June 15, 2012

Review – Lollipop Chainsaw

Review Lollipop Chainsaw
Following in the Shakespearean tradition, Lollipop Chainsaw tells the tale of young love versus young angst, with a coming of age story featuring classic themes of satanic rock, zombie hordes, and one very peppy chainsaw wielding cheerleader.

Our heroine, Juliet Starling, refuses to let any of the unfolding chaos of the zombie apocalypse ruin her eighteenth birthday – from the decapitation of her high school sweetheart to the death of her perverted sensei, and certainly not the hordes of undead classmates tearing up the halls of San Romero High School.

Confident and true, Juliet isn’t interested in hearing from the villains responsible, because they suck.

Instead, she fires up her chainsaw and slices her way through six stages of the undead, with all roads leading to the bosses at the heart of the turmoil. That very little seems capable of darkening Juliet’s day could perhaps be read as commentary on the youth of today, except that there are easy parallels to the self-absorbed Buffy Summers from 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a film that certainly provides plenty of foundation for Juliet’s adventure here.

With that in mind, it seems more apt to say that the kids are still alright, insofar as being partly crazed and entirely ready for zombies at the drop of a hat makes them right as rain in the pop culture stew Grasshopper Manufacture stirs and serves a heaping bowl of here.

Review Lollipop Chainsaw
Players familiar with Grasshopper’s No More Heroes series will likely prove quick studies when it comes to mastering Lollipop’s controls. The stage structure proves essentially the same, with each requiring players to hack through waves of zombies in order to reach boss battles that offer distinct themes with familiar routines. The eccentric personalities of each boss is linked to a musical genre, from punk zombie Zed to the dirty trippy hippy Mariska.

Boss encounters offer some safe but fun patterns, often asking players to dodge an attack while waiting for the obligatory window when the boss becomes tired in order to land critical strikes. The general ease of these encounters allows one to enjoy the show each performs, with layered sequences that require Juliet to drain their health bar and issue a finishing attack a few times over. Zed took to shouting slurs that saw letters take physical form, which Juliet must dodge while moving in for the kill, while Mariska multiplied to create up to eight targets for Juliet to fire at while avoiding the chaos sixteen hippy hands can unleash.

Review Lollipop Chainsaw
Fans of No More Heroes will also recognize some familiar junk in the trunk of this ride, most often stemming from fights to position the camera along the way. This problem arises as Grasshopper introduces new mechanics that bump against the walls of the game, particularly Juliet’s chainsaw dash, which allows her to charge over turbo jumps. This sometimes requires fidgeting with the camera to achieve the ideal angle, which can also plague the chainsaw blaster, which allows players to aim and fire bullets – an auto-aim attempts to ease the situation, but sometimes proves a nuisance as it grabs targets you may not want to be aiming at. Both of these problems are manageable, but hit the wall hard enough to draw your attention to the confinement of space you’re playing within.

Chopping through zombies isn’t nearly as tedious as the thugs Travis Touchdown cut down with his beam katana however, which despite my fondness for the series was reason enough to be thankful.

There’s a continual supply of fresh zombie types as stages progress, both physically and trait-wise. Standard zombies differ in appearance throughout the game, joined by heavier bloated zombies, mini-boss zombies, explosive zombies, fire zombies, shooting zombies, flying zombies, zombie cows, and well let’s just say there’s a clearance sale on zombie types and everything must go within Lollipop Chainsaw.

Review Lollipop Chainsaw
The stage progression staves off potential grinds with mini-games, such as zombie basketball, which tasks you with scoring points by chopping heads to make baskets, which serves as a sometimes weak diversion but offers a welcomed break from the primary slaughter. There are many moments where Juliet will enter an area to find advantages meant to lessen the grind, from exploding barrels she can shoot to stripper poles she can twirl around as the player hammers a button to make her spin faster in order to chop more heads – maintaining the spectacle is often the priority. And then there are moments where the game finds space to transform into a series of rooms based on classic videogames like Pac-Man, and the entire product shines that much brighter for the odd eighties themed detour.

Along the way players will fill a gauge that lets them briefly activate a super powered mode, where every swing of the chainsaw achieves a zombie killing head chop, and getting several at once (sparkle hunting) rewards players with valuable medals. These can be used at shops located throughout the game to purchase new combo skills, health and combat upgrades, supplies, and new threads for Juliet to look her blood splattered best. Every new turn in the game offers a chance to earn standard medals, which serve as the bulk currency for Juliet’s shopping needs.

Review Lollipop Chainsaw
Aside from offering new opportunities to appreciate Juliet’s moves, new combo attacks offers a means of dealing with waves of zombies that are as hard as coffin nails – if you try to simply hack and slash a path through Lollipop Chainsaw, you’ll likely become acquainted with the “game over” screen rather quickly.

The difficulty of zombies doesn’t stem from their attacks, but rather from the amount of damage they can withstand before disintegrating. Juliet has two primary chainsaw attacks, a lower attack for zombies crawling on the ground, and a full swing attack, which leaves Juliet open to hits from the hordes that swarm her. Juliet can also melee with a pom pom bash hit that executes cheerleading maneuvers the more the button is pressed, eventually leaving zombies groggy with stars over their head and primed for a finishing head chop from her chainsaw. Bashing a regular zombie into this state takes three full pom pom bash attacks, and a full on chainsaw assault will require several hits for each zombie, which can leave players standing in one place long enough for the horde to continually swarm anew.

