Lollipop Chainsaw is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it experience straight from the twisted minds of Suda 51 (Killer7, No More Heroes) and filmmaker James Gunn (Slither, Super). It’s more concerned with flash and titillation than building a solid gameplay foundation to hold the player’s interest. That’s not to say Lollipop Chainsaw isn’t a solid game - it is - it’s just that it seems solid in spite of itself. What I mean is that taken piecemeal, Lollipop Chainsaw’s parts equal far less individually than as a whole. The game is very short, the gameplay is fairly simplistic, the graphics are very cartoony, the story is B-movie fare, and the dialog crams in more R-rated content than it needs. However, taken as a whole, all that stuff doesn’t seem to matter as much as you think it should. Ultimately, Lollipop Chainsaw is an intentional exercise in style over substance and to that end, it totally works. Furthermore, all those pieces that should work against it actually do the opposite. It’s short, so it doesn’t wear out its welcome, the simplistic gameplay keeps the frustration-level low, the cartoony graphics mean the player need not concern themselves with less-than-stellar looks, the B-movie story means you don’t have to think too hard, and the R-rated dialog is mostly hilarious. It won’t matter that the phrase “What the dick?” has been repeated a million times, it just sounds hilarious coming from the mouth of an animated and very scantily-clad teenager (it’s made very clear right from the start that the game begins on our protagonist Juliet’s 18th birthday - just in case your were worried about the game’s “creepy factor.”)
So yeah, pedos, move along. There’s nothing for you here. Juliet is 100% street-legal.
Anyway, Lollipop Chainsaw follows the tale of nubile zombie hunter Juliet Starling who, on the day she turns 18, is faced with a full-scale zombie invasion. Along for the ride is her boyfriend Nick - or at least his head is along for the ride. She cut it off to save him from a zombie bite, and then hung it on her ass. Juliet is voiced by VO legend Tara Strong (she has too many credits to list - most recently she played Harley Quinn in Batman: Arkham City), while Nick is voiced by Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville’s Lex Luthor). The strength of these two as voice actors goes a long way toward making their banter one of the game’s high points. Also making appearances are Juliet’s sisters Cordelia (Linda Cardellini of Freaks and Geeks and ER fame) Rosalind (Kimberly Brooks - Ashley, Mass Effect series), and Juliet’s father (Gregg Henry - Hung, The Riches). This strong cast means that the voice acting is universally Hollywood quality. Obviously that can only be to Lollipop Chainsaw’s benefit.
Story-wise, it’s all very straight forward. Don’t expect a mystery for Juliet to solve. We find out who is behind the zombies at the end of the very first proper level. Beyond that, Juliet must travel to each of 5 remaining stages and fight to the end, and then kill the boss. There are only 6 stages and each can easily be beaten is less than an hour. Do the math and you’ll discover than you can finish Lollipop Chainsaw over the course of an afternoon. There are a few twists here and there, but a time-sink Lollipop Chainsaw isn’t. The levels themselves are actually pretty varied. Each takes place in a separate location, has their own enemy types, and some other gameplay twists and turns as well. For example, the farm level contains sequences that see you atop a combine harvester and being drugged by hallucinogenic mushrooms. A later level at an arcade features dancing zombies that dodge attacks until you kill their boom box-wielding leader. There are also several sections that require you to complete mini-games that are suggestive of many popular 80’s videogames. When you get to the end of each level and face the boss, you’ll find that each one has a theme like “hippy,” “Viking,” and “disco scumbag” that influences their look, attacks, and dialog. They’re nothing particularly special, but at least they’re not cookie cutter. That’s especially true for the final boss - but I won’t spoil it for you here.
Defeat the final boss, but don’t think you’re done. The point of Lollipop Chainsaw isn’t just to finish it. The point is to finish it well. Much like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, Lollipop Chainsaw scores your performance and awards you an appropriate medal. It’s easy enough to get bronze, or even silver; however, if you want gold on each level, it should pad out the time you spend with Lollipop Chainsaw significantly.
