Hmmm, a Zombie-hunting Cheerleader armed with pom-poms and a chainsaw you say? Throw in one of gaming’s quirkiest developers in Suda51 and you know the game will be a memorable experience. Although, it will probably be remembered for boob-filled screenshots rather than gameplay.
Like most zombie games, there isn’t a lot of explanation. There are zombies, zombies are pests, let’s re-kill them all. You play as Juliet Starling, head-cheerleader slash pro-zombie chopper, and must clear up the undead mess. All on her eighteenth birthday too, yes Suda-san, we get it – she’s barely legal.
For a game starring a cheerleader with a chainsaw we shouldn’t have expected much subtlety and maturity, but unfortunately the game plunges the depths of taste and mostly displays humour that comes off embarrassing for all. Far from sounding like a prude, I enjoy a dirty joke as much as anyone, but the dialogue just misses the mark every time. Upon saving classmates from a zombie-chewing you can expect to be rewarded with a golden shower (of coins) and a line like: “I never expected to be saved by someone with a great pair of tits,” or, “I’m so going to masturbate over you tonight.” Jade Raymond, former producer of the Assassin’s Creed games and now studio head of Ubisoft Toronto, recently said that games are, “stuck in their smelly teen years” and that the industry needs to “grow up.” It’s hard to disagree when playing this.
It’s not all terrible though. There are some funny moments and most of them come from Nick, Juliet’s decapitated head (it’s not a long story) of a boyfriend. He’s forced to tag along clipped to Juliet’s skirt which also works as an excuse to put the camera right up there almost every cutscene. Instead of acting like a typical jock, he has a dry sense of humour that makes him very likable. Fans of Bruce Campbell will be right at home. Even Juliet isn’t as much of an airhead as she looks and the banter between the couple works well throughout. She certainly doesn’t encourage any of the attitude she gets from fellow students and zombies who take every opportunity to call her a ‘slut’ or ‘whore.’ Every talking zombie, schoolmate and even Juliet’s little sister are all excruciatingly annoying. Fortunately you do get to chainsaw the s**t out of most of them. The zombies I mean.
A game can be stuffed with annoying characters, awful dialogue and a terrible story and still be loved if it proves enjoyable for the combat, Bayonetta being a prime example. Sadly, that’s not the way things have turned out for Lollipop Chainsaw. Combat is slow, unresponsive and miserably shallow. Powerful chainsaw slashes are combined with pom-pom strikes that drive zombies back making them groggy and allowing you to move in for a decapitating finisher. There are buttons for low sweeping attacks and dodge moves can be used to hop over enemies and rips them to shreds from behind, nuts-first.
While there are plenty of bloody zombie bits flying, especially the heads, the game is more striking for its rainbow colours that follow every chainsaw swipe and the starburst of colour that greet pom-pom strikes and cheerleader kicks.
Looking at the game in action can be deceptively pleasing, but when you get to play it yourself you’ll realise there’s a delayed disconnect between button presses and what happens on screen, some presses even go unnoticed completely. This makes even simple combos more difficult to pull off than they should be. Right from the start of the game it’s concerning how few combos are on offer. The way that pom-pom strikes link into chainsaw combos feels awkward like playing the piano with a few missing fingers. The zombie blaster gun allows for some ranged attacks, but the aiming is sticky and awkward.
Combos can be bought from stores dotted around the game, but they’re always disappointing when you try them out. Always promising power, you’ll often struggle to notice an extra attack being added to the end of a combo or will find purchases to be weaker than what you already have. Health and strength upgrades are available and you can use your separate platinum coins to unlock a series of outfits that get more revealing the more expensive they get.
Coins are found in breakable objects or are rewarded for offing zombies. If you can decapitate three or more at once you’re given a Sparkle Hunting reward where the action slows down against a striking glittery background which manages to please every time, even when you should have been getting a reward for six zombies rather than three. You can enter Star Soul mode when you fill your candy pink rage metre which grants you insta-kills galore which is always handy to clear the busier rooms of the more powerful zombies.
In the game’s favour the zombie types on offer are a nicely varied bunch. You’ll encounter regular students, charging football jocks, cheerleaders, basket-ballers, trigger-happy cops, bombers, flying scarecrows, f**kwit farmers, flatulent fatties and fire breathing firemen. It’s a shame then that the bosses lack any decent design creativity. Instead they’ve been written as obnoxiously as possible, all the more annoying when they’ve got multiple lives despite cutting them in half multiple times.
Making your way through levels is usually just a case of mowing down the dead from A to B. But sometimes minigames are thrown in, such as hitting heads into a basketball net or completing a series of gorgeous-looking retro games. There are only 6-8 hours of play here with about seven stages that can take up to an hour to complete. With only a ranking mode and a few music tracks to unlock afterwards, it’s unlikely you’ll bother playing this more than once.
Presentation 70%: Cool art-style, flying limbs and rainbow colour-bursts combined with a high school scrap book feel make this a fun game to look at. The licensed music starts the game well but most of the game is generic rock noise.
Gameplay 61%: The combat sadly lacks depth and responsiveness. Things improve as you unlock more combos, but not by enough and far too late.
Single Player: 55%: Less than seven hours, but somehow each stage feels like it lasted way too long when you’re given your score. Most of the humour comes off really bad making all involved look stupid.
Performance 45%: Occasionally unresponsive combat and a disturbing amount of loading screens will annoy from start to finish.
This should have been great but the uninspired combat never makes the game feel like the fun you have with Kratos and Bayonetta and most of the dialogue will make you feel embarrassed if you’re caught playing the game. It is a good looking game though and can be fun if played in small doses before the combat fatigue sets in.