Lindsay Reviews: Lollipop Chainsaw

Posted: June 20, 2012 by theelindsayclarke in Games
Tags: , , ,

Today I’m going to take a look at the new zombie-killing game from Grasshopper Manufacture and Warner Bros. Interactive, Lollipop Chainsaw. Warning: long review ahead. Get comfy.

I was so excited to start playing this game. I’m going to start this review by explaining that I’m a huge fan of several things in this game. Linda Cardellini, who plays the protagonist in one of my very favourite TV shows, Tara Strong who’s a renowned voice actress, and Michael Rosenbaum AKA Lex Luthor are all voices in it. Suda51 produced it. And I turn on the game to hear a Runaways song playing. Awesome. This being said, I was daunted. From what I heard about this game, there was a lot of combo use involved, and I suck at that. So I had high hopes for the quality of the game, and low expectations for my overall enjoyment. So did Lollipop Chainsaw live up to my expectations, good or bad? Well… Yes and no. Let’s just get into the meat of this review with my Triforce of Power: judging the game by its plot, its style, and its gamer-friendliness.Image

I’ll start with the plot. There’s not really much of one. It’s a day-in-the-life story: a zombie hunting teenager’s school is attacked by zombies. Thank goodness that’s the exact school she goes to! It isn’t the worst plot ever — for a video game simplicity often works best. But here’s my issue with it: it makes for a damn short game. I think I finished this game in five and a half hours. When I buy a game for $70, I expect at least an hour and a half of fresh gameplay per $10. When I say ‘fresh’, I mean absolutely no re-playing levels to collect goodies and get high scores. That’s grinding. Not gameplay. Grinding is the gaming equivalent of clip shows on TV: yes, we know, we saw it the first time. Can you make something new now please?

Not to mention it doesn’t work with the plot. Jumping between times of day, seeing cutscenes you’ve already seen. It really just feels like a less-than-clever way to add hours to gameplay. In games like Mario 64, where you’re running through the same level several times to get different rewards, it works. In Lollipop Chainsaw, where I’m running around the same level three times to get extra money to buy those new combos and health, or to earn achievements, it just seems like a waste of time. Especially if I’m doing it to earn achievements. (As I write this part I realise, as I so often do, how much I hate what the gaming industry’s become. Mario 64 provided hours and hours of entertainment without resorting to “Achievement Hunting”… anyway, moving along.) Overall the plot goes nowhere, and neither does the game itself really. I level up my health and gain combos, but the enemies don’t get more difficult, they just get longer lives. Finishing the game feels like I’ve gained nothing, just like I feel the protagonist Juliet hasn’t learned anything by the end of her journey.

I have to say, the characters worked pretty well with the game. In video games, plot and characters have to work with the game itself; they hardly have to be the most prominent part of a game. And Lollipop Chainsaw gets points there. The characters aren’t strongly-written: it’s not like they’re multidimensional. But they’re fun. The silly, ditzy protagonist, the loving but humourously cliché-teenage-boy of a boyfriend (who has the only noticeable character arc, even if it disappears near the end), the clinically insane little sister and badass older sister. These types of simple characters work well in a hack-and-slash. They’re there to invent action. And the antagonist was awesome: a too-smart-to-be-happy goth boy. I was very excited to see where his plot was going, and was very irritated that they didn’t flesh him out, and he died off after only a couple dialogues. He was definitely the best possibility they had for an interesting character, since I certainly never felt for the protagonist, Juliet. The only reason I liked her is because she sounds like Timmy Turner, and the only reason I cared if she lived or died is that I was playing her. Even if this game takes place on her birthday, I didn’t care what happened to her. She seems nice enough but I’m given zero reason to want to see her succeed. The characters all needed fleshing out, but the archetypes they fulfilled did well to keep the game moving forward, at least.Image

The characters provided great dialogue. Usually dialogue wouldn’t be worth mentioning in a review, but Lollipop Chainsaw was a lot of fun in that sense. It was just so enjoyable. I found myself laughing out loud on a frequent basis. The zombies always had some disgustingly hilarious comment, sometimes really pervy, sometimes just plain dumb. I like a zombie that doesn’t just say ‘brains’ or make sounds like a cat in heat.

Unfortunately, funny zombie lines is not enough to save the plot of this game. It gets no point there. It was generally weak writing that didn’t always work with the game they had. Also, for the record, there are two different endings you can get, depending on if you save all your school chums or not. Neither of them is worth sitting through the game credits for.

So now I’ll move onto style. This being a Suda51 game, one would expect style to be where Lollipop Chainsaw makes a comeback. In a lot of ways it does. But in a major way it doesn’t.

The music, like I said, is a lot of fun. There are hit songs: Billy Idol and the Runaways are jus a couple of the artists you’ll hear throughout the game. And the singer of Mindless Self Indulgence wrote the boss music. Say what you will about that band. The boss music was fun. The original music is good overall. Nothing as catchy as the No More Heroes music, but still good music for the game. I particularly liked the track playing during the loading screen.

The overall style of the game could be described simply as ‘awesome’. It really has an ‘Oh my God that’s so awesome’ aspect to it. The music’s awesome, the extra power-ups like sparkle hunting feel awesome, and decapitating tons of zombies in one swipe is awesome.

That’s obviously a good quality in a game, but it lacks in enough other places that ‘awesome’ isn’t enough. For everything that’s awesome, there’s an issue or two to spoil it. Despite the fact that you can actually describe the game’s style and vibe with the word ‘awesome’, there’s a huge issue with its overall style as well.

