Friday, June 15, 2012

Review: Lollipop Chainsaw (PS3)

Goichi Suda is the video game equivalent to Quintin Tarantino. It’s eerie how similar the two are – they share a similar cinematic flair, and a similar sense of humour. They’re also similar in that they’re different enough from the mainstream that they’re an acquired taste.

Lollipop Chainsaw continues Suda’s taste for utter insanity. It’s a short trip, but breakneck energy and a witty B-grade, grindhouse-style plot also means that this is a game that you don’t really want to be much longer than the four-hour run time. Any longer and it would be at risk of outstaying its welcome – there’s not a whole meat to the combat, and the combat is literally 100 per cent of the game, but at four to six hours, it’s a breathtaking demonstration of creativity and self-referential charm.

But let’s start with why this is one of those rare games where the gameplay doesn’t really matter. Lollipop Chainsaw is one of the weirdest, funniest and utterly morbidly charming games you’ll ever play. It’s a resolutely B-grade horror game with zombies right out of the 70s and a blonde cheerleader lead character that is a weird, gloriously over-the-top take on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Juliet is not a one-note character, though. Beneath the deliberate clichés (airhead blonde turns of speech, skimpy costumes) is an empowered female character. She’s multi-lingual and an incredibly powerful combatant. The main male lead, Juliet’s decapitated boyfriend, is literally useless in a fight and utterly dependent on Juliet. He’s the target of most of the deprecating humour, too. It’s the first way that Suda manages to turn expectations completely on their head. You’ll go in expecting sexploitation. What you’ll get is one of the most empowered, impressive female characters we’ve ever seen in a game. The game even throws a mocking little wink the way of anyone who bought the game because of the promo shots of upskirts and tight shirts – tilt the camera too low and leading lady Juliet will cover herself with strategically placed hands – there’s even a teasing trophy reward for doing that.

Not that the game gets too heavy-handed with the self referencing; it’s important to realise that first and foremost that this is a game all about having fun and despite moments of extreme violence the fun is light hearted and, strangely, happy. Most of the gore is literally replaced with rainbows, and while the boss battles (up to usual Suda standards of wild intensity) are incredibly violent affairs, the effect is softened greatly by the explosion of bright colours and adult – but deeply funny – profanity.

When the game kicks off, and after laughing along with the game with that for the first few seconds it’s time to get moving, and the game’s energy doesn’t let up from there. Being funnelled through tunnel after tunnel, and slaughtering a mass of zombies (and the occasional boss zombie), there’s a brief cut scene of sheer craziness, and it’s on to the next level. Everything happens at such a rapid pace it’s like trying to watch the one-two punch from a featherweight; blink and you’ll get a black eye.

Now, that raw energy is there to mask a very one-note combat system. Lollipop Chainsaw is less complex than a Dynasty Warriors game, with a very simple combo system and no block button (always a sign of a game that has a penchant for being a button-masher). There’s a meter that fills up as you slaughter zombies that lets you unleash a “Super-Juliet” for a couple of seconds (the game will play “Hey Mickey” as that happens, no less), and zombie heads will really roll, but deciding when to use that is the extent of this game’s strategy. Otherwise it’s simply about memorising enemy patterns and exploiting them.

Lollipop Chainsaw controls nicely, and even at the higher difficulty levels, this is one of those rare beat-em-ups which don’t get too frustrating, but it must be said that it’s Suda’s simplest work to date. That seems to work in his favour, though, as it takes the focus out of the “gamey” elements and allows him to focus on the setting, the characters, and the outrageous situations.

Yes, it’s about four hours long, but do you get off a three-minute roller coaster ride and say to yourself “man that was so much fun, but this ride sucks, it should have been five minutes!”? The sheer creativity on display here makes this game worthwhile, and really, if gamers really do want the intelligent, creative games they claim to want, this game should sell in truckloads.

Somehow I suspect the majority is going to stick with Call of Duty.

- Matt S

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