I’ve always been a fan of Suda 51, so any time I hear Grasshopper Manufacture is making a new game I wait impatiently to learn more. At first when he said he was making a zombie game, all I can think of is “why jump into that trend!?” Then I saw the trailer with lots of rainbows, glitter, and a bubbly cheerleader in a very short skirt. Now that he had my attention again I couldn’t wait to play Lollipop Chainsaw. So how did it turn out?
The story is actually quite simple for a Suda 51 game, which tend to be overly complicated on purpose. You play the cheerleader Juliet Starling, on her 18th birthday a zombie apocalypse breaks out which was caused by Swan, a Goth Geek, for reasons I shall not go into here. You are accompanied by your boyfriend Nick, who is a disembodied head. You must make your way through several zombie bosses that each have a musical theme to them such as punk, Viking metal, psychedelic, and funk, to get to Swan and save San Romero High.
It never really strays off into different directions and is fairly straight forward with things becoming predictable. If you’re looking for major twists then look elsewhere. Juliet Starling, while definitely filled with fan service, is a rather likable character. Sure she can be a little too bubbly for some peoples’ tastes, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Her dialogue exchange with her boyfriend Nick is hilarious, most of the time. Jokes about him being a decapitated head can get rather old after a while. In the end I thought the story was serviceable, funny, but ultimately nothing special.
The voice acting is a mixed bag. While most of the time the actors are on the ball, some lines will come off cringe-worthy and uninspired. You’ll be hearing a lot of repeated dialogue during boss sequences and regular play, though longer sequences are context sensitive and you’ll only hear them once. With that said I seem to think dialogue has been chosen on purpose due to the fact that it’s supposed to be like a grindhouse movie, so it still fits the game.
The soundtrack is one of the best Grasshopper Manufacture has to offer. The original music by Jimmy Urine (Mindless Self Indulgence) and Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill series, Shadows of the Damned) serve the grindhouse aesthetic well and go with the theme of each level/boss. The licensed music especially stands out. The best way I can describe it would be it felt like playing a Quentin Tarantino movie in which the music just seems to fit. Who knew that running over zombies with a combine with the song “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” playing would be so much fun!
While I try to avoid talking about graphics in games as I personally don’t believe that they matter to the enjoyment of the game, I will mention them if something distracts me. At times the game will experience texture pop-up when first loading into the level. There’s also a lack of variety in zombies; all football, baseball and cheerleader zombies look the same and there’s just a lot of repeated skins.
The combat of the game plays much like any beat’em up. Triangle/Y is a normal chainsaw attack, Square/X is a pom-pom attack which can stun enemies, X/A is a low chainsaw attack, and Circle/B is dodge. Through-out the game you can unlock different combinations that result in higher damage attacks. Unfortunately there just aren’t that many combos and if you’re looking to just get through the game you can get away with button mashing. If you really wanted to, you can leapfrog (dodge) over an enemy, kick drop to stun them, and then just swing the chainsaw to finish them off the whole game. That’s not to say combinations aren’t necessary, you’ll have a hard time getting a high score and “sparkle hunting” (more on that later) if you don’t use combos. Pulling off combos can also be a hassle as the game isn’t exactly very fluid with its motion. At times you’ll finish the button combinations well in advance of the actual action that takes place. Lock-on is handy for bosses but not so much with regular enemies as anytime you knock down an enemy it’ll unlock. This is a shame because unless you’re pointing the left analog stick at the enemy, you will most likely miss. The chainsaw dash is practically useless as you’ll only really need it for designated sections of the game.
In order to unlock combos, outfits, music, and concept art you need zombie medals. Those come in two types: gold, which are the easiest to find as you get them just by killing zombies or smashing objects, and platinum, which are rare and can only be obtained under certain circumstances. Named enemies will almost guarantee you platinum medals, but there aren’t that many named enemies which makes “sparkle hunting” your easiest option. “Sparkle hunting” is when you kill three or more enemies at a time, the more you kill at one time the more platinum medals you obtain. Sparkle hunting is made easier by taking advantage of Nick tickets, which when activated allows you to use Nick’s head in various ways to stun enemies, or active Star Soul Power, which makes enemies (except bosses) a one hit kill while it plays the song “Hey Mickey.”
There are various mini-games spread out through the game, but most of them are repeated. Zombie basketball, and mowing down zombies in a combine are fun, but it felt like they ran out of ideas when they used them in more than one place. The worst offender is when placing Nick’s head on a headless zombie you’re treated to an (almost) impossible to fail mini-game in which you press certain buttons when prompted to have him do whatever action he’s needed to do. While the act usually is funny with Juliet cheering him on in the background with him occasionally humming a little tune, it felt like they could’ve done a lot more than that. The arcade level does have a much better variety of mini-games which puts Juliet into situations that resemble classic video games such as Pac-man and Elevator Action.
The game is relatively short with about a 5-7 hours single player campaign. Short doesn’t mean it’s bad though as it also doesn’t outstay its welcome. It was obviously built to be replayed with many extras to unlock and leaderboards to compete with your best score.
For those who enjoy Grasshopper Manufacture games, Lollipop Chainsaw is a must buy as it retains Suda 51’s signature style. While certainly his most accessible game to date, it still suffers from not-so-terrific gameplay which may not appeal to newer audiences. If you’re looking for some brainless fun though, you can definitely do worse.