Platform: Playstation 3 / XBox 360
Reviewed on: Playstation 3
Suda 51 has long been recognised as a creative visionary who credits the toilet as the birthplace of most of his best ideas. Credited as ‘Creative Director’ in most of the games on his CV (which includes Killer 7, No More Heroes, Sine Mora and now Lollipop Chainsaw), it’s easy to see how he might truly be one of gaming’s few contemporary auteurs.
Lollipop Chainsaw kicks off with a suitably ridiculous introduction to our ditzy, unfeasibly stereotypical high-school cheerleader on her 18th birthday. Up-skirts, innuendo, a voice-over on the knowing side of goofy and a lovely stylised animation set up a feel not unlike a schlocky b-movie. In a series of minimally animated vignettes we’re also introduced to Juliet’s family, a happy if atypical unit and an immediately promising supporting cast.
It’s not long before Juliet forgets she’s late to meet her gormless looking jock boyfriend, Nick, before school starts, and she rushes off in a panic. Approaching the school gates, out of nowhere, a bus blows up and zombies, of course, start their shambolic rush towards your ample juicy bits. Juliet is prepared; whipping a giant chainsaw out (from where...?) she complains bitterly about how annoying it all is before (you find yourself) slicing and dicing in style.
Indeed, the combat treads the fine line between feeling satisfyingly simple and still rewarding more advanced combo use with greater rewards (in the form of zombie coins, your upgrade currency.) It’s visceral, bloody, and chock-full of detailed little touches, such as the super-slo-mo rainbow sparkle when you kill three zombies ‘in a cool way’ (as the game instructs) at once, or the way Juliet daintily leap-frogs her assailants when you dodge in the right direction. Different enemy types based on high-school stereotypes are always good for a laugh (think Plants Vs. Zombies) and also necessitate a slight change in strategy; a button mashing dumb-brawler this aint.
Of course, it’s the bat-shit crazy story that will really reel you in, along with the supporting cast. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say Juliet’s family are more than they initially seem, you quickly see her boyfriend Nick in a very new light, and each of the boss zombies are so wildly inventive and hilarious to battle against you’ll not begrudge the slightly more frustrating obstacles in the run up, such as the point/time based battles or the slightly finicky camera. The first you fight for instance is a psychotic, mohawk sporting punk rocker who attacks you with physical manifestations of his awful emo lyrics, repeatedly insults your, er, sexual proclivities, and summons giant speaker stacks to perch atop all the while.
As the industry has found out the hard way innumerable times, it’s neither easy to marry style, humour and substance or for that game to be a sure-fire hit. Tim Schafer knows it all too well; as does Sega. Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture seem to be walking a profitable (enough) line whilst retaining all the disparate but consistent elements that make their games stand out as curios in a gaming landscape littered with paltry genre works, sequels and the blight of casual. Like so many zombie torsos, this game will split opinion, but if you rate playful storytelling, rewarding, kinetic combat, and the rare feeling that nothing like what you’re playing quite exists elsewhere, then this is sweet, sweet candy with a real bite.
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