Itâ€™s not often that I will hate on a game based solely on the opening cutscene. The first scene is so important for a character centred game, which is what Lollipop Chainsaw essentially is. Hereâ€™s what happens.
A sleeping Juliet Starling - our protagonist - wakes in soft sunlight wearing skimpy nightwear and begins to do yoga. Juliet welcomes us to her room, but says not to expect any â€śfunny stuffâ€ť, but then confirms that she does enjoy â€śfunny stuffâ€ť. While Juliet narrates the scene, telling us about â€śfunny stuffâ€ť, we are shown close-up tracking shots of the sort seen in many cheesecake T&A productions. Juliet then tells us that itâ€™s her 18th birthday. At this point you begin to wonder if perhaps the entire game is based on a pop-up ad from some dodgy website.
The game itself was written by James Gunn, who has written and directed some very good films (well, Slither and Super) which were smart and innovative takes on normal movie tropes. So I looked on Lollipop Chainsaw as a potentially satirical take on the ditzy cheerleader who turns out to be a fantastic monster-killer (hmmm, where have I heard that pitch before?). The jokes are there, but they often fall flat; despite the best efforts of voice actors Tara Strong and Michael Rosenbaum.
The entire idea of the game seems to be to give teenage boys a thrill about potentially seeing up the skirt of a cute blonde cheerleader. Scrolling text on the load screens tell you to stop trying to look up her skirt (Spoiler: you canâ€™t). So, if that is what this game is about then the gameplay had better be very good.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a third person hack-and-slash that sees perky Juliet discover that a zombie attack has started at her highschool and she might be the only one who can save everyone. The basic attacks are slash, bump, jump, and ground. The camera controls are pretty jerky and you will sometimes find yourself just hoping that you are slashing at zombies.
Killing zombies and smashing certain objects gives you medals. At certain points of the game you can spend the medals on upgrades, from new combos to skill upgrades. Particularly good kills give you platinum medals that can be used to buy less essential, but still interesting, things; like concept art, music or more skimpy outfits for Juliet to wear.
As itâ€™s Julietâ€™s 18th birthday, along the way her family show up with gifts for her. One gift in particular - the chainsaw blaster gun - will drive you insane. The aiming is either manual and slow, or automatic and determined never to target an actual zombie. Moreover, I discovered levels where I was required to shoot bad guys with the blaster, but had arrived with no ammo, so was stuck in a lengthy battle waiting for the brief moment when I could just use the chainsaw.
For me, hack and slash games are at their best when there is a large open space for you run around and you can choose your battles. Lollipop Chainsaw often eschews this for tight battles inside classrooms or corridors (especially early on). It also inflicts weird mini-games on you, some of which work (Zombie basketball) while some donâ€™t (the button pressing rhythm game).
The gameâ€™s music is actually pretty good, going for a rock and roll punk vibe. the main title screen blasts The Runawayâ€™s Cherrybomb, and throughout the game youâ€™ll hear Sleigh Bells, Atari Teenage Riot, Skrillex, and others. And when Juliet goes into â€śsparkle hunt modeâ€ť (achieved by getting power-ups from zombie kills), you get to hear Mickey by Toni Basil; the perfect choice for a cheerleader. The bosses too are based on music styles, from punk to 60s psychedelia.
I actually enjoyed the boss fights more than I thought I would. I think it was because you would often be presented with a problem/puzzle without being explicitly told what to do. Eventually Julietâ€™s boyfriend (a disembodied head hanging from her waist, allowing for more close up shots of her ass) will tell whatâ€™s expected.
This is also true of the mini-bosses who are killed the old fashioned way; by hitting them a lot, while dodging their special attacks. Thankfully the quick-time events are kept to a minimum.
Sadly thereâ€™s just not enough good stuff to get past the bad stuff. I personally couldnâ€™t shake the weird exploitation feel of the game that was sexist in the worst kind of way: trying to be funny but failing. Juliet could have been an amazing character (even as a hot, 18 year old cheerleader) but is too air-headed and makes too many cheap jokes fall flat and just come across as flippant. She is not a hero on a quest, sheâ€™s just a girl with some amazing skills who keeps stumbling along until she wins.
Let me give you a final example that encapsulates the game for me. The game is called Lollipop Chainsaw for two reasons: 1. Juliet uses a customised badass chainsaw to kill zombies, itâ€™s never explained why; 2. Juliet (the ass-kicking zombie hunter) eats lollipops because they donâ€™t have many calories and is constantly worried that she is getting fat.
Lollipop Chainsaw is out now.