Lollipop Chainsaw Eyes-On
Take control of a chainsaw wielding, lollipop loving, pigtailed high school cheerleader as she fights her way through hordes of classmates-turned-zombies. From the brilliantly crazy mind of Giochi ‘Suda51’ Suda, enter Lollipop Chainsaw. Quite simply (in my mind at least), if that opening description doesn’t fill you with excitement and lust in equal measure then you’re either without a pulse, without eyes or don’t know what a cheerleader is.
However, a good concept doesn’t mean a thing if the gameplay doesn’t live up to the expectations it sets. Thankfully then, things look promising – Lollipop Chainsaw was undoubtedly one of the finest games shown (behind closed doors) at this year’s Gamescom.
Lollipop loving protagonist Juliet Starling is clearly the star of the show. Sporting cheeky winks, a (very) short skirt and the severed head of her friend ‘Nick’ around her waist she attacks zombies with the help of her chainsaw via a simple combo system that favours timing over complicated strings of inputs. The emphasis of Juliet’s attacks is quite clearly on their visual impact rather than their technical execution.
Zombies literally explode when met with the chainsaw’s blade, their bodies splattering blood in all directions across the candy-coloured environment of San Romero High School in which the first part of our demo was set. The palette is nothing short of sacchirine in its construction; reds are positively scarlet, blues are like lightning and yellows make those seen in Kill Bill look like dull browns. Despite their garishness though, the visual assault works in that it creates a stark, intense comic book sensibility that sings in unison with the madcap plot, characters and gameplay.
Furthermore, the HUD and screen filling place cards that introduce primary bosses have been constructed with the same style in mind. Juliet’s health (signified by a string of lollipops, obviously), her ‘star power’ meter and other onscreen bric-a-brac painted in the same ink dot technique employed in classic Americana comics of the 1960s. It’s silly, it’s over the top, it’s charming and, above all else, it’s so typically Suda51.
If you manage to dispatch numerous zombies in a single combo you’re treated to screen filling text indicating your success in the traditional Japanese videogame manner of an awkward translation – namely: ‘Good Hunting ‘X’ Zombies,’ in which ‘X’ signifies your kill count. The higher your count, and the flashier your attacks, the faster you’ll fill up Juliet’s star meter. When full you can trade-in your stars for a brief period of invincibility and increased damage.
During this time Juliet is shadowed by a large halo of rainbows and stars, further adding to the aesthetic onslaught and creating a distinct (if slightly unnerving) juxtaposition between explicit violence and post-watershed school girl imagery. In the midst of this is the severed, necktie wearing head hanging from our heroine’s waist. Nick, as he’s known, has some part to play in the plot and the gameplay but both the game’s developer Grasshopper Manufacture, and its publisher Warner Brothers, are keeping tight-lipped as to the exact nature of his involvement.
Not everyone in San Romero High is a zombie, though. During our demo Juliet came across a couple of students that had somehow managed to avoid succumbing to the living dead; duly signified by their perfectly clean letterman jackets. On both occasions these students were under attack upon our arrival and required help to survive. If you manage to save them you’re rewarded (in our case with a lollipop shaped health pack), fail to rescue them and they turn into an extra tough zombie as punishment for your tardiness.
The San Romero section of the presentation ended with a battle against a ‘sub-boss’, Mr Fitzgerald. In keeping with the brash nature of the rest of the game, Fitzgerald introduces himself to Juliet with the line “I’m Fitzgerald, bitch!” hardly a fitting line for a school teacher… Apparently, you’ll know how to differentiate between regular zombies and sub-bosses by the fact that only the latter are given a name. If only real life held the same degree of clarity.
Potty-mouthed Fitzgerald uses a desk as a shield which, despite the fact that chainsaws are designed to cut wood, is impenetrable to Juliet’s attacks. Landing hits requires you to run around behind him and attack from the rear, a task our playthrough operator handled with practised ease. Beat Fitzgerald and you’re treated to the line: “You’re getting a C, bitch!” Apparently, Miss Starling is a high achiever and a ‘C’ is significant punishment for the vanquishing of a teacher.
The demo then jumped forward to a sequence featuring a fight against a ‘proper’ boss. ‘Punk Zombie Zed’ is the sort of punk you’d expect to see in a bad 1980s high school coming of age movie; complete with long leather coat, Dr Marten boots and spiked mohawk.
Zed’s battle is split into three segments. In the first he runs around at motion blur-inducing speed, stopping occasionally to spike you with his microphone stand. The second sees him attack at range by turning the lyrics coming out of his mouth into physical objects of propulsion. Third, he fires discs of sound waves at you which you must avoid as they boomerang back towards him and eventually kill him. As Zed dies he lets out a scream of pain, invoking Juliet to give a sly smile to the camera and complain: “Geez, he’s so emo.”
Naturally, for a Suda51 title, Lollipop Chainsaw is looking every bit as indulgent, provocative and fantastical as the rest of the maestro’s output to date. Nothing makes sense, nothing is supposed to make sense and, for that very reason, everything seems to work. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not it plays as good as it looks, but if it comes anywhere close then those with an itch for feminine zombie hunters are in for a treat.
The irony here though is that, despite being shown at Gamescom, the extreme levels of violence and gore means that Lollipop Chainsaw is probably going to be banned in Germany. In this instance, I’m glad that I don’t live there.