If it's crap ... We'll tell you
It has been the fevered-talk of the Internet for the past month, and the latest Suda51 release has certainly provided quite a reaction. Then again, how often does a zombie Hach n' Slash, and borderline-sexy cheerleader themes ever get collided together? The result however is well worth a talk through, and should help me try and make sense for you of what this game is doing. This is my first Suda51 title I have played fully through, so I'm a pretty good candidate for the challenge.
The story to this game can be kept very simple. Our main character is Juliet, a cheerleader who has just turned 18, but leads a secret life with her family as a Zombie Hunter. On the day of her Birthday and outbreak hits the school through which she battles to save her classmates and meet with her boyfriend Nick. However, just as she arrives Nick is attacked and bitten by a Zombie, and is certain to transform at any moment. In a last-ditch attempt to save him, Juliet severs his body and performs a spell to keep it alive. Along with the beheaded Nick and Juliet's siblings, she fights to track down and destroy the source of the Zombie invasion, all in a skimpy cheerleader outfit and with her preferred weapon of choice... a chainsaw.
So as you can see, the story is predictably simple for this style of game, giving you a goal and a set of means to get there. But it is how this game looks that completely sets it apart from the rivals. The colour palette is vibrant and bright, such a dramatic difference to the brown and harsh scenery we're used to playing through these days. The game takes the horror genre and smashes it head on into a world built on an almost sugar-coated level of cuteness. And the result is just as bizarre as it sounds, as you lead Juliet into crowds of enemies with a pink chainsaw, and reducing them to slabs of glittering light and rainbows. There were numerous times during the game that I just had to sit back and take it all in... that I was playing something so totally insane and yet, so refreshing at the same time too.
On to the combat itself, and as I said, it's a Hack n' Slash that teaches you to combine alternate combos to take down the Zombies. This can vary from tactics to make them groggy (i.e.: stun them) to get a quick kill, or ranged slices to deal with large hoards. The enemy levels vary too, from fighting Zombified classmates and Police officers, to enormous bloated farmers and head-banging Goths. Each has their own powers and weaknesses that you need to make the most of, and keeps the challenge going. Defeating them earns you Medals to purchase upgrades and new items in the Shop, and also charges your "Sparkle Hunting" meter. When activated, this turns you into a one-hit super Rainbow Zombie Cheerleading Hunter of Death, with multiple kills earning you bonus Medals and a glittering freeze-screen that just never gets old. As you will see from everything I say in this review, the style of gaming may be recognisable, but how it does it is just a fever-dream of colour and madness.
The game also mixes lots of violence, swearing and very suggestive imagery into the mix. This is where it will most likely split gamers, as some may find it just too brash and explicit to play. But I don't think it is the game's intention to be so, the game is almost parodying the staple methods that similar games go by. Instead, it throws everything into the mix against a backdrop that you would never believe for a second. So to cast it off would be to miss the point, that this is just made for your fun and enjoyment. Juliet is very provocative and teasing throughout, from her skimpy clothing and looks, to the jokes she utters through the game. This includes some moments like when she covers her skirt to stop you moving the camera and looking up, to which the game gives you a Trophy for. Offensive or just being a bit mad? Come on, the answer's easy there.
On to the deeper specifics here, and despite the Unreal Engine not pushing any technical limits, the game looks perfectly good. It's vibrant, bright, and moves very fluidly. Except for a few stuck fixed-camera angles and invisible barriers, I had no problems with it. But I will say the on the first playthrough, the game is more difficult than it looks. Your choice of attacks at the beginning is rather limited, and because you're swinging around a chainsaw, the delay in the hits landing means it takes a while to settle into the method of gameplay. Also, this means that on many occasions you won't be fast enough to dodge enemy attacks; it isn't until you get more upgrades that your range and variability begin to improve.
The bosses each have a specific style, covering the eras of music from the Hippy 60's to Metal and 70's Funk. The style is more impressive than the battles themselves though, as they all are the usual strategy of Dodge-Counter-Attack-Repeat, and with a QTE included in some occasions. Their look reflects the levels too, so each has its own unique feel and challenge, covering all the area around the High School. The voice acting provided is very good I must admit, from Tara Strong providing for Juliet, Michael Rosenbaum as Nick, and the game's consultant James Gunn's brother providing a role too. You can tell that they're all having a lot of fun with the script, and give a lot of energy to the overall feel of the gameplay.
The comedy is very enjoyable here; the game just keeps on bringing in new things and weird ideas to keep your attention. Have Juliet swing on a pole to murder Zombies? Have her master-teacher as an old insane perv? It does it all. And the random blurbs of sentences the Zombies shout out sometimes are almost hysterical; it's like a glorified pop cola-sugar bomb commercial. It holds your attention every time you start to think everything has calmed down. And the soundtrack..... I found so many of the songs just brilliant. A great mix of classic Rock, modern Dance, and the song "Hey Mickey" during the Sparkle Hunting which could well be the best killing combo music ever.
Now, despite everything I've said so far, this game has several issues varying from the slight to the downright annoying. The biggest being the minigames which although may have seemed good ideas on paper, sometimes fall flat. Nowhere else is this more apparent than the "Zombie Baseball" where your weapon has a very stiff aiming system and the smallest error can lead to failure. Nick also gets some special attacks and minigames, but sadly, these feel unnecessary as the attacks have a very limited use and only apply to certain situations. I know they intended these as a method to add some change to the gameplay, but it didn’t succeed as they intended it to do. His character overall feels more like a passenger than a sidekick, and by the end I was almost feeling sorry about his situation.
There's also a roof to the limit of replayability to the game. It's very fun for a while as you compete for high scores and obtaining the final upgrades and items. But there's a point where it snaps and... I don't know, it feels like you'd need a long time before you would return to it again. If Modes like Survival had been included, it may have improved this significantly, but I rented it for five nights, and it feels like I got everything from that amount of time. The story itself can be done in about 8 hours and despite not feeling long, will appear so when you complete it.
The best comparison to this that I can use (at least in game mechanics) is the original Devil May Cry. The combat, boss battles, platforming and upgrade systems are very alike. And despite that title having smoother controls and more varied weapons, I think Lollipop Chainsaw isn't that far off it in terms of enjoyment. Sure, its bat-shit insane and at times feels like an immense sugar rush, there's a certain level of fun to it that I found refreshing compared to the other games available now. There's a constant tongue-in-cheek level of cockiness and humour all the way through, and the vibrance of everything was just a joy to look at. And yes, maybe a lot of that was down to Juliet herself, but that's exactly what the game was going for - to give you pure eye-candy being appealing without being uncomfortable.
There are a lot of problems with the core of this game, primarily with ideas that just weren't thought through or developed, to sticky controls. But if you want something a little less serious, something that will appeal to you more... unusual frame of mind, than this is definitely it. In all honesty it is too difficult to describe this game to anyone who hasn;t seen it, to see how this concept works you need to experiance it for yourself. I'll give the game a 7.5/10, even though I wouldn't recommend you paying full price for it, it's something you should certainly put on your list and purchase during the sales. Sure, it probably is a bit raunchy in its humour, but sometimes that's just what you need, be it from a movie or videogame. Just, don't be looking up her skirt.... unless the game tells you to. Which it doesn't. ;)
Thanks for reading! ^__^