Remember when videogames weren’t required to make sense? We didn’t need to know why Dr. Wily wasn’t smart enough, through six games, to create robot masters without dangerous and very specific weaknesses. It didn’t matter that Karnov could inexplicably breathe fire and spawn a deep sea diving helmet at a moment’s notice. Context was in complete service to game’s mechanics and traditional suspension of disbelief wasn’t required because we accepted that it was a videogame and objective logic wasn’t part of the agreement.
Lollipop Chainsaw deals in these same circles of raw delirium that have been vaguely absent for two decades. If you catch yourself asking questions about the origin of its zombie plague or why enemies explode into rainbow hearts and candy, it’s going to be tough to appreciate. The game openly declares its intentions by being called Lollipop Chainsaw and its creative forces include Goichi “Suda51” Suda, James Gunn, and Jimmy Urine. The definition of insanity isn’t that stupid passage about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, it’s Lollipop Chainsaw and the riches of absurdity it has to offer.
Juliet Starling’s (that’s you) overt sexualization is apparent but not entirely exploitive. Rather than constantly pander and make any observing female bury her face in her hands, Juliet’s typically in total control of the situation and doesn’t resort to mindless T&A as the extent of her dimensions. Under no circumstance is she a particularly deep character, or even one to care about really, but great writing and Tara Strong’s solid voice work goes a long way to sell her as something more than just a ditzy prop model.
Much to the surprise of her boyfriend Nick, Juliet is revealed to have been secretly training as a chainsaw wielding zombie killer with her father and sisters. This is super handy because Swan, another classmate of Juliet and Nick’s at San Romero High School, happened to unleash a zombie plague lead by five eccentric Dark Purveyors. Nick also happens to spend most of the game as a decapitated head affixed to Juliet’s belt because (1) Juliet needs someone to talk to and (2) it’s a videogame and it’s called Lollipop Chainsaw. And, really, that’s one of the less outrageous concepts bursting out of the seams from this ridiculous experience.
To speak in detail of Lollipop Chainsaw’s humor and absurd situations would outright ruin most of the fun. But to put it in context, I expected a game with a bunch of miserable dick and fart jokes surrounded by the occasional moment of whimsical clarity. Instead Lollipop Chainsaw flips the script and runs a ton of great banter aiding a glut of situations I didn’t actually believe were happening in a videogame. Again, Lollipop Chainsaw is loaded with about a dozen instances of unfiltered mayhem that resulted in unexpected instances of pure elation. A gifted application of profanity helped, yes, but when Lollipop Chainsaw was willing to reference Backdraft or Ted Williams’ bungled cryogenically frozen head as idle banter was when I realized the writers weren’t just interested in stringing together odd combinations of curse words.
Lollipop Chainsaw also employs an exceptional use of licensed music. Akira Yamaoka and Urine’s (wow, that’s weird to type) original score composes most of the soundtrack, but there are a half dozen instances when a licensed track busts out of the gate and pushes a situation that was in no shortage of crazy over the moon. A proper comparison would be that hyperdimensional instance of Power in Saints Row The Third or maybe when Robot Rock played when Iron Man and War Machine sorted out their differences in Iron Man 2. Most examples in Lollipop Chainsaw are from contemporary artists but there are also a few that reach way back, and they’re all utterly perfect for the scenes they support.
Of course, Lollipop Chainsaw remains a videogame and has to obey some rules related to design, progression, and interaction. In this regard it strives to be a member of the combo-heavy character action games like God of War or Bayonetta but let me be clear; Lollipop Chainsaw is no God of War or Bayonetta. Juliet’s pom-poms are good for quick light attacks while slower, heavy duties are employed by her vicious chainsaw. A vastly overpowered dodge move is your get out of jail free card, and the remaining face button is dedicated to a low attack perfect for crawlers. There’s also the prerequisite meter that builds into timed super powers, an eventual shotgun thing, and a couple other expendable options.
The general goal in combat is to get zombies “groggy,” which primes your next move for a kill. Killing three or more at a time engages Sparkle Hunting, which ups the rewards in the form of currency. Currency is spent on either health, strength, and quickness upgrades or extensions to Juliet’s combos. In a single run on normal I was able to procure about 40% of the total number of upgrades, not including different outfits and music (which require the much harder to obtain silver medals).
Even though Juliet deliberately skips animations between moves, combat feels a bit too leisurely paced for its own good. When it’s just Juliet versus a bunch of zombies it’s easy to fall into familiar patterns and annihilate the hoards without much trouble. Lollipop Chainsaw’s lightning pace never made it boring, but rather vaguely unsatisfying and empty. In that regard it might have been better for me had I started out on Hard, but the truth is Lollipop Chainsaw’s meandering combat is ultimately salvaged through the surplus of things do with Juliet besides bash zombies.
Chainsawing through boards to get to new areas is satisfying and tiny escort missions in the form of helping survivors aren’t as offensive as they seem, but the real pleasure is in Lollipop Chainsaw’s assortment of minigames. At one point you’re whacking off zombies heads to score points in basketball and in another you’re getting the closest anything has every come to replicating the Upright Citizens Brigade’s Pro Thunderball. Quick-time events are also a significant part of Lollipop Chainsaw, albeit always in service of something remarkably idiotic. My sole complaint is the game blew its creative load with its fourth level (a level taking place in an arcade), rendering the remaining two levels noticeably flaccid by comparison.
And then there’s the matter of value. Lollipop Chainsaw is an unabashedly short game; I cleared its six levels in about six or seven hours. For future play-throughs, what’s lost in surprise is intended to be made up by refining your efficiency. At the end of every level you’re graded on criteria including time taken, retries, and people saved. It’s in your best interest to score an A+ in every category, as it’s all collected into global rankings. Additionally, while not technically New Game +, every item you buy and all your medals are persistent, meaning that, once you beat the game, you can go back and play any level at any difficulty and retain everything you’ve bought. The game does get more interesting at harder difficulties and with a full move suite unlocked,
I think Lollipop Chainsaw justifies its $60 price tag. As a trip down (through, and exploding out of) the rabbit hole of absurdity, it has few equals. Grasshopper Manufacture’s games are known for delighting in absurdity and Lollipop Chainsaw is undoubtedly their most accessible (and easiest) game so far. That being said, I also think Lollipop Chainsaw is a textbook example of a game that retailers are going to drop to $40 or $45 in a few weeks. That’s a much more comfortable price to pay, and, at that point, one hell of a bargain.