As any college-level English class veteran will tell you, it doesn’t matter what Steinbeck or Milton or even Dante for that matter intended to convey when they wrote their respective masterpieces. Even if they were just writing a fun story, we make it our business to make up what it is they wanted to say. I’ve often been a firm believer in not overstepping our bounds with this as consumers of media, however…
As my roommate witnessed me playing “Lollipop Chainsaw”, and in her sixteen seconds of exposure saw the screamo Purveyor of Darkness shout “WHORE!” at me, she exclaimed sarcastically “Wow, that’s not sexist.”
Inside, I was livid. “What? What!? WHAT!?” She has watched mere moments of this game and has gone so far as to call it sexist!? Nay, I say! This game is not sexist! This game is so insanely sexist, that it is, in fact, no longer sexist! It rises above the conventions of rhetoric! Or does it align with them all-too perfectly? The inner AP Lit student inside me roared to life as I shouted, “If anything, this is a SATIRE of sexism in video games!”
Yes, Suda 51 has never really advertised it as such, but looking at “Lollipop Chainsaw”, it really is making a mockery of the way we treat women in video games. Juliet is an outrageous and, for the most part, unbelievably unrealistic high school cheerleader, both bafflingly stupid and respectably heroic. Her skimpy cheerleader outfit paired with, as she might describe it, a “ginormous” chainsaw, poised against hoards of zombies, is laughable.
Sexism in video games is female soldiers with bare midriffs fighting alongside properly armored gents taken completely seriously. It’s scrawny yet busty Sonya Blade fighting the macho Liu Kang and pretending she has a chance. “Lollipop Chainsaw” is one massive joke on the industry. This game may be outrageous, but it forces other developers to look at their own characters and say “How different are they, really?”
All that aside, a rhetorically-fueled subtone does not a game make. How does “Lollipop Chainsaw” stack up as a zombie-slashing, pom-pon waving good time?
Pretty well, if I do say so myself. A lot of skepticism surrounded the release of this latest title from Suda and Grasshopper Manufacture, but “Lollipop Chainsaw” has dispelled any such concerns.
It should be noted that if you’re a “Devil May Cry” combo fiend, you may be disappointed. Combat in “Lollipop Chainsaw” is pretty simple. A dodge button, a standard attack button, and two buttons for chainsaw slashing both up and down. Combos string these together without any directional input, and so it’s pretty easy to get the hang of mowing down enemies, and it works pretty well. Things start off slow, as the player must unlock combos over the course of the game, but once you get going, your attacks get more and more satisfying.
Since these are so simple, the game forces you to use them. With some titles, like Mortal Kombat, you can sort of get through it without actually using combos. Not so here. Large numbers of enemies and being forced to wait for an animation to finish before taking another swing make it pertinent to get a grasp on Juliet’s various methods of dismemberment.
Killing zombies fills up a star meter. Activating it kicks off “Mickey” and an invincible mode granting one-swing decapitation for a short time. This will get you out of more than one jam, and you’ll usually have it if you need it. Additionally, killing three or more zombies at once grants a “Sparkle Hunting” medal bonus.
Standard melee moves are coupled with the long-range chainsaw blaster, which is indispensable over the course of the game, though it suffers from some awkward auto-aim issues. Though facing an enemy directly, the camera may swing to a blank wall when pulling it up to aim.
Finally, there are a few situational combat strategies, including various uses of Juliet’s bodiless boyfriend Nick and some variations on pole dancing.
While this may seem rather limited, the game is pretty short, so it doesn’t get old. To keep shaking things up, several mini-games take place ranging from boring to nostalgic, but boss battles are never a disappointment. Varied and intense encounters make keep you on your toes.
Wrapping up combat, the camera can often be an issue. The lock-on mechanic is pretty useless considering you’re often facing too many enemies to focus on one, but without it, you’ll sometimes find the camera working against you.
The writing is solid throughout thanks in part to James Gunn, the writer for “Evil Dead”. All of the writing is over-the-top. Dialogue is inappropriate, demeaning and hilarious. Juliet isn’t without her memorable quotes, while Nick is downright dependable for something hilarious. Other characters range in my taste for them. Juliet’s sister Rosalind is annoying, and Cordelia, while useful, doesn’t offer any dialogue to bolster the script. A large part of their chatter will come via phone messages, most of which aren’t funny or related, and so are really just a nuisance when you have to go through menus to get to them. Perhaps if they integrated better with the game they would be worth keeping, but not when mom is asking you to pick up milk only to realize moments later there’s some right in front of her on the counter. “I’m such a dingbat.” Yes, yes you are.
Once you’re finished with the six or seven hour story, you can replay all the levels in ranking mode to up your score – the big draw of the game. Similar to the way we kept shoving quarters in the X-Men arcade game at the skating rink, the point here is to replay the level and top Juliet’s dad’s high score. Then go for worldwide fame as you face the leaderboards. The game is short enough that replaying this way is feasible and fun, not to mention required if you actually want to unlock all the combos and the myriad concept art, outfits and other collectibles.
Graphically, this game isn’t pushing any boundaries. Decapitated bodies are laughable, and I was overall reminded of “Tony Hawk Underground 2” on Playstation 2. We’ve come a long way, people. On the flip side, the soundtrack is fantastic. While tunes like “Mickey” and “Lollipop” are played often, they aren’t over long periods of time, and so they don’t get annoying. Little Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self-Indulgence, in addition to voicing the first boss, did a lot of the music for the game, and it all fits perfectly.
All-in-all, not a lot to complain about here. I expected hiccups, and perhaps even major disappointment in my first adventure with Suda 51, but “Lollipop Chainsaw” was a nice divergence from my usual string of serious, sometimes heavy titles.