- Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
- Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
- ESRB Rating: “M" for Mature
- Genre: Action
- Pros: Awesome concept; fun combo system that gets better the more you play; tons of unlockables; excellent replay value; very funny; anime costumes; soundtrack
- Cons: Some mechanics are less fun than others; needs more zombies
Lollipop Chainsaw stars San Romero High cheerleader Juliet Starling who discovers her school crawling with zombies one day. It just so happens, though, that Juliet is from a family of zombie hunters and is always prepared to take down the undead with her trusty chainsaw. Unfortunately, her boyfriend Nick has already been bitten by a zombie, so with a quick swipe with her chainsaw and a little zombie hunter magic, she saves his head (just his head), and with Nick's head strapped to her backside they set out to tackle the zombie hordes.
A nice thing about Lollipop Chainsaw is that it is just a zombie game. There aren't evil animals or T-Virus mutants or crazy stuff. It is just zombies. There are different types of zombies such as other students, policemen and firemen, hazmat crews, teachers, and more that all have to be fought in slightly different ways, but you're just fighting zombies here. There are also boss fights against a set of rock star zombies that are completely oldschool, multiple part boss fights that are over the top and very fun. But this purely is a zombie game. In another nice touch, it is filled with references to zombie movies all over the place (look at some of the level names - Romero, Fulci, O'Bannon ...) so eagle-eyed fans of the genre are really in for a treat here.
In a clever twist, though, new combos have to be purchased, which means that your first run through the game will be just using basic simple combos and you won't earn very high scores. As you earn more medals (the game's currency) you unlock better combos and can play better. And when you play better you earn even more medals, which allows you to buy even better combos and upgrades for Juliet's abilities. It will take multiple runs through the game to upgrade everything and buy all of the combos - and even more play time to unlock all of the songs, artwork, and the 19 unlockable costumes on the disc (and, by the way, all of the neat anime / manga costumes from "Highschool of the Dead", "Deadman Wonderland", "Kore Wa Zombie Desu Ka?", etc. are all opened up for purchase after you beat the game once).
The story mode consists of 7 levels and takes anywhere from 5-7 hours to beat. That seems short, but the game is very replayable. As was mentioned above, you'll have to play through the game multiple times in order to unlock everything and really open up the gameplay, so if you just play it once and get rid of it, you're doing it wrong. The game honestly gets more fun on repeat playthroughs because you'll have better combos and abilities, will understand the scoring system better (like the Sparkle Hunting bonus that gives you tons of medals for decapitating 3 or more zombies at once - hard to do your first time through but gets easier the more you play so you can rack up medals in a hurry), and will be able to get through the levels faster and more stylishly and have more fun.
When you beat each level it unlocks the ranking mode for that level. Ranking mode lets you play through a level to post a score on the world leaderboards for best times, scores, or medal count. Even if you don't care about competing with other people, replaying levels for high scores is fun simply because you can earn an achievement on each level for beating Juliet's Dad's high scores, which are always crazy high and challenging to beat. Also, the multiple difficulty levels in the game not only make it more challenging, but also change the zombies that appear and some hidden items are only available on certain difficulty levels. The difficulty levels are also really nicely balanced with only the unlockable "Very Hard" difficulty really being all that difficult. Even though the game offers an easy mode, we recommend just starting on normal your first time through.
We do have a couple of complaints about the game. The levels are totally linear where you will have to clear all of the zombies out of an area before you can move forward. This is okay, but there are never more than a handful of zombies in an area at a given time. A constant onslaught of zombies would have been a lot more interesting. Not Dead Rising numbers, but more than we got.
Also, similar to Grasshopper's Shadows of the Damned last year, there are a bunch of minigames and extra mechanics that don't work nearly as well as the core gameplay. You eventually get to use a projectile weapon, but it controls poorly and isn't fun to use, yet is required for several sections of the game. On one level you get to drive a combine through a wheat field full of zombies, which sounds fun but, again, controls poorly. Or sections where you have to do QTE's to jump on a trampoline or use a vaulting horse to reach higher areas, but the QTE's pop up so fast you can barely do them. There are other mechanics like these placed in the game seemingly to add variety for variety's sake, but that aren't terribly well executed. Thankfully, they only make up a small fraction of the overall gameplay and are usually over pretty quickly.
...But It Is Fun Anyway
There is a caveat to that above paragraph, however. Like we mentioned earlier, the more you play the game the better you get at it, and this applies to all of the minigames and side mechanics. The first time they will be awful. The second, third, or tenth time, you will have them figured out and have more fun. Or, if not fun, at least you'll be able to get through them without much effort. Also, the game uses QTE's for a lot of things, but aside from the specific complaint I had above, they are usually smartly used and make sense. For example, in some cutscenes QTE's will pop up but they give you lots of time to do them and actually make sense. You'll press "Y" to have Juliet slice a car in half with her chainsaw, then "B" to jump out of the way, so the QTE's actually match the normal game controls. It isn't like so many other games where QTE's are just random button presses.
Visually, Lollipop Chainsaw is nice looking, but not spectacular or anything. Juliet looks good and, amazingly, isn't just a pair of giant bouncing breasts like you might expect from a game with a concept like this (imagine if Team Ninja or Project Soul made this game ...). The extra costumes also look really nice as well. The environments, on the other hand, are sort of bland and not terribly detailed, and expect to see the same zombies used over and over and over. The game does look good enough overall, though, and the animation for all of Juliet's attacks is very nice.
The sound is perhaps the best part of the whole package, though. The game has a number of licensed tracks that play at just the perfect times to add emphasis to the action. You can unlock music and create custom play lists as well, which is neat. The voice work is definitely the star of the show with appropriately cheesy and corny dialogue (and, believe it or not, Juliet isn't nearly as "Valley Girl" as you'd expect) delivered in just the right way. The game is very funny (well, I guess it depends on your sense of humor) and is full of raunchy humor, funny references, and a surprising amount of swearing. Seriously, Juliet and her sisters can give Nier's Kaine a run for her money as far as who has a dirtier mouth. But it is all done in such a tongue in cheek manner that you can't help but laugh and have a good time with it.
In the end, Lollipop Chainsaw is one of the most fun, funny, satisfying, and over the top games we've played in quite a while. It may only take 6 hours to beat, but is very replayable and actually gets better the longer you play since you have to unlock all of the combos, which makes the game more fun. The core concept of a cheerleader slicing through zombies with a chainsaw is also pretty hard to resist (as long as it isn't terrible like Onechanbara) and that combined with the game's wicked sense of humor mean you'll probably have a huge grin on your face the whole time. Lollipop Chainsaw is a finely tuned and addictive and highly polished modern take on the oldschool arcade-style high score action genre. It has nice presentation, solid gameplay, and more than enough content to justify the $60 price tag. We highly recommend it for a purchase.