Lollipop Chainsaw is the latest video game from developer Grasshopper Manufacture, and published by Warner Bros. Interactive. I had eagerly been awaiting this game for months, as each new video teaser dropped promising a self-aware, zombie-themed, third-person action free-for-all that conjured up comparisons to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What could be more fun than a snarky action-packed video game where you run around and slaughter zombie hordes with a chainsaw? I purchased the game without hesitation the day it came out. Within the first few minutes of popping in the disk and checking out the game, I could already tell that I had been a sucker to buy Lollipop Chainsaw.
The premise of Lollipop Chainsaw is as follows: you take control of an air-headed high school cheerleader named Juliet Starling on her 18th birthday. We soon find out that Juliet and her family are renowned zombie hunters. This is quite fortunate, as on her way to school Juliet discovers that a zombie outbreak is taking place in her town of San Romero (eh, Romero, get it?), and she is quickly right in the middle of it.
The plot here isn’t really that important, as it just serves as the framework to hang a bunch of action and campy profanity-laced one-liners from. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing at all against the gratuitous use of profanity and inappropriate jokes (I actually enjoy them)—provided they are done with wit and intelligence. Sadly, this isn’t the case in Lollipop Chainsaw. I went into the game expecting a sharp-tongued female character ready to kick ass, and rapier-witted writing. What I got was a “Clueless” dim-witted bimbo, and a bunch of unfunny sexist jokes. I could provide you with many examples from the writing and dialogue to back up this complaint, but most of them aren’t fit to print here on ComicBooked.com (and believe me, I would love to share a few of the more choice selections). I “get” that this game is going for an inane exploitation film feel, but it just falls flat. A few of the gags are somewhat funny (try to position the camera to look up Juliet’s skirt and she will cover up with her hand—but players are also awarded a trophy for trying and can see up her skirt whenever she runs, which kind of negates the whole thing), but it all wears thin very quickly as Juliet is called a “b*tch,” “whore,” and many other colorful turns of phrase. I prefer my zombies groaning and driven by blind hunger, not spouting cliched sexist innuendo. No doubt some players will find all of this hilarious, but it just didn’t work for me.
For her part, Juliet spends the majority of the game wondering aloud if “her ass is too big,” and spitting out other vapid little gems in a tired “valley girl” vernacular. Before long I found myself wanting to set down the controller and let the zombies have at her, just so I wouldn’t have to listen to her drivel any longer.
Some welcomed relief from the relentless onslaught of stupidity are offered by Juliet’s boyfriend, Nick. Well, Nick’s head at any rate. Very early on in the game, after Nick is bitten by a zombie, Juliet cuts his head off and preforms a spell to save him from the “zombie venom,” keeping him alive as a talking head which she clips to her waist. From this position he provides banter, and plays roles in mini-games throughout the campaign.
Let’s be honest though, sometimes a video game can have a contrived plot and flaws, yet still succeed if other factors like the gameplay are top notch. Unfortunately gameplay is not exactly a redeeming quality here. While this game does eventually become fairly fun, it takes a while to get there. The fighting in Lollipop Chainsaw is combo based. Players start out with a heavy (high and low) chainsaw attack, a light pom-pom bash, and a dodge button. These basic attacks are supplemented by a special super attack that becomes available when a “Star Soul Meter” is filled. “Sparkle Hunting” bonuses received from killing multiple zombies in unique ways can be used to unlock additional moves, along with coin bonuses that are gained through combat and by destroying certain environmental objects. The problem with this setup is that most of these new combos are quite expensive, making these moves available much too late in the game to offer much redemption. The addition of a gun to Juliet’s arsenal was a welcome addition. The fighting is kind of a button-mashing slog until later in the game, and by the time players have a wide enough variety of attacks to start making the game actually fun, it all quickly comes to an end. Hopefully some requisite DLC will provide for more of a chance to put these hard-earned skills to further use. Combo animations seem too long, and it is difficult to chain them together in effective ways. Juliet’s life meter can be replenished with lollipops found or purchased throughout the game.
Don’t expect much variety from the enemy zombies or level designs either. Most enemies are just fodder for Juliet’s chainsaw. The zombies with health bars over their heads offer a little variety and are slightly more challenging. Boss fights offer little challenge are not very memorable (if you play many video games, you have seen this stuff before). The level designs offer little in the way of exploration, as a clear path for players to follow is predetermined with very minimal branching off options. Things do open up a little more later in the game, but I still feel devoid of much choice. There are various mini-games throughout Lollipop Chainsaw (clearing away zombies on a combine tractor, for example, was fun), but most just manage to provide a temporary distraction.
Graphics and Audio
The graphics in Lollipop Chainsaw don’t really break much new ground, and are passable at best. I admit that the rainbow/My Little Pony aesthetic mashed up with a zombie game is unique, but in general the graphics in this game look uninspired and dated. The motion comic-style cutscenes, and rudimentary cinematics are especially disappointing, with the character animations looking stiff and wooden as only their jaws wag and eyebrows and eyes occasionally move in a feeble effort to infuse some life. The in game graphics aren’t horrible, but they are by no means great—more like mundane, and max out at 720p. Don’t expect to see breathtaking reflections of the environment in windows or the water. Set pieces move in a clunky fashion. Distant environmental “pop-in” is common. Collision detection can be erratic, with parts of characters disappearing into walls. The menus and maps try for a retro gaming look, but just end up looking like cheap cut corners. I expected more from a brand new game that sells at full-price.
The sound effects are decent. I can’t tell if the voice-acting is subpar or if it’s just the annoying lines the actors have to recite. The pop-punky elements of soundtrack music isn’t bad either, and in fact are pretty good, even taking into account the requisite use of the classic Chordettes song “Lollipop” in a particular menu.
While this is far from a positive review, I did eventually manage to have some fun later on in this (short) game. Lollipop Chainsaw isn’t a completely unplayable waste of a game, but it is far from perfect. It was a very mediocre game. Often times when a video game is less than stellar, the developer and publisher will keep it under wraps and not show off much of the game. This wasn’t the case with Lollipop Chainsaw, as tons of videos and trailers have been coming out for months. The game even appeared to have a decent marketing budget, with advertisements popping up all over the place. I wish more of that marketing budget would have gone into development. In the end, it is hard to hide my disappointment with this game. There are three difficulty levels, so players might find some limited replay value by playing on different difficulty settings, along with trying to top the Lollipop Chainsaw online leader boards by playing around with the various augmented mission goals. I would imagine that some type of DLC will be forthcoming. If money is an object, I would definitely recommend checking out this game from Gamefly or Redbox before plunking down $60 for it brand new. I doubt that this game will remain at full-price for very long, and predict a drastic drop in price in the very near future. Oh, Lollipop Chainsaw, I keep imagining what could have been.