I've played a lot of video games lately, and a lot of different types of video games at that. From tense martial arts battles between hair and hats, making like Captain Picard and negotiating Star Peace, and taking The Most Uncomfortable Platonic Friendship Ever through a time-travel quest, I've met a lot of (virtual) characters and gone on some epic (virtual) adventures.
It takes a very special game to combine my love of schlocky B-horror with tight, exacting gameplay and sharp-as-a-tack dialogue, and still somehow all work in the end. Lollipop Chainsaw is pure, unadulterated derp from the moment you pop in the disc, but it's built around a game that rewards finesse, skill, and experience.
San Romero High cheerleader Juliet Starling and her family are secretly zombie hunters, using their elite skills to take down the worst of the worst from "Rotten World," a dimension of decay and horror where nightmares come from. When someone in her school unleashes a supernatural zombie plague and summons Rotten World's Five Dark Purveyors--music-themed super zombies--to terrorize the world, it's up to Juliet, her boyfriend Nick (now reduced to a severed head), her chainsaw, and a lot of sparkles to save the day.
Remember in the Asura's Wrath review, how I mentioned that classic action games like Streets of Rage II or Final Fight didn't last very long, but were built around replay value? Asura's Wrath may have missed the mark on this point, but Lollipop Chainsaw seems specifically designed with replay in mind. The game is short (we're talking 6-8 hours) but as a score attack game you shouldn't be satisfied with the B you get on your first playthrough, because you know you can do better.
The combat system is divided into quick melee attacks involving Juliet's pom-poms and kicks, and broad, powerful sweeps with her chainsaw. Ideally, you want to do a flurry of quick attacks to stun a group of zombies, then kill a whole group of them with a single swing of the saw. It sounds simple, and the game is forgiving enough to less-skilled players, but the real challenge of the game comes from taking out large groups of zombies in one go and watching the multipliers rack up. Brief QTEs only serve as finishing moves, or are used to hack down doors and clear obstacles.
The game shows off its real strength in boss fights, as you take on the Dark Purveyors and their music-themed attacks. From the garage-punk yells of Zed to the auto-tuned head trip that is fighting Josey to the hard-rock brawl with Lewis Legend, there are few things in life more satisfying than driving a chainsaw through a zombified granola hippie, or dueling with an undead Scandinavian metal lord in an airborne longship that's flying through a thunderstorm.
Unfortunately, zombies are kind of old hat in video games, which is one minor strike the game has against it. A sometimes uncooperative camera and an overall lack of depth also hurt Lollipop Chainsaw--it is literally just a score attack game. Finally, no matter how self-aware and sarcastic the game is about itself, it's going to be hard to avoid the accusing stares of your pretentious "games are art" friends as you play a game about a scantily-clad 18-year-old who turns crowds of zombies into stew meat.
All that be damned, Lollipop Chainsaw is fun, and don't let anybody tell you different. With a sharp script from James Gunn (Slither), the game feels like Suda51 crossed Lisa Frank with Sam Raimi--there's even a Bruce Campbell-alike in Juliet's hardass father. The overwhelming '90s-ness of Lollipop Chainsaw's visuals and hilariously standout writing go hand-in-hand with the ruthless old-school action that you'll be suffering through. In another surprising change to the formula, this is one of the few times in games where I've seen a female character's special outfits cover her up more than her default outfit.
I wish I could say that this was the only time I was sexually attracted to Bruce Campbell. Hail to the King, baby.
Lollipop Chainsaw is far from high art or great storytelling, but as a game, it excels. Current game trends focus on making high-impact cinematic stories on rails with memorable setpieces--Lollipop Chainsaw just throws you in front of a crowd of zombies and wants to see how quickly and stylishly you can kill them, then puts all your skills to the test against a boss. It's a video game through and through, and worth the time and money of anyone who misses the "good ol' days" of gaming.