack low to cut off the legs and drop them to the ground. I found the low attack a little useless as cutting off a zombies legs puts them on the ground, where they're more difficult for the player to hit. Low attacks tend to just make more trouble for the player, except for the few times when the enemy starts off on the ground.
You've got a third way of attacking, which incorporates your cheerleading abilities. Juliet can swing her pom poms into the enemy's face, lining up a few hits in a hurry. It doesn't do as much damage, but it stuns enemies, leaving them standing with stars floating around their heads. It's a good way to slow down crowds when they're coming too fast to hit with a regular attack, and it also provides an opening for an instant kill. Stunned zombies die in one hit from your chainsaw, so a barrage of pom pom attacks followed by a single hit can make your life easier in a bad situation.
That quick stun is handy, because there's no block button in the game. You might find yourself freaking out about this for a few minutes, but once you master the jump, you'll see how Lollipop Chainsaw was meant to be played. Again, Juliet is a cheerleader, someone who's at home hopping around and flying through the air. Even as a zombie hunter, her abilities use this to her advantage. Rather than blocking, she'll jump out of the way if the player times their button presses carefully. It was hard to get used to at first, but I was soon leapfrogging over anything that was about to cause me trouble.
You have to do this, too, as your chainsaw attacks don't stun-lock enemies. In a lot of action games, the enemies recoil from your hits, giving you a few fractions of a second to interrupt their attacks with your own. If you're in the middle of a combo, the enemy being hit by it typically can't break free. This isn't the case with Lollipop Chainsaw; an attacking enemy can just plow right through your attacks and hit you. This feels a bit one-sided, but again, your acrobatics even out the playing field. As much as you might want to just charge in with that chainsaw and swing away, you're going to have to fight more intelligently. Hop in, land a few attacks or one quick move set, and then leapfrog back out. You always have to watch your surroundings, or you won't get very far.
This has the unfortunate effect of making many of your combos a little useless. I bought a lot of moves while playing the game, but found that I didn't use many of them. Sure, they looked cool and piled on damage, but all of them required me to be able to land multiple hits without getting interrupted. It's hard to land more than three moves without something pouncing on you and breaking your combo, so there just wasn't much point in playing around with the other moves.
That would have been more of a drag if there wasn't a ton of other stuff to unlock. There's still lots of room to improve Juliet, with her health, damage, recovery speed, and shooting range all up for upgrading. I still hadn't unlocked all of her upgrades by the end of a single playthrough, so there's lots to be had there. There's also special items that you can buy with platinum coins, which are rare rewards that show up whenever you kill a tough enemy, or if you string together multiple kills all at once. With them, you can buy new costumes, songs, and concept art for the game. It's cool stuff, and will keep you coming back for multiple playthroughs to get everything.
Those platinum coins don't come easy, though, and are the game's main challenge during combat. It's all fine and dandy if you kill everything you need to, but the real money is in stringing together a bunch of stunned enemies for a single, high-value kill. So, you'll want to kite a bunch of zombies around, weave in and out of combat with your acrobatic moves, stun them with your cheerleading attacks, and then finish them all off with a single, well-timed chainsaw blow. Done right, it's an elegant ballet that showcases a personality in the combat that encourages you to do more than just hack away at the enemies.
You could always cheat and use your special move like I did, though. If you gather enough stars from dropped enemies, you'll be able to supercharge your attacks, turning every high chainsaw strike into an instant kill while Mickey blares in the background, probably followed by you cracking up. You'll be pulling off multi-kills left and right, all followed by rainbow effects and shooting stars filling the background, the enemies exploding in ridiculous showers of colored light.
Ridiculous sums up a lot of the game, in both its look and feel. Combat is filled with rainbows fanning out from your chainsaw as you swing it, all while Juliet spouts overly-perky, cheerful remarks. Almost all of the enemies have some bizarre skills, as you'll fight a math teacher using a desk for a shield and baseball players who can still throw balls at you. You'll get flavor texts about certain named zombies that show up through the game, all of which are absurd. The game just refuses to be subtle at any point, always trying to keep you engaged and entertained.
It's soundtrack steals the show, though, providing the perfect background noise for the whole game. It's tough, goofy, menacing, and outrageous whenever it needs to be, striking a perfect chord during every stage. This game wouldn't be half as fun without the perfect musical choices made for the game, and especially the amazing boss pieces. Given that each major boss is built around a musical style, it only makes sense that the music would be a big part of the game. If you're the kind of person who's sick of the bland, orchestral pieces that seem to be all the rage in modern games, give this one a shot. It shows that personality in music is much, much more important than having a big orchestra playing it.
The bosses make for a lot of fun, too. You fight a viking drummer on a flying ship, a punk rocker whose curses take physical shape and fly at you, and a hippie that can split herself up and attack you with hallucinations of herself. You duke it out with an auto-tuned funk zombie on top of a space ship after fighting through a tower of old arcade games. The game is aggressively crazy, and I just can't get enough of it.
Each of those bosses has several stages, all harkening back to the old days of games when bosses just refused to go down. If you die during one stage, you go right back to the start of the fight, so you'd better not screw up. The developers took their time making each stage as well, as the bosses have different ways of fighting. One of the last bosses undergoes around six changes, but I lost count while fighting him. It forced me to hang back and study his patterns, something I haven't had to do in years. The healing items I had made it so that few of the bosses were all that difficult, but they still pushed me close to my limits.
The one aspect of the game I got really sick of was Juliet. Now, I know this game takes some inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but could it have at least gotten the intelligent monster hunter part from it? I get that this game is lighthearted fun, but so was Shadows of the Damned and No More Heroes, and their main characters weren't morons. I don't know what they were shooting for with Juliet, but she's just so vapid and stupid that I can't stand listening to her. I think she could have been played a different way while still keeping the game's goofy atmosphere, and I wish they hadn't dropped the ball there.
Then again, all of the other main characters are just about as annoying. All of the characters are a bit on the weird side, but it all skews just a little too far towards stupidity. The game's jokes all seem to be trying too hard, for some reason. The game is bizarre in and of itself, but those parts walk the fine line between aggressively silly and just trying to act out. It's the kind of humor, characters, and storytelling that all just rub me the wrong way, and it ends up falling flat consistently.
The sexualization of Juliet falls right into creepy territory, too, with most of your views being from up her skirt. When the game's playing, it's not terrible, but as soon as you hit a cutscene, things are going to turn bad. She has a perverted old sensei that says awful things he's gotten her to do, stuff that makes my skin crawl when he talks about it. I don't see the humor in this, and it just makes me shudder to hear Juliet or the sensei talk like that. Also, she's a cheerleader, not a pole dancer, so what's with the poles? They have nothing to do cheerleading, unlike everything else in the game, so what gives? Where do they fit with the game's themes, again?
Lollipop Chainsaw is marred by its story and characters. You'll be having a lot of fun while playing through the game, but as soon as someone starts to talk, you'll be pounding on the start button to skip the cutscene. It's a shame, because the game itself is fantastic, an acrobatic dance between you and hordes of monsters. With great enemy and boss design, as well as some creative levels to mix things up, Lollipop Chainsaw has a lot to offer the hack and slash fan who's bored with the genre's tropes. If you can get past its lousy plot, you can really have a good time with this game.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/06/12
Game Release: Lollipop Chainsaw (US, 06/12/12)
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