Grasshopper Manufacture has developed a reputation for creating gaming experiences with insane and humorous parts, with just enough of both to entertain and sometimes shock its audience. Lollipop Chainsaw is the latest creation to grace consoles with the unlikely collaboration between James Gunn and the infamous Suda 51. While the game’s controls and combat seem to be the best of any Grasshopper game so far, the lack of polish and sometimes pointless mini-games ultimately makes this cheerleader seem like a high school fling you’ll probably forget about.
The eighteenth birthday of Juliet Starling starts like any other day, running late for school while her boyfriend Nick waits patiently to give her a special present before class. However, the sudden uprising of the undead, as well as the emergence of the Gods of the Rotten World, leaves Juliet without a school and Nick without a body. The San Romero student then sets out to send all the inhabitants of the Rotten World back to their home and protect this realm from being destroyed, using her trusty chainsaw as well as the decapitated head of her soul mate.
The combat is reminiscent of previous Grasshopper games such as No More Heroes, but without the use of motion controls restricting the player's ability to pull off combos and precision strikes. Combos are learned through upgrades, which can be purchased with coins earned from performing stylish kills and attacks. Although it’s not as deep as other games in its genre, it's certainly one of the best from this developer so far. It was enjoyable using various methods to achieve specific combos while exploiting the weakness of stronger enemies. The best part of the combat had to be “Sparkle Hunting,” which can only be achieved when Juliet has beheaded or dismembered three or more zombies with one striking motion, whether it's with the chainsaw or an upgraded version of the weapon that is earned throughout the game.
During the game there will be moments when Juliet participates in other activities other than zombie slaying. Some of these mini-games were mediocre, such as Zombie Basketball or attaching Nick’s skull to a headless zombie to make areas accessible. However, these breaks from combat seemed broken at times and not as well conceived as the majority of the game. Zombie Baseball was the most infuriating, as Juliet tried and failed multiple times to eliminate zombies attempting to prevent Nick from scoring runs for the home team. It’s just like Shadows of the Damned; amazing concept and some respectable gameplay, but misses the mark because of incorporated mini games that don't fit in the game at all. Other hack and slash games succeed by simply focusing on the action. It’s unfortunate how Suda still seems to get carried away with small deviations from the core aspect of the game, which always seems to hurt the finished product.
The saving grace of this title is the soundtrack, with Akira Yamaoka once again reprising his role of composer along with Jimmy Urine, the lead singer of Mindless Self Indulgence. The licensed tracks complement the orchestral score and boss music so well; it’s no surprise that the official soundtrack is already in high demand. No game since Brutal Legend has used music to define not only the tone of the game, but is a character in the game as well. That being said, if I never hear the song “Lollipop” again, it will be a very, very good thing. The voice acting is another high point of the game, with memorable characters and bosses who are amusing to watch, and each with their own crazy references to high school clichés and music. The relationship between Juliet and Nick is also believable. Although the game doesn't take itself seriously, you're able to relate to them as a couple and cannot help but root for them while they take out the undead as a team.
Lollipop Chainsaw is Grasshopper Manufacture’s best effort so far. However, I believe they will always fall short of offering anything more than a single playthrough and missed opportunities. The inclusion of leaderboards and plenty of unlocks offers replay value, which has not been seen in their games so far. Suda 51 has always been someone who can see his vision, while using music and crazy characters to portray it. The studio would be unstoppable if they could only find that polish needed to make a masterfully designed game. Lollipop Chainsaw had its moments, but was just shy of being a truly great game. That’s okay though -- we all can’t be the captain of the football team or the head cheerleader.
Three out of Five Hadokens