What You’ll Like:
- Unique premise and charming main character
- Accessible gameplay mechanics
- Tongue-in-cheek approach
- Simplistic and mostly brainless fun
What You May Not:
- Pricey upgrades
- Mostly basic and unoriginal gameplay
- Superficial aspects in difficulty levels
- Ideas wear out their luster eventually
What You’ll Remember:
- Toni Basil’s ‘Hey Mickey’
In a gaming era where people constantly woe about rampant sequels, remakes, and generally unoriginal ideas, in pom-poms Juliet of Lollipop Chainsaw – a cute, feisty, loving, and charming 18-year old high school senior cheerleading blonde who not only knows how to creatively save her soon-to-be zombified boyfriend from certain death, but also how to make zombie-slaying with a chainsaw a fun rainbow spewing affair. Lollipop Chainsaw may not be the most addictive, deep or engrossing game to come out in the past decade, but one simply can’t doubt its fantastically charming and original ideas, as well as the love the developers put into creating Juliet herself; severed-head boyfriend, skimpy outfits, cute one-liners and all.
Chainsaw wastes no time in bringing us to San Romero High, where for no apparent reason has been taken over by hordes of the undead. Our star Juliet gets her hands on a chainsaw of all weapons and begins attacking, immediately showing us that the sport of cheerleading has many more physical benefits than just rooting for our favorite football teams or making horny adolescent boys druel. It’s up to our jumping jack heroine to take them all down, as well as her family, as we soon learn that she comes from a long line of zombie slayers. As with many 1980’s style vampire films, there IS a zombie hierarchy, and as you play you will eventually see who the mastermind zombie is and of course, kill em’. If you were expecting an intricate and involved story such as your ‘Heavy Rain’ or ‘L.A. Noire’ games, you have completely missed he point.
Helping Juliet (or at least keeping her head in check somewhat) along the way is her all-star football champ boyfriend Nick, who right off the bat becomes bitten and is near death, when Juliet comes up with the only alternative to saving him – cutting his head off and using a magical spell in order to make his severed head survive him, then attaching it to her waistline. Nick can then communicate just as easily as if he had an actual body. This head is then used in conjunction with a few power-ups Juliet picks up along the way. Considering Juliet’s ditziness, you’ll be thankful that Nick’s sarcastic and dry wit can help bring her back to reality at times.
There really are no big twists to tell in Chainsaw in terms of its story, but what does bring a much welcomed series of laughs and smiles is Juliet herself. While her character may mostly appeal to young males, one cannot help but be charmed (at least initially) by her constant bubbly cuteness, and various one-liners throughout, such as the times when she expresses genuine care and love for Nick or the adorable snippits while cycling through menu and store upgrade options. Juliet is very much likeable, if even serving as more of a stereotypical ideal for the majority of the time. Never really has such a character in games or even in film been crafted the same way while actually coming off as likeable, and what brings her to such life is the impeccably fantastic and spot-on voice acting, which for such a personality would require such meticulous attention to even the smallest of voice detail; thankfully, they found a perfect actress who pulls it off without even a hint of a hitch. Nick does just as much to complement Juliet, as both characters not only speak in a very modern and culturally recognizable tone, using various slang that kids in 2013 would be instantly familiar with, but work off each others lines flawlessly. While they both may also incorporate that California Valley girl vibe throughout, it only serves to add the exact comedic delivery the game developers were going for, and you may likely find yourself chuckling at it instantly. Although it should be said that just as fast as you laugh out loud, in equal time will it run its course, as such a hasty and catchy idea will lose its steam pretty quickly, and after the first two levels you may find yourself somewhat bored with the dialogue and Juliet/Nick relationship, as it seems all their best material was used up a bit too early. This in turn leaves only the gameplay to keep you invested… but that unfortunately is not as much of a strength as the game’s premise and ideas.
