Note: This review contains spoilers
It’s a safe assumption that Juliet Starling didn’t expect to start her birthday off being met by a chaotic horde of the undead at San Romero High School. It’s also safe to assume she didn’t plan on having to deal with a boyfriend with no body, either. Armed with a multipurpose chainsaw and her best cheerleading moves, Juliet will have to get to the bottom of the undead epidemic.
Lollipop Chainsaw is like a game that doesn’t know what time period it wants to be in. While visually it’s around the 70’s to early 80’s, things like Facebook and MySpace exist. The game’s setting is further complemented with classic songs such as Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round” and “Lollipop” from The Chordettes. One aspect that throws everything off is how colorful things get when killing zombies. Beheading zombies creates pink heart sparks and getting Sparkling Hunter bonuses (killing 3 or more zombies at once) fills the screen with rainbows and sparkles as zombie heads pop off. Sometimes I wonder if I could play this game out in the public without attracting weird stares.
The control setup for this game is just as weird. You have a weak attack which uses Juliet’s pom-poms, strong attack which uses her chainsaw, and a sweeping attack which also uses her chainsaw. There is a button for dodging, which also functions as the only way to actually “jump.” By pressing any of the three attack buttons in combination (usually starting with weak and ending with strong or sweep), Juliet can perform various combo skills. However, most of them start off locked away in the game’s shop. The game encourages killing multiple zombies at once to rack up medals (currency) and a high score, but I found it odd that the game didn’t start you off with a solid combo that could hit multiple zombies at once. You can press a button to lock on if you want to focus on the target, but I found that feature more harmful than helpful. Most of the time when you lock on, you end up locking on a target you don’t want and moving the camera will change the target. The most annoying thing was trying to focus on a close target and getting switched to a far target mid-combo.
Juliet’s bodiless boyfriend Nick ends up becoming part of some of the game’s core functions. A headless body sometimes spawns at certain areas. By putting Nick’s head on it, a QTE sequence starts, which is how you “play” Nick. Using this helps Juliet get past obstacles and move further along the levels. There is also a small roulette game which will activate a special attack with Nick depending on what was chosen. A Nick Ticket, which can be found or bought, is required to activate the roulette. More attacks unlock as the game progresses but the most useful one is a second chance revival. If Juliet runs out of health while holding a ticket, the roulette appears but with a special Nick selection. If it’s hit, Nick revitalizes Juliet. If it fails, she’s gone. Honestly, I found it to be the best use of Nick because the roulette is mostly useless unless you run out of lollipops (needed to restore health) and need to use the Nick Shake to get free lollipops. There are some parts where Juliet cannot use Nick to revive, like scene sequences or certain objective missions like keeping fire zombies away from a cake made of nothing but explosives.
The combat, unfortunately, felt unpolished. Nearly all combo skills leave you wide open and enemies always attack in hordes so it’s difficult to ever finish a combo. Any skill that involves attacking multiples are at the end of the combos so unless you whiff a few hits on purpose, there isn’t an effective method of setting them up. Mentioned earlier, the only way to jump is to dodge and Juliet always flips and there are moments when I wish I could jump straight up. Rather than being able to link most of your combo skills together, you have to choose which is best to use in the situation, which make a lot of the combo skills useless once you get a few vital ones. Then it turns into a repetitious cycle of using only two to three combo skills. I wish there was more freedom in comboing because restriction often led to taking unnecessary damage because enemies are overly aggressive.
Stages average about ten minutes long each and are mostly linear. You go from point A to point B and only take a minor detour to find a collectible or a bunch of medals. At the end of each stage is a boss fight that consists of three rounds, with the difficulty increasing each round. There were two stages that stood out to me. Stage three because there were giant zombie chickens, and stage four because of the arcade game sections of the level which were all throwbacks to classic games such as Pac-Man. Stage four also had the most stereotypical boss fight, a disco-funk Black guy who auto-tunes his voice wearing a pink fur coat and an overgrown diaper wielding a keyboard while sitting on a UFO saucer. Yeah, this game definitely doesn’t know what time period it wants to be in.
The game’s story is pretty meh if you can say there is one. Most of the dialogue in the game is just random talk between Juliet and Nick and random banter from the zombies. Anything significantly relevant is mostly said and done during boss battles or during scenes with a handful of NPCs. Juliet’s family of zombie hunters are introduced and integrated into the game’s progression at some points to help. Rosalind, the younger sister, is…missing a few screws in the head and is a destruction maniac. Cordelia, the older sister, is probably the most “normal” person in the family because of her composed and mature demeanor. Juliet’s dad, looking like a disco king, only shows up a couple of times and comes off as highly overprotective while Juliet excuses it as him taking a liking to Nick. However, nothing raised my eyebrow more than having to fight some giant godzilla Elvis guy who likes cheeseburgers and shakes zombies out of his hair like dandruff.
I wish this game was longer. Running straight through can end the game in about four to five hours. Post-game, it’s nothing special. You just replay stages to find what you missed, improve scores, and get medals to clean out the shop’s skills, stats, costumes, art, and music. Upon meeting certain conditions, the ending can change. One thing I didn’t like was that you can only use certain chainsaw skills on the stages you learned them on and beyond. Once I unlocked the Chainsaw Blaster (told you this thing was multipurpose. It even has a PHONE built into it), I could only use it on the stage I got it on and after. I couldn’t go to the first stage and blast zombies all day. I was hoping that all of the stage skills were usable on all stages after beating the game but that didn’t happen either.
Final Verdict: Lollipop Chainsaw is a great game held back by its shortcomings. The combat could be less restrictive, and the game should have been much longer instead of relying on going through all the stages a hundred times in post-game. The story is forgettable. I ended up holding more interest in the random zombie chatter and Nick’s constant sarcasm. I still won’t forget those giant zombie chickens and that giant godzilla Elvis with the zombie dandruff.
This review of Lollipop Chainsaw is based on multiple completions of the game, a completion being counted as defeating the final boss and seeing the ending. Both endings were obtained and Ranking mode was played. This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version, with the Xbox 360 version being identical in every way.