Review: Lollipop Chainsaw
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At a time where the topic of sexism in video games is being fiercely debated, Grasshopper Manufacture's Lollipop Chainsaw arrives on the scene to give us all a well-deserved smack on the chops and tells us to stop taking everything so bloody seriously...
If you had to design a game that would appeal to the biggest demographic of gamers, what would you include. Zombies? Check. Chainsaws? Check. Scantily-clad cheerleaders pulling suggestive poses every ten seconds? Quadruple-check. Rainbows and a theme song consisting of one of the cheesiest pop songs that the Eighties managed to spawn? Uh... Not really what first comes to mind, but then who are we to judge.
So on paper, Lollipop Chainsaw is possibly the greatest game of all time. The latest product of the demented genius that is Suda51 and his team over at Grasshopper Manufacture sees players taking on the role of Juliet, a barely-legal high-school bimbo turned zombie-hunter as she cuts through hordes of the undead as she attempts to restore peace to San Romero High (gettit?). Armed with a chainsaw – the universally-agreed least inconspicuous zombie-hunting weapon of all time – and an arsenal of revealing acrobatic cheerleader moves, and accompanied by the disembodied head of her quarterback boyfriend Nick, Juilet's adventure is not exactly what you would call subtle, and by no stretch of the imagination is it sophisticated. But what it is, is a whole lot of fun.
Aside from the “this is everything great in the whole world rolled into one package” premise, at first there isn't a whole lot about Lollipop Chainsaw that would make it stand out from the rest of the crowd of hack-'n'-slash games we've had in recent years. In fact once you get into it, you realise that that's exactly what you get – an entertaining and hugely gory romp that can be stampeded through in a couple of days, or even a single sitting if you're committed enough. It's certainly no Devil May Cry or God of War, which have both at least tried to push the envelope when it comes to storytelling and ingenuity in a genre of games that are predominantly about having the player mash buttons until all the enemies turn into blood-fountains.
But then, why should it be? Every once in a while there's nothing wrong with a game being “safe” within its genre, and this is one of those times. I can certainly say that I've had a whole lot more fun on Lollipop Chainsaw in the last few days than I have with either of the aforementioned series of games, because it looks great, it sounds great, and most importantly it feels great. And that's the crux of the matter – fundamentally, hack-'n'-slash games are all about the gameplay, and if at any point you don't feel like you're having fun beating Cookie-Cutter Enemy Variant #5 into a bloody pulp then the game has crucially missed the point.
And what makes Lollipop Chainsaw great is that Grasshopper have hit the nail on the head in that respect; every single technique and combo feels well-implemented and satisfying to pull off, even if they're all just stringing together variations of light- and heavy-attacks, and the gameplay is sprinkled with enough little minigames and deviations from the norm to make it feel fresh and interesting the whole way through. What's more, while the game's length might be a bit on the short side, there are enough unlockables and secrets to go hunting for that the game provides a good degree of replayability without feeling cumbersome and dull. While Suda51 has developed a reputation in the past for his original art direction and interesting storytelling techniques in games like No More Heroes and Shadows of the Damned, it does feel like this game doesn't really push the same kind of boundaries... Although I will admit that when I think of your typical video game, “driving a massive combine harvester as a ditzy cheerleader running over hundreds of zombies while Dead or Alive's 'You Spin Me Round' plays in the background” is not something that first comes to mind. And for a game with such a straightforward premise, the story is surprisingly engaging and multi-layered; altogether not really what you would expect at a first glance, although trying to explain to people that "I play it for the story" has about the same amount of merit as claiming to read Playboy for the articles.
All in all Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that is not for the prudish and not for those with delusions of grandeur. But it is gratuitous, visceral, charming and absolutely hilarious. It's hedonism for the eyes and a vacation for the brain, and I absolutely loved it. It's not perfect by any means, and it might feel a bit steep dropping £40 for the game right now. But if you're a fan of zombies, hack-'n'-slash, Suda51, or fun (or a combination of any of the above) it's definitely a justifiable purchase. I highly recommend it.
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