Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
NOTE: This review is based on the Xbox 360 English version, so the voice cast will be credited accordingly.
Back in 2012, a lot of grindhouse and horror fans got a pleasant surprise when the game Lollipop Chainsaw was announced. The game, while certainly far from a AAA Title had a lot of promotion going into it, with world famous cosplayer Jessica Nigri doing a lot of promotion as the game’s main character Juliet Starling. As well, a certain pre-order bonus tailored to horror fans was announced, where you could gain access to a costume that made the Juliet character into a female Ashley J. Williams from the Evil Dead franchise. While I pre-ordered the game, after much debacle with EB Games/Gamestop I never ended up gerting the costume, but that is a whole other story.
Many fans were also excited as renegade game developer Suda 51 was behind the game, and he had a pedigree of producing great fun games such as the No More Heroes series, as well as the woefully underrated Shadows Of The Damned. Add in the fact that James Gunn was writing the game and bringing along a voice cast of his friends who he’s worked with, and you knew you were going to be in for an incredibly strange and humorous story with multiple references to the horror genre. What else would you expect from the man behind such films as Tromeo & Juliet, Slither, Super and this year’s forthcoming Marvel tentpole film Guardians Of The Galaxy?
Now you may be asking yourself why I have chosen to review the game roughly 2 years after its initial release. Well, first of all, it’s a fun underappreciated game, and deserves some more attention. Secondly, I had lent the game to a friend, totally forgotten he had it, and recently got it back and I have been going back through mopping up all of the Xbox Achievements in the game, and it struck me as a perfect opportunity for a new Arcane Arcade review. On top of all of that, the game boasts an incredible voice cast including Tara Strong (one of the most prolific female voiceover artists in the world today, boasting such credits as Harley Quinn in the Batman Arkham game series and Princess Clara on the hilarious Drawn Together), Michael Rosenbaum (best known for playing Lex Luthor on Smallville as well as his turn in 1998’s Urban Legend), Gregg Henry (who I will never not think of his hilarious turn as Mayor Jack MacReady in Slither), Linda Cardellini (Velma in the live-action Scooby-Doo movies, Freaks And Geeks), Shawnee Smith (from the Saw movies), Jimmy Urine (lead singer of Mindless Self Indulgence, who also helped helm the game’s soundtrack) and the always amazing Michael Rooker (who turned in one of the greatest and creepiest film debuts of all-time in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, but is probably more well known as Merle Dixon in The Walking Dead). That isn’t even covering everyone, so you know the list is incredibly strong.
Let’s discuss the plot. Juliet Starling (Tara Strong) awakes on her eighteenth birthday and realizes she is late to meet her boyfriend Nick (Michael Rosenbaum). As she heads to meet him, she discovers that the town has been overtaken by zombies. When she finally gets to Nick, he is unfortunately bitten while trying to fight a zombie. So Juliet does what any rational high school cheerleader would do when her boyfriend is bitten by one of the undead, she cuts his head off. Here is where we get some background on Juliet as well as the whole Starling family. Turns out they are a family of zombie slayers, and also dabble in magic. She keeps Nick’s head alive using magic, and he is attached at her waist, and occasionally is attached to a headless zombie for extra help. Back to the story, Juliet meets with her zombie killing Sensei, Morikawa (Bruce Locke, who once played Shang Tsung on the Mortal Kombat Conquest TV series) and they discover that everything has been caused by a Goth outcast named Swan (voiced by James Gunn‘s brother Sean Gunn, who always has bit parts in his brothers works). Swan summons five demons and Morikawa Sensei is killed during their attempt to stop him. From here each level ends with one of the five demon bosses. Throughout the story you have to alternatively assist and get assistance from your older sister Cordelia (Linda Cardellini), your younger sister Rosalind (Kimberly Brooks, who provided the voice for Barbara Gordon/Oracle in the Batman Arkham games) and your father, known only as Dad (Gregg Henry). The five demons vary in personality and style, from the punk rock zombie Zed (Jimmy Urine), followed by the metal Viking Vikke (Michael Rooker). You then encounter the psychedelic zombie hippie Mariska (Shawnee Smith), before wrapping things up with the funky Josey (Dave Fennoy who portrayed Lee Everett in the absolutely phenomenal Telltale The Walking Dead: Season One game) and the motorcycle sporting rockabilly knockoff Lewis Legend (Rick D. Wasserman who provided the voice of Clayface in Batman Arkham City as well as Michael Barrick in Gears Of War 3). Following your defeat of all the zombie “bosses” Swan reveals that it was all a ploy to unleash the true enemy of the game, known simply as Killabilly. Killabilly eats Swan and goes to work destroying the city. For an idea of how to describe Killabilly, imagine an Elvis impersonator was blended with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
So, there’s your story. As for the gameplay, it is for the most part, your standard Hack and Slash style game. Your main style of attack is to use varying combos. In addition the game is littered with Quick-Time Events, causing you to press whichever button appears on screen in a quick manner. The controls are for the most part responsive, and you always feel properly in control of Juliet and her chainsaw. And the chainsaw is your best friend throughout the game. As I mentioned the combos already, the most effective ones always end with a chainsaw swing to dismember your zombie enemies. Your other method of attacks include pom-pom bashes (she is a cheerleader after all) and kicks. As you progress through the game you unlock add-ons for your chainsaw, including the Chainsaw Dash (which allows you to speed quickly through the areas as well as boost off of ramps) and the Chainsaw Blaster (which turns your chainsaw into a gun-style weapon). You can also unlock special power-ups that can be used with Nick’s head, varying from the Nick Shake (where you run around shaking his head as it spits out medals and lollipops, the game’s version of currency and health respectively) to the Nick Shoot (where you basically cannonball his skull at an enemy for a decent amount of damage).
The game has a wicked sense of humor and countless homages to the horror genre. Just a few of these include a level entitled O’Bannon Farm (a reference to the late Dan O’Bannon, co-writer of Alien and who also wrote and directed the ultimate punk rock zombie film, 1985’s Return Of The Living Dead) and the Fulci Fun Center (a tribute to Italian horror giant Lucio Fulci, the man behind such classics as Zombie, The Beyond (you can check out my review here), House By The Cemetery and City Of The Living Dead). There are even jokes at James Gunn himself, including a scene where Juliet and Nick come across zombies running on treadmills, where Juliet remarks “what kind of idiot would come up with such a stupid idea” referencing the fact that Gunn had written the 2004 reimagining of Dawn Of The Dead.
Despite all the great things about the game, it does have its flaws. Given that the game is your standard hack & slash beat ’em up, the gameplay does grow stale after a while. This especially comes into effect when you have to repeatedly play the levels in order to gather all of the game’s achievements. As well, the loading times for portions of the level can be dreadful, sometimes even causing the game to freeze completely. I’ve installed the game on my Xbox 360 Hard Drive, which is usually meant to reduce loading times and even with this the game still seems to take a long time at points. The game also has a major reliance on Quick Time Events, for those who really dislike that gaming trope.
Despite these flaws, overall the game is a great time. It is definitely arguable that it is worth the initial $59.99 price tag that all games launch at these days, but given that it is a few years old now, you should be able to find it for $20 or less. And if you like zombies, horror references, plus an incredibly juvenile sense of humor, you could do much worse. So what the hell, go for it, it’s a lot of fun, and enjoy chopping up those zombies!
Below you will find a link to my gamer profile just so you can see this review was done after thoroughly finishing the game and mopping up almost every single achievement that it offers!