Sometimes you have to pick up your controller knowing full well that you’re not about to dive into the next Devil May Cry. As my system booted up, despite knowing the developer’s reputation I expected little from Grasshopper Manufacture’s perverse introduction to the zombie-slaying cheerleader, Juliet Starling, which it created in collaboration with film director, James Gunn (“Slither”). Moving past the flashy, cartoonish main menu that blasted Joan Jett’s “Cherry Bomb”, I cringed as the game’s protagonist explained in short detail the quirks of her stereotypical life. Immediately, I feared that my $64.00 would have been better off in the toilet. As gameplay started, it hit me – Grasshopper was just getting the expected crap out of the way before delivering the exact opposite of what I anticipated.
In many ways, Grasshopper Manufacture is made up of geniuses. Though its overt sexuality could have easily fallen under the guise of a gimmick, there is a certain expectedness behind the dialogue exchanges of Juliet and her torso-less boyfriend, Nick. Though sexual puns and innuendos make up a bulk of the game’s script, it’s expected when you’re dealing with a duo of horny teenagers and a group of warped demons from a dimension known as “Rotten World”. You should expect the taunts and chatter to be as vulgar and disconcerting as possible, and since you know it’s coming, it doesn’t feel cheep.
Looking past the perversion that is Lollipop Chainsaw’s script and, you’ll find yourself faced with what some would consider a typical hack and slash title. You control the cheerleader’s chainsaw with the usual high and low attack buttons with a button that controls a flurry of stun attacks added in. Being a skilled cheerleader, Juliet opens up a rainbow filled can of whoopass with the help of some flashy routines and upper body strength. To get the most out of her chainsaw attacks, players must make their enemies “groggy” through the use of the weaker stun attacks.
While it may look to have been created in the same vein as games like Grasshopper Manufacture’s own No More Heroes, Lollipop’s combat requires a little something most other hack ‘n slash titles neglect – dodging. In a game like God of War, one could play through its entirety with limited use of the dodge button, utilizing it mostly for choreographed boss battles where it is a necessity. In Lollipop Chainsaw, even the most basic of enemies force the player to make use of this overlooked skill. Attacking in conjunction with dodging will have Juliet performing some wicked chainsaw attacks that could leave her opponents feeling like half the men they used to be. “Leapfrogging” over an enemy will open up the opportunity to saw the undead foe in half from the groin up to its skull.
As Juliet dismembers her opponents, a meter in the HUD starts to fill up, leading to one of Lollipop Chainsaw’s most fun features. Pulling the right trigger when the meter is full sends Juliet into a frenzy of faster, stronger attacks. To the tune of Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey”, you’ll take great pleasure in decapitating multiple zombies at once, earning you “Sparkle Hunter” awards such as gold medals and increased zombie coins that can be used to purchase upgrades and combo attacks at scattered “Chop Shops”. These Chop Shops are somewhat infrequent and the amount of money dropped from basic enemies is fairly small, so I found myself focusing mostly on my combat skills, dropping a few bucks here and there to increase my strength and recovery attributes. Health-restoring lollipops (which are easily used with the press of a D-Pad button) can also be purchased, but their abundance on the tainted battleground of San Romero makes it unnecessary to waste money on them.
The game takes place during Juliet’s birthday, opening up a new means of weapon upgrades that doesn’t involve ripping them from your foe’s dead hands. As the story progresses, Juliet will meet up with human characters, such as her sisters, that will dish out her presents on the fly. Each gift introduces the skilled slayer to a new chainsaw upgrade, which includes the ranged Chainsaw Bomber or the motorcycle-esque Chainsaw Dash, which Juliet digs into the ground and uses as a means of quicker movement. As these upgrades are awarded, they each serve their own purpose in specific segments or mini-games (such as zombie baseball) that follow. Outside of these mini-games, there is little reason to separate yourself from Juliet’s basic chainsaw attacks.
In regards to mini-games, Lollipop Chainsaw is chock full of them. From segments that have you performing timed button presses to bounce atop the heads of zombies, to running over zombies with a massive piece of farm equipment. No mini-game in Lollipop is all that in-depth, but they do a decent job of interrupting the action to give your thumb a bit of a breather.
Lollipop gets the bulk of its weird vibe in the form of a decapitated head that hangs from Juliet’s belt. After a zombie bites her jock boyfriend, Nick, the cheerleader performs a magic ritual that allows her to behead Nick, yet still keep him alive. Rather than just add simple comic relief, Juliet can utilize her boyfriend’s newfound weight loss with the help of “Nick Tickets” that can either be purchased or found. Nick Tickets open up a roulette wheel of attacks, so there’s no guessing whether you’ll be shooting his head out of a cannon or shaking it like a piggy bank to collect some extra money or spare lollipops.
Enemies take up the standard fare and range from basic shuffling zombies to zombies strapped with dynamite. Outside of the occasional flying zombie, hallucinogen-created giant chicken, and the punk rock demons that make up each chapter’s boss battle, there is little that hasn’t been seen in other zombie games. Boss battles come in three parts, with each part concluding in the dismemberment of the demonic being. Unfortunately, the bosses themselves wind up being more intriguing than the fights that follow their introduction.
Lollipop Chainsaw is a surprising addition to any gamer’s library; and while its surface seems marred by blatant sexuality, Grasshopper Manufacture and James Gunn have partnered to create an intelligently well-developed frolic through the ill-fated town of San Romero.