Lollipop Chainsaw

                When you think of your typical zombie apocalypse scenario, you generally tend to think of the world going to hell, the main protagonists fighting just to keep themselves sane and/or as long as they can before they’re overrun by zombies, and whatever few survivors having the thousand-mile stares of shell-shocked veterans of war. Well, aside from the first bit, you can forget everything else, as Lollipop Chainsaw says to fuck with your typical zombie survival stuff.
                Lollipop Chainsaw is a zombie survival game designed by Goichi Suda, a.k.a. Suda51, whose particular brand of out-of-his-fucking-mind thinking gave us the masterpiece No More Heroes. It takes place in the community of San Romero—and if you don’t get what/whom a name like that is referencing, you need to swear off the internet right here and now.
SPOILER ALERT: Story details below!
                The story kicks off with main character Juliet Starling waking up on her 18th birthday and going to school at San Romero High School (Go Knights!). She loves her family, loves her boyfriend, and she loves lollipops—but hates that they’re making her fat (spoiler alert: she’s not fat by any definition of the word). On the way there she discovers that the place is overrun with the living dead, and she decides there’s only one thing a pig-tailed girl in a cheerleader outfit can do—bust out her sugary-sweet chainsaw and start cutting undead sons of bitches up.
                Well…fucking duh.
                That’s right, the biggest threat to the undead horde is typically (in this kind of setting) one of the most obvious victims. In fact, it’s revealed throughout the game that her entire family—minus her oblivious mother—is in the family business of hunting zombies…and business is a-booming. Juliet was personally taught the ways of destroying zombies by Junji Morikawa, an old Japanese man who is perverted as hell but knows what he’s talking about. Her boyfriend, Nick, suffers greatly from the zombies, getting bit and is in danger of turning. To solve the problem of keeping him alive and not a zombie, Juliet does the reasonable thing and cuts off his head and uses a magic spell to keep the head fully alive and functioning, Futurama-style.
                I meant reasonable for her.
                So why are zombies threatening the San Romero area and possibly the rest of the world? Well it turns out that there are three realities in close conjunction with one another, but of the two, only the “Rotten World” matters. A goth guy by the name of Swan managed to breach the barrier between Earth and Rotten World via a mix of black magic and high-powered explosives. He did this to get back at Juliet and Nick because he had an unrequited crush on Juliet, who didn’t return his feelings…as a matter of fact, the two had never even spoken at all before the events of the game. He flipped his shit when she started dating Nick.
                Aside from her mother’s obliviousness, the rest of her family is just as out there as she is—her older sister Cordelia is a professional assassin who headshots zombies practically as a hobby, her younger sister Rosalind, who is roughly one hundred times worse a driver than Yukari from Azumanga Daioh, and her father, Gideon, who is what happened if James Dean and/or Marlon Brando in their individual primes would look like if they were in a zombie apocalypse movie.
                As Juliet and Nick tear-ass around San Romero to stop Swan’s plans, they come across five agents of Rotten World known as Dark Purveyors, all of which have a theme based on musical styles—Zed, the punk rock Purveyor; Vikke, the (Scandinavian) Death Metal Purveyor; Mariska, the psychedelic rock Purveyor (a.k.a. the zombie hippie); Josey, the funk/disco/electronica Purveyor; and Lewis Legend, the rock and roll Purveyor. Although it turns out their deaths were really sacrifices orchestrated by Swan to summon an undead monstrosity called Killabilly, which is, in essence, the most disgusting Elvis impersonator you can think of grown to city-smashing proportions, with the final stage being basically one long, city-wide boss battle against this thing.
                Once you complete a stage, you can replay it later in score, time or medal attack mode and post your results online for others to best—typical leaderboard stuff. You do get achievements for “beating dad’s score,” however, so that is also an incentive. The gameplay has simple hack-and-slash fighting at its core, but the game provides you with additional ways to increase your repertoire of attacks, from various bread-and-butter monster-beating combos to good old-fashioned pro wrestling moves. These can be acquired by racking up zombie medals (both gold and platinum), earned by killing zombies and saving civilians. Your unarmed blows can kill, but it takes a lot of time and effort; they’re typically used to stun zombies so you can chop them up with your chainsaw. And even better: the game awards you bonuses for simultaneous decapitations (called “Sparkle Hunting”) in the form of zombie medals. Kill enough baddies and you get to trigger super mode for a few moments, meaning one-hit kills with the chainsaw, especially good for piling on the medals. She also gets a dashing/charging attack later on, as well as a blaster—which turns her chainsaw into a cannon—and it’s about the tenth time you hear her go, “Chainsaw Blaster!” that you realize Juliet Starling has the same voice as Twilight Goddamn Sparkle.
                For a dark subject such as a zombie apocalypse, the game is pretty bright and colorful, no doubt helped out by the protagonist. As a matter of fact, one of the things you can buy with your zombie medals is alternate outfits for Juliet—two of which are bonuses for preordering the game: a Jimmy Urine (the lead singer for Mindless Self-Indulgence, who helped compose the soundtrack) outfit, and Juliet cosplaying as Ash from Evil Dead (sorry to say but the Boomstick is purely ascetic). The other characters are very lively and developed; even the Purveyors are bristling with personality—Josey is a combination of the most exaggerated traits of George Clinton, T. Pain and Flavor Flav, and cites as one of his influences an amount of cocaine that even Charlie Sheen would chastise as being a little excessive; Mariska will have you loving Janis Joplin and/or hating hippies all over again; Zed is based off of Jimmy Urine, and has a memorable boss fight not in spite of, but because of his reliance on profanity. The first time through, I had to pause the game and regain my composure during the battle with Zed, because during the first stage of the fight, after bifurcating him with your chainsaw, he pushes his two halves back together and tells Juliet, “You think that hurt me?! I just jizzed a little!” It was such an absurd, morbid and hilarious site that I couldn’t stop laughing.
                The controls are smooth, but there are some minor camera issues when you’re against some kind of wall or other obstacle. The unarmed attacks home in on targets, but it doesn’t always go for the one you necessarily want to slap around. Other students you’re trying to rescue (and there’s an achievement for saving them all) are often ganged up on by zombies, which is especially frustrating when you’re also getting ganged up on while trying to get to them. The music is excellent, and you can customize the soundtrack, but you only get to make a playlist of five songs. Plus the action is pretty noisy compared to the music itself, so a lot of incredible songs can get lost in the shuffle. I will say that the musical dissonance is errant genius, though; when you go into super mode, you hack up zombies to the chorus of “Hey Mickey” by Toni Basil. And when you stop to buy stuff, the music immediately cuts to a loop of—what else?—“Lollipop” by The Chrodettes. They’re both so very jarring, which is what makes them effective.
                So in short, Lollipop Chainsaw is indulgent, over the top, absurd, and gruesome, and doesn’t take itself seriously for one second. While the idea of teen drama mixed in with classic horror monsters has been, in the past, an exercise in cinematic and literary futility (the Twilight series) or campy, so-bad-it’s-good fare (Teen Wolf), the image of a girl fretting over her nonexistent weight issues and her relationship with the severed, magically animated head that is her boyfriend mowing down zombies by the boatloads with a chainsaw only serves to enhance both experiences. I’m not sure if that means you can set anything against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse and have it as a recipe for win or not. But what is plainly obvious is that Suda51 has knocked it out of the park with this one, and an original title like this is a rare gem that you’d be foolish to pass up.
  A minus

Ari Rockefeller

When he is not training Pokémon and being the very best, the Master of the Written Word churns out convention, video game, anime and movie reviews like clockwork. No one is more productive and dangerous with a pen and paper (or, in this case, a keyboard).

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