And not a single Buffy reference in this entire review...
Written by Super User
Published Tuesday, 10 July 2012 20:00
Suda51 is one of the most creative, if not polarizing, game developers of the current generation. Able to put together cult classic titles seemingly at will, Suda51 is one of the few creators working in video games today that takes a lot of risks with not only concepts, but gameplay as well. His latest title, Lollipop Chainsaw, is no exception to the rule. Full of Suda51’s eccentricities, Lollipop Chainsaw benefits greatly from having one of gaming’s most enigmatic personalities behind the helm. While Lollipop Chainsaw can be a bit uneven, linear, and downright frustrating to play at times, the overall package is decidedly Suda51. Whether that’s a good thing or not is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
Lollipop Chainsaw follows the story of Juliet Starling, a senior cheerleader at San Romero High. One of her former classmates summons an undead horde to Earth, and it’s up to Juliet and her family of monster-slayers to fix the mess. On the surface, Lollipop Chainsaw’s narrative doesn’t offer much new to the zombie genre. Players will travel from one location to the next, dispensing of zombies and larger boss demons along the way. Juliet appears to be nothing more than eye-candy for the male audience, and the violent way in which she dismembers the undead seems to cater to the slobbering masses even further. Of course, once you start playing the game, and start paying attention to what’s happening on screen, Lollipop Chainsaw becomes so much more than just another girl in skimpy clothes, striking provocative poses while she chops the heads off of deadly zombies.
"Some may scoff at the overt sexuality of the main protagonist, but that’s the whole point of the character. Juliet, and the game she stars in, is a rather sharp commentary on the industry."
Make no mistake; Juliet Starling is meant to be an attractive protagonist. The game begins with us watching her shower and stretch before traveling to school. However, as attractive as Juliet may be, she serves a greater purpose than to titillate players. Believe it or not, Lollipop Chainsaw is an intriguing statement about exploitation and female empowerment. Juliet’s exterior is merely window dressing. Her character is one that’s made of sterner stuff, and she’s more than capable of handling herself in dangerous situations. With the aid of James Gunn, Suda51 turned Juliet from a one-note femme fatale into a strong leading lady.
But let’s look beyond Juliet’s stereotypical physique. One of the very first bosses you’ll encounter throws all manner of horrible slurs at Juliet. The level of harassment is reminiscent of the very worst of an Internet comment section (YouTube is one that springs immediately to mind). It’d be easy to look at this section of the game and be reminded about the worst in portrayals of female protagonists in video games, but Suda51 is better than that. You see, Juliet can only be hurt by the words if they hit her. The curses physically manifest, and fly at Juliet. Players have to dodge the insults to guide Juliet to safety. Words can never hurt her if she (you) doesn’t (don’t) let them. It’s that simple. This isn’t the only instance of Lollipop Chainsaw taking standard gaming tropes to task, but it is the most overt and obvious. It’s also one of the strongest.
Sadly, as strong as the message and themes of Lollipop Chainsaw are, it takes a lot of repetitive and linear gameplay to see it all unfold. Levels are designed with one path in mind, and though there are some secret areas to find more coins (used to purchase upgrades), the deviations from the main path are few and far between. Combat basically boils down to remembering a few key combos you unlock, and then mashing buttons until all the zombies are dead. Even the boss fights in Lollipop Chainsaw don’t really offer anything new. Though the big bads do have some really unique personalities, boss battles boil down to button-mashing exercises. All that said, even though the levels are formulaic, they are diverse and full of character. From the psychedelic farm to the old-school arcade (complete with sections that transport you inside a game), Lollipop Chainsaw’s levels remind you why Suda51 is one of the most creative minds in the industry today.
I would be remiss in not discussing the soundtrack, which is outstanding. Top to bottom, there’s no weak track in the mix. Though most of the music is indeed licensed, putting it all together in a package that compliments the game at hand is no easy task. Additionally, the voice actors, particularly Tara Strong (Juliet) and Michael Rosenbaum (her beheaded boyfriend, Nick), do a really great job bringing this world to life. The constant back-and-forth Juliet and Nick have throughout the game give their relationship some depth, and the performances really instill the idea that these two kids are crazy about each other. Credit is obviously due to James Gunn in this area as well, but without such solid performances, the relationship wouldn’t have felt nearly as genuine.
Despite not being Suda51’s tightest video game, Lollipop Chainsaw is still very fun, and rather poignant. Some may scoff at the overt sexuality of the main protagonist, but that’s the whole point of the character. Juliet, and the game she stars in, is a rather sharp commentary on the industry. It’s unfortunate then that so many people who play this game won’t be able to see the smart wit at play since the core mechanics just don’t hold up in the long run. If you’re able deal with fairly average gameplay, and able to see the forest for the trees in the game’s tone, you’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of Lollipop Chainsaw.
Release date : 2012-06-12
Publisher : Warner Games
Developer : Grasshopper
Gameplay : Action-Adventure
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