Chainsaw makes its mark initially through the use of a chainsaw which can only at first be coupled with a jump button attack, and two options, a light attack and strong attack. As you make your way into various parts of the overrun zombie town, such as the high school, parking lot, building rooftops and streets, and farmland, Juliet will learn various combo attacks with said chainsaw, and use them to not only rack up points, but also fill up her super attack meter and earn regular and silver coins which can be used to purchase health, attack and ability upgrades at various set points throughout the game. More shop toys are game extras such as costumes, mp3 in-game music tracks, and concept art. It should be stated here that yes, costumes do make their way to the super skimpy, even if some are just all silly fun. Obviously the demographic here is young males, and perhaps females with a sense of humor. Zombies take a few hits to be killed, but whacking about three or more at the same time through the clever use of varying combos not only gets you a cool slo-mo snapshot scene, but also silver coins, which are a step above normal coins and can be used to purchase more valuable extras. This gradually becomes one of the game’s more annoying issues – the fact that being able to purchase all the desired power-ups and extras is near impossible to do in one playthrough, as many of these are simply too expensive given the amount of coins you collect for any of those skillful combo kills. A simple solution of playing through the game again once it’s beaten may seem like a viable answer, but unfortunately the three initial difficulty settings of Easy, Normal and Hard vary their challenge only superficially, and not ramping up things by making zombies more skilled, albeit only just more annoying and cheap, while limiting your inventory space. As acrobatic as Juliet is, trying to use her skillfully given the control aspects of the game don’t really work as well in the Hard mode, and she will only be able to do so much to avoid being hit and eventually killed. Some gamers may still go through the extra playthrough if just to collect all the PSN trophies, but once the game is over you may not feel that it would be all that worth another go around.
As you progress, Nick won’t just be there to add his flair of sarcastic dialogue or even poke fun at Juliet but be used as a weapon of sorts. Either found or purchased, Juliet can use NIck cards in order to set off a slot-machine mini-game where a Nick-centric ability would be chosen in order to perform more crowd-controlling attacks, even if only one of which is really useful. The chainsaw itself would see regular non-purchased upgrades such as using it as a shotgun or a run dash attack ability. You can purchase a fair handful of combo abilities that are pretty fun to use, all by pressing the circle, triangle and square buttons in various sequences. Timing is not at all picky given how thankfully accessible the game is, and setting off the more extended or multi-enemy attack combos during the more crowded situations of the game are wholly satisfying due to how meaty the whacks sound as well as the full and thrusting response of the controller’s rumble feature. A negative here is that these button combinations are not something more hardcore gamers haven’t already had significant experience with, thus once you hit about the third or fourth level, you are likely to find yourself reusing the same attack combinations over again, as well as no longer being as charmed by Juliet’s cuteness. As accessible as the controls are initially, there are simply too many abilities which require the use of the top shoulder buttons, and when enough power-ups are gathered, holding and tapping certain button combinations to use different abilities does have the tendency to become somewhat convoluted. This perhaps won’t be such a negative considering that more experienced gamers may not ever require all the combos they purchase, or find as much of a challenge in spite of this. Even on the normal difficulty, things just start to feel a bit too easy and redundant, if even boring, at least until you hit the next boss battle, or the level where you get to meet Juliet’s insane kid sister.
Boss battles themselves give us some more colorful characters, all stemming from the gothic hellpit of underground sadistic heavy metal the game’s tone cheekily points toward, which was obviously a big influence of the developers (a really cool one granted yours truly is a fan of the genre). Each boss has a certain pattern followed, and returns in various forms, yet can be killed rather easily, especially since they incorporate quick-time events for their final kill hits. But again, the game’s ideas supersede the mechanics, and even if the charm does not hold too far in gameplay, it would prolong it in its settings.
Chainsaw’s visual plusses are not so much in things like smooth animations and textures, but more with settings and ideas. Granted, the game looks good enough technically speaking. Cut-scenes display smooth character faces and textures, even if their actual movements are a tad jerky and a bit animatronic. Things we are used to seeing move lifelike in the current generation of games like silky hair and clothing are never really present in Chainsaw; an example being Juliet’s hair which pretty much stays stiffly in tact no matter how much she moves around. Not the most realistic thing in the world, but the real love was put into dialogue and characterization, not so much making things look real or astoundingly impressive. Yet still, running through high school hallways, seeing a pack of zombies stand up from their chairs in a classroom while a zombie teacher writes on the blackboard is chuckle-inducing and simply unforgettable. Things may slow down a bit mid-way, as you find yourself on a farm and rooftops, but once you’re back in the urban sections, the visuals pick up, even if minimally. Overall Chainsaw is a cute looking game, but with more polish and creative flair a few hours of gameplay could’ve been added even to give us more interesting settings besides a high school. Really, the game would’ve taken a significant hit for the worse if this one level wasn’t in the game, so I would suggest any potential sequel dig deep for more creative ideas.