Evading becomes essential, and also offers the most joyous bit of movement as Juliet leaps over enemies to avoid taking damage. Juliet can jump into the center of the horde to score a swing of the chainsaw and then quickly leap out of the fray before they can retaliate.

Eventually I found that most swarms and larger enemies could be dealt with easily by continually leaping over them while sneaking hits from behind – sometimes you’ll even score a chance to mash a button prompt in order to saw a zombie right in half.

Button prompts come into play quite often, but find a rather unique use outside of mandatory press X to dodge Y scenarios the occur. Objects blocking Juliet’s path require pressing a button to start sawing through them, pounding the button while pointing in a particular direction with the analog stick for the blade to saw through it entirely and clear the way forward. This becomes good practice for boss fights, where weakened bosses need to be finished with this same technique, sawing through the boss and the screen in order to cut their performances short – I appreciated the attempt at convincing a sense of the tactile there. There’s also plenty of play in the buttons and the time involved with Juliet’s attack animations that merits experimentation – I seem to be able to quite often recover from a hit to land Juliet on her feet rather than her butt.

Review Lollipop Chainsaw
There are many times where Juliet will also encounter fellow classmates in peril, creating short rescue situations where zombies need to be cut down before devouring survivors – and I’d recommend trying your best, because said survivors turn into difficult zombies if left to the horde. Such situations make activating sparkle hunting mode essential for quickly dealing with the undead.

Juliet also continually stumbles upon situations where the game demands that she defend targets, often by shooting at zombies or projectiles. Thankfully this doesn’t create very many bottlenecks threatening the momentum of play – stopping some exploding zombies from reaching a birthday cake was the only time I can recall shaking my fist in the air while shouting SUDA!

While the game is never long for pointing players in a particular direction, there are plenty of free spaces in which one can simply revel in the dance of Juliet versus the zombies, as well as purchase and experiment with combo attacks while slicing off heads against a typically terrific soundtrack – this time featuring a mix of licensed music in addition to work from Jimmy Urine and Grasshopper’s Akira Yamaoka.

Review Lollipop Chainsaw
Lollipop Chainsaw offers a very casual bit of the bizarre in the narrative department – absolutely nothing that occurs throughout the story manages to surprise anyone, except perhaps for some brief shock from Juliet’s boyfriend Nick, who quickly learns to accept anything after having to meet Juliet’s rather mental family members as a decapitated head clipped to her waist. The situation offers the chance for Nick to aid Juliet, by both controlling certain zombie bodies to accomplish tasks and with a game of chance that offers additional attacks and on one occasion saved me from the dreaded game over screen.

There’s something disturbingly endearing about Nick and Juliet’s relationship throughout the game, with the two learning more about one another as the banter evolves and the unfortunate humor of Nick’s predicament prompts Juliet to continually reiterate her love for him.

Grasshopper manages to offer up legitimately fresh stages for Lollipop Chainsaw, perhaps skirting some sinister grind territory as players finally confront Swan, the gothic outcast at the center of the zombie outbreak.

In familiar fashion, the developer introduces a final stage that takes the experience sideways as the enormous Killabilly appears and changes the approach and scale of the previously established formula. It’s a familiar trick in Grasshopper’s bag to be sure, and Lollipop Chainsaw offers plenty of ideas that will prove familiar to fans of the developer, from controls evolving the No More Heroes mechanics to small aesthetic touches, such as loading screens reminiscent of Shadows of the Damned.

But evolution is a positive process. It has to be after all, otherwise we wouldn’t have developed the digits that allow us to enjoy deviations like Lollipop Chainsaw, which as it stands, offers a strong enough mix of tactile pleasure and deviant humor to justify the trouble we went through crawling out of the muck to eventually create and play videogames in the first place.

Grasshopper Manufacture

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (Xbox 360 Reviewed)


Release Date
June 12, 2012

*A copy of this title was purchased by Gamesugar for review


  1. I’m surprised you didn’t have problems with the forced mini-games. I found they ground the pace of the game to a halt, were often rather boring and super annoying to repeat if you failed. Or completely pointless like combine scenes in stage three. There’s also the annoyance of the game’s plethora of loading screen and how jarringly they can be encountered while progressing through the game. I tend to get the feeling that Grasshopper has not really optimized it for the hardware.

    On the plus side, Giant Zombie Fat Elvis!

    Comment by Jason Westhaver — June 18, 2012 @ 11:26 am

  2. I rather liked them, well, zombiebasketball more than baseball by a mile. There was only the exploding cake bottleneck where I died repeatedly and wanted to throw the controller. I think the time I felt the pace most off was when you’re protecting the bus by blasting some slow moving rocks – which versus a sports mini-game really drags out a stage while offering nothing for me to have fun with.

    Double Plus to Giant Fat Zombie Elvis!

    Comment by Jamie Love — June 18, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

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