It’s normally a bad thing when musical zombies from the Rotten World overrun your high school, force you to decapitate (and magically preserve) your boyfriend, and turn your birthday cake into a giant bomb. But Juliet Starling’s a zombie hunter. Her bedazzled chainsaw, which later transforms into a blaster, cuts rainbows through the air; her pom-poms not only have flair, but stun zombies; her cheerleader-training is perfect for leap-frogging monsters, or for coaxing her boyfriend into possessing a headless zombie’s body. Prepared as she may be for such a scenario, only a long-suffering repertoire of equally bad games can prepare gamers for Lollipop Chainsaw, an overly styled, repetitious, kitchen-sink comic brawler that’s “awful but hilarious,” to quote Juliet’s younger sister, Rosalind.
Yes, it’s possible you’ll chuckle at Lollipop Chainsaw’s antics, but it’s far more likely that you’ll be grimacing at the too-sensitive camera, the sluggish hard-lock gunplay, or the frequent loading screens. If you want laughs out of a Grasshopper Manufacture game, why not play the far more polished and inventive Shadows of the Damned? If you insist on a beat-’em-up, why not play No More Heroes, a more involving affair that cleverly utilizes the Wii’s motion-controller? While it’s true that combat’s a level above that of the execrable X-Men: Destiny (and features Global Leaderboards, if you’re into that sort of thing), the graphics aren’t, which leaves you playing solely for style points. And for that, well, have you already beaten 2009’s MadWorld, 2010’s Bayonetta, and 2011’s El-Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron? Do you have a zombie fetish? All right: proceed.
To the credit of producer Goichi Suda (Suda51), Lollipop Chainsaw at least embraces its lunacy: There’s an achievement for manipulating the camera to get an up-skirt shot of the protagonist, and the records her panty-sniffing sensei keeps on each zombie type are filled not with helpful hints, but sexual predilections. And like previous Suda51 games, levels are shaken up by bizarre mini-games: a visit to the O’Bannon Farm has you mowing down zombies in a combine; a trip to the Fulci Fun Center has you entering the various arcade games, a la Tron. The problem is that none of this is fun, or particularly developed; it’s just something to break the monotony of the rest of the game. A skyscraper-scaling sequence is particularly insufferable, filled as it is with one-hit kills, and it’s insulting that the game forces you to endure a tedious (and timed) sport—“Zombie Basketball”—more than once.
It’s not as if the designers don’t know what they’re doing. The menus are lovingly styled after EC’s pulp horror comics, the musical selection wisely goes for aggressive rock n’ roll (the Runaways’s “Cherry Bomb” is prominently featured), and the first boss, punk-rock zombie Zed, disproves that old saying about sticks and stones: He literally hurls obscenities at you in big block-letter form. Everything else, particularly the other bosses, is insultingly lazy: Vikke, a Viking drummer, has a do-nothing monster’s head grafted onto its shoulder; the fight with Mariska, a hippie sitar-player who drugs you with psilocybin, is less surreal than earlier sequences involving giant chickens; and although the final battle is against a Godzilla-sized zombie Elvis, you only get to slash at his hands (QTEs take care of the rest). With only five distinct areas and seven chapters (largely linear corridors, to boot), it’s hard not to feel unimpressed.
Speaking of an underwhelming delivery, the combat system involves three types of attacks: a slow and powerful upper-slice, a quick and weak pom-pom stun, and a stabbing attack meant for crawling zombies. There’s also an active dodge, which is meant to allow for fluid combos, a la Batman: Arkham City. That’s not what the game scores and rewards you on, though. Instead, your goal is to decapitate at least three zombies at once, an act called “Sparkle Hunting” that provides you with the gold and platinum medals necessary for purchasing improved stats and more useful combos. In other words, the game is reckless, but won’t allow you to play that way, and in a combo catch-22, it’s easiest to earn money with higher-level combos—which you can’t yet afford to unlock. The game jokes about “grinding one out” and has its masturbatory moments, but if you’re actually replaying levels to earn money, then you’ve already lost: You’ve become the living dead.