Now here are where things really shine, an aspect of the game that really never dies or slows throughout the entire playthrough, even if other elements start to overstay their welcome a tad. Great enough cannot be said for the voice-acting in this game, with not only Juliet and her boyfriend head Nick, but also other characters introduced throughout, such as Juliet’s siblings, her mother (who is perhaps more ditzy when leaving Juliet pretty comedic air-headed phone messages), her badass and intimidating father, and even her master sensai who trained her in all those limb-tearing zombie slay skills. What does bring further enjoyment here is the fact that the developers obviously have a pretty distinct appreciation for 80s nostalgia and beyond. Memorable sections include when you come up your first in-game store and are greeted with the ‘Lollipop’ song by the Chordettes (“lollipop, lollipop, ooo-ahli lolipop”), as well as the epic power high of grinding zombies to bits with a farm tractor to 80s pop icons Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round’; yet nothing beats filling up your super ability meter and setting it off, then watching Juliet pom-pom cheer while blasting zombie hordes away to Toni Basil’s ‘Hey Mickey.’ I found myself purposefully trying to fill the meter if only to hear this song and see Juliet do what she does best. Yet this appreciation for more classical tunage is also coupled with lots of more modern emo and alternative core riffs and songs which give the game’s youthful tone its just do. Many of these guitar sections and tunes can all be purchased with silver coins during the game. Many melodic audio bits are also a pleasant surprise (check the song during the game’s map screen, pretty catchy stuff).
On a technical level, most things work well enough, such as the hefty slicing and dicing sounds when tearing through zombies, as well as sparkly rainbow effects when achieving a combo kill. Although I have to say there was a bit of unevenness when there was a lot of action on-screen, and the actual songs were drowned out. A minor issue yet still worth mentioning, as it does detract in even small amounts.
Fun/ Replay Value:
There is no denying it, despite the flaws, at its core Lollipop Chainsaw is a fun game. The fact that the game does not hold too much difficulty on the normal setting only seems to aid this. While Juliet will die only a handful of times, in part to the fact that lollipop energy power-ups are fairly abundant, pulling off super combo kills and even just experimenting with newly purchased combos, coupled with the nostalgic and creative charm behind all of it fuse together to simply bring forth a fully enjoyable experience which at the current low retail price is pretty much a no-brainer. Moreover, it should be mentioned that the appreciation to gamers is very apparent in the game’s ending, which quite honestly, is one of the best, most conclusive, and epic and enjoyable closures I have seen in a game in a very long time. It seems many modern games have an annoying tendency to put the gamer through a fairly long challenge only to disappoint them with an ending that seems more interested in its artistic merit than actually giving players the reward they actually want. Because really, any game’s ending should be a reward for all the playing one has done, and Chainsaw understand this perfectly. Not only did the ending make me fall in love with the feeling I had during the first couple of hours of the game, but it also gave adequate (and moreso really) of a conclusion to every character’s situation than most games do with only their main character’s story arcs. It should be stated that there are both a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ending, yet any experienced gamer should easily get the ‘good’ one if gained enough points throughout.
The replay value is really only there for those enthusiasts looking to achieve all the PSN trophies, as it would require two full playthroughs of the normal and hard mode, as well as those looking to get top scores on the leaderboards. No, there is no multiplayer to be seen. For the rest of us though, one playthrough is enough, and given the difficulty of the harder levels, the gameplay is unfortunately just not all that addictive or engrossing to really care.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a mostly very fun and fairly quick playthough of a game that gives gamers some genuinely fantastic ideas and likeable, if exaggerated and cartoonish characters. The achievements here are with vivid presentation, comedic and charming dialogue and story, while the negatives can mostly be summed up in too basic of gameplay, a few overly long middle levels, some annoying control mechanics, and an upgrade system that definitely needed a few more practical reworkings. While some gamers may find themselves annoyed with Juliet’s bubbliness (perhaps mostly women), most younger players may not mind at all, and be aching for a reworked sequel that can address all this one’s flaws. While this one was definitely not worth the $60 original pricetag, the current $20 setback is more than perfect. I’d give Lollipop Chainsaw 2.5 pom-poms out of 4. Better than average, still fun, but with enough setbacks to not make this an absolute must.