The big issue with this game is that it’s so damn typical. It’s got poorly-planned backtracking that we’ve seen before, teenage girls in mini-skirts, an item pick-up system we’ve seen in most games, et cetera. That makes for an average game. And ‘average’ clashes very, very hard with Suda. What’s awesome about a Suda51 game? Well, Suda himself. His style and innovative choices are just so far from all the tired gaming norms you find in Lollipop Chainsaw. It’s just so divided between the weird, off-kilter world of Suda51 and the typical gaming style that made people turn to Suda for something interesting in the first place. It’s kind of like the new Simpsons. They can still tag Greoning as the creator, but it no longer has any of the charm he once brought to the show. Lollipop Chainsaw’s style could have been the game’s saving grace, but it was crushed under the game’s normalcy.

So finally we’re moving onto gamer-friendliness. Seeing how Lollipop Chainsaw is the kind of game that keeps the action going, this is probably most important for the game. If it sucks to play a game that keeps you pressing buttons, we’ve got a problem.

I’m astounded looking at my notes just how many points I had in this category. Usually this type of thing can be summed up in a brief paragraph or two, but there’s a lot of rambling to be done. I’m going to start with the little things that annoyed me, move onto the bigger problems, then end on a good note.

See, the reason I’m bothering with the little things is that they kept piling up, and they all seem so easily avoidable. First off, maybe it as just me, but there would be cutscenes wherein I couldn’t move, and there was no indication of when they ended. I just stood there waiting until I started getting beaten up by zombies. It’s a small annoyance, but it happened several times.

Next, saving up for the things in the shop seemed needlessly hard for normal difficulty, which I played the game on. I only ever had the money for one or two purchases, and I could only ever get one or two of the larger purchases throughout the entire game without grinding through a previously-played level again.

There were also several occasions where I didn’t mean to go through a door but Juliet did so anyway, and then I couldn’t get back to where I had intended to go. I missed many items and probably some money because of this. It made me really appreciate pressing A or X to open a door, which seems silly: I was just complaining about the game being too typical, yet it skipped out on this commonality to no one’s benefit.

Now for the less nitpicky, more prevalent issues with this game. I’ve heard from one friend that the fighting was boring and generic. While watching another friend play, I could see he was having trouble aiming his hits. Personally, I didn’t find the gameplay boring, but I have played through two Kingdom Hearts games, so perhaps my standards are lower than his. At times I found aiming difficult, myself.

I was truly irritated by the combos. I’ve already said I’m not great at that kind of thing, but I don’t think this problem was solely my fault. It seemed generally too easy to mess a combo up, because of how the game mechanics work. Say I wanted to do a combo comprised of two pom-pom stabs and a chainsaw attack. Often, the zombie would fall to the ground before I could use the chainsaw, because I used the pom-pom attack. I paid money I rarely come across for a combo that screws itself up. After buying about three combos, I just stopped altogether and worked with what I had, and I made it through the game with relative ease. So it seems the combos were just about useless.

The same could be said for the chainsaw dash, though I didn’t have to buy it. I hardly ever used it unless prompted. It was grossly hard to control, and usually I’d end up running past the zombies at hyper speeds, instead of running into them. It would make sense to make such a strong attack come with a price like being tough to control, but I found it was nearly useless, and I could easily do the same job with a Nick token or any X Y A B move.

There were also quick-time events. Is there anyone in the gaming world who actually likes QTE’s? They really tend to take you right out of the action. Though they had timers, giving you several seconds to realise a QTE was unfolding, and I really did appreciate that.

So basically fighting was an annoyance most of the time, save for the simplest attacks. That’s a problem in a hack-and-slash game, with enemies constantly coming at you. On top of that, the help was almost never helpful. Nick would be telling me what to do five minutes after I had started doing it, and then if I was confused, there was no information given. There wasn’t even a manual for the game. If I was lost or I had forgotten something, it would take me way too long to figure out what to do next. Which is an even bigger problem, since part of your score has to do with how long you take to get through a stage. This may just be my very biggest peeve about the game. Being rated on how long you take to get through a stage is completely unjustifiable to me. This may be a linear game, but I’m bound to do backtracking and exploring and I don’t want to be punished for this decision. I never want to feel rushed to play an entire game. Once again, this seems like an obviously poor choice.

With all this said, there are SOME gamer-friendly portions of the game to be found. I thought the characters were all well-used when it came to gameplay itself. Pretty much every character was useful in a way that suited the plot and the gameplay: Juliet’s sisters giving you presents, or Nick helping you fend off zombies, et cetera. No one was without reason for being there. Also, despite the game being incredibly linear, if you take a moment to explore, you are likely to find slightly-hidden treasures. It’s always a nice reward for bothering to check every nook and cranny This is a flawed game in essence when it comes to be being gamer-friendly, but it isn’t quite as bad playing the game as when you stop to think about it.

Lollipop Chainsaw is overall a divided game. Despite being very flawed, I still mostly enjoyed playing it. The plot is dumb but fun, it’s stylized, but not in the ways you’d expect from Suda51, and though it’s not always gamer-friendly, it’s playable. I suppose all the most important things work well enough, but so many details need fixing that it’s hard to see past them. I can’t say I’d recommend this to a Suda fan, but if you find this game in the cheap bin some day, it’s an amusing way to kill a couple hours.

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