Underrated, underplayed, undervalued… Lollipop Chainsaw is a frenetic hack ‘n slash that’s both style and substance. Every mature PS3 & XBox 360 action game aficionado should probably have this in their collection.
Lollipop Chainsaw | Story
The way Juliet Starling’s family are Zombie Hunters feels very similar to how slayers are chosen in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In-tune with their surroundings, they are naturally drawn to excel at things involving destroying the undead. It is more than a calling to them. Like superheroes, their greatness is innate. Once you can appreciate this about the main characters, you will more easily swallow the story. It focuses on Juliet during her 18th birthday. She is on her way to school to meet up with her boyfriend, Nick.
She is interrupted by a burgeoning Zombie Apocalypse while en route. When she arrives and can’t see Nick, Juliet is shocked to find decimated corpses. Nick’s last action before getting terminally bitten, is dashing to push away a stealthy zombie that might get a chance to attack Juliet. After a fittingly dramatic death scene of confessing his love for her, Juliet saves Nick by decapitating him before the zombie infection spreads to his head. She casts a spell to bring him to life, as a head. The story that follows is about how Juliet, with Nick in tow as a sort of side kick, discover the source of the zombie apocalypse and try to end it. If you are a fan of horror genre games and movies, you will recognize a lot of influences and references in Lollipop Chainsaw.
Lollipop Chainsaw | Style
This game is very mature themed. There is extensive blood, gore, cursing, sexual innuendo, and dark humor. With that out of the way, let’s say that playing this feels like being part of a teen movie audience trapped in a beat ’em up game. All of the various play elements, mini-games, visuals, sounds, pop-culture references and random in-game occurrences work together amazingly as a game and as a cinematic experience. Zombies bring a brooding evil look and feel to the game. This is starkly contrasted by Juliet’s excitement, pom poms that sparkle, and trails of light as you swing your shiny chainsaw. The humor in the game comes from many directions and feels perfectly timed, never forced. As you get further into the game, you see where the flashy images fit into the game play. You actually get excited to see sparkles on screen knowing it’s going to be slaying time with a decapitation soon.
The game play is straight forward, giving you standard beat ’em up style attacks but with a Lollipop Chainsaw flair. Your attack buttons are 1) chainsaw swing, 2) low chainsaw swing, and 3) pom poms, ie… cheerleading style acrobatic attacks. You also get a jump button, an auto-targeting set of features, a power mode, as well as ranged attacks later in the game. You get the standard attack system that encourages you to experiment with different combinations. Some prove more useful in different situations, especially the ones you can purchase at in-game shops that pop up. The different attack buttons give you strong advantages in combat. As you dismember zombies, you will find a lot of zombies that require impaling or low swings as they crawl towards you. The higher chainsaw attacks serve as your go to executions. The pom pom attacks are quick and lead to zombies becoming dazed more easily so you can finish them off with a decapitation. It has a very Buffy feel, but you behead the undead rather than stake the heart.
Until you power up at the shop, you might feel like a sitting duck. But once you level a few skills, you feel powerful. I recommend buying Chainsaw Stab & Chainsaw Full Swing then focusing maximum life and strength increases your first play through. Also, lollipops heal you. So keep your eyes peeled. You’ll find a lot of bonus items in Lollipop Chainsaw.
During the game, you will come across various objectives that are basically mini-games. There are obvious mini-games, like Zombie Basketball, where you decapitate foes so their heads fly into a basket, eliminating any zombies that try to play guard position. Another example is Zombie Baseball, where you put Nick’s head on a headless zombie corpse and shoot the undead that try to kill him as he rounds the bases.
There is Chainsaw Dash, where you run while splitting enemies in your path and obtaining coins along the way. It has a racing-game-meets-Sonic feel to it. Other times, you will come across an obstruction that needs hulk-like power to bypass. You cheer on Nick, in an enchanted zombie body, as he clears the path. In some situations you may have to escort a surviving human. You try to keep them from turning into a powerful zombie as you fend off whatever monsters, explosives, or other crazy obstacles that come your way. It feels like Crazy Taxi with a more captive audience. Then there is level four, which is composed entirely of retro Tron-esque arcade games. The variety of what you do in Lollipop Chainsaw keeps it fresh and fun.
Lollipop Chainsaw | Graphics & Music
Being a 3D game, obviously you will be seeing a lot of polygons. The look is very strong and realistic when it wants to be. This game does its 3D with bonus items and objects in a way that feels like an homage to arcade racing and original PlayStation action games from the 90s. Crazy Taxi and Resident Evil visual styles seem like an influence here. The camera does a decent job but sometimes gets in the way for a moment. The voice acting and recognizable old school pop and other music is very fitting to the game as well. The platinum coins you collect in Lollipop Chainsaw‘s levels will allow you to purchase bonus items such as MP3s and aesthetically pleasing costumes for Juliet to wear.
Lollipop Chainsaw | Cast & Crew
The voice acting in this game is fantastic. Juliet is very energetic and funny. Her dad leaves voice messages that are pure gold. Cordelia, Juliet’s older sister, plays a more mature hunter and the way the two interact is fun. You feel Nick would overstay his welcome, but his character stays surprisingly lively and humorous. The other characters, namely the end bosses and Juliet’s sensei, are enjoyable to deal with as well.
Another interesting aspect to Lollipop Chainsaw is the cast and crew. This game was written by James Gunn, who also wrote the screenplays for Dawn of the Dead, Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy, the last two of which he also directed. Lollipop Chainsaw voice actors Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker and James’ brother Sean, are also doing voice acting for Guardians of the Galaxy. Many of the other voice actors, like Michael Rosenbaum,Tara Strong and Kimberly Brooks, have extensive backgrounds in voicing superhero characters for both DC and Marvel projects.
The story and themes of Lollipop Chainsaw kind of play out like a love letter homage from James Gunn to Joss Whedon. The dialogue is always unexpected and it stays entertaining. This might be one of the reasons James Gunn had an in to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy. You just can’t lose with these two creative talents. Lollipop Chainsaw itself might be a stepping stone for a new Hollywood A-Lister, but it’s a definitively entertaining one that should not be skipped.
by Garry Gordon
By far, the strongest quality to Lollipop Chainsaw is how it ties all of its varying elements together. It is adult fun with its humor and stylistic decisions. The power up system lends to it being re-playable, although some have deemed it a short game. It has great value, being under $20. Mature hack ‘n slash or beat ’em up fans should consider this for their collection.
Lollipop Chainsaw | Recommendations
Games you will likely enjoy if you had fun with Lollipop Chainsaw: Last of Us (PS3), Bayonetta (PS3/XBOX 360), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (XBox), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds (XBox/GameCube/PS2).
Films and TV Shows with a Lollipop Chainsaw flair: Scott Pilgrim Saves the World, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), Firefly, Serenity, Slither.