To fight off the Zombie horde, and rack up those killer high scores (which can be posted to an online leader board), Juliet uses her trusty magic chainsaw that can also be used later on as a magical blaster. The chainsaw has other specialty functions as well, but I’ll leave those for you to find yourself. Juliet herself has two basic attacks: the pom-pom smack that’s used to stun zombies, and the chainsaw slash that’s used to damage them. Using the chainsaw to finish off a “groggy” or stunned zombie nets Juliet an automatic decapitation. If you’re good and can simultaneously decapitate 3 groggy zombies you’ll get a “Sparkle Hunting” bonus and a fancy cutscene. Sparkle Hunting is the real point of combat. Not only does it net you the highest scores, but it also scores you the most tokens that you use at shopping kiosks scattered about to purchase new combos, upgrades, lollipops to restore health and Nick tickets which are required to use one of the three attacks associated with Nick’s severed head. Nick’s severed head can also be attached to certain headless zombie bodies to complete scripted sequences via QTE. QTEs actually crop up quite a bit. They’re all pretty forgiving, and when pulled off correctly often reward you with bonus tokens.
Sparkle Hunting also scores you platinum tokens. These rare platinum tokens are used to purchase MP3s that allow you to customize each level’s soundtrack, concept art that’s viewable from the “Juliet’s Room” section of the level select menu, and alternate outfits for Juliet to wear. These range from alternate versions of her default cheerleading outfit to more conventional outfits, outfits worn by other characters, and others that are really only intended to generate one specific response - if you catch my drift. The more you play through the game, the more of these outfits become available, however they are by far the most expensive items for sale. Platinum tokens are hard to come by, so if you want a Juliet you can really “remember” you’ll have to practice until you can really maximize your Sparkle Hunting bonuses.
Despite Lollipop Chainsaw’s effectiveness at glossing over its own flaws with a shiny candy coating, there are a few problems it can’t gloss over:
First and foremost is that Lollipop Chainsaw’s camera is all over the place. I mean that literally. Trying to manipulate the camera manually can lead to motion sickness as it’s prone to wild swings and unexpected spins that seem to have no basis in your control inputs. Most of the time you can simply ignore the camera, leave it alone, or just click RS to re-center it; however, other times simply trying to point it in the desired direction becomes a much more frustrating battle than any of the game’s enemies can offer.
Related to the camera is the lack of an effective lock-on system. There is one, but switching targets is not intuitively handled and most of the time I found myself not bothering to use it until I got down to one or two enemies. When the screen was filled with enemies I found it far too easy to attack empty space, however. And trying to “aim” your attacks at enemies often ended in a camera battle.
The final issue I had involved the game’s signature, rainbow-and-platinum-token-generating Sparkle Hunting. I said before that it was very important to learn to maximize your Sparkle Hunting bonuses if you want the best costumes and the highest scores. The chief way to generate the groggy zombies required for massive Sparkle Hunting bonuses is to attack groups with pom-pom combos. Unfortunately, every single pom-pom combo comes with the unwanted side effect of disbursing crowds of zombies and effectively spreading them too far apart for even a basic 3 zombie Sparkle Hunting bonus. You can detonate the occasional blue barrel that will stun large groups of zombies where they stand, but those are few and far between. You also have a meter that is filled by pulling off combos and killing zombies. Once it’s full, you can activate a special mode to give Juliet the ability to automatically decapitate every enemy she attacks. You can wade into large groups of zombies, activate it, and pull off many large Sparkle Huntings in a row. It almost makes up for the fact that the game’s basic stun-inducing attacks actually work against you. Really, it means that you don’t even need to bother with pom-pom attacks and combos. So there’s a Lollipop Chainsaw pro-tip for you free of charge: don’t bother with pom-pom attacks and combos.