Weird. Wacky. Bizarre. Surreal.
Suda51 has a penchant for making, shall we say, unconventional video games. Always highly stylized and incredibly satirical, his video games feature over the top characters, unabashed violence and sex, blatant references to pop culture, and plots and settings that cannot be described as anything but the four words listed above.
With No More Heroes, Suda hit the mainstream, and though he has largely produced duds ever since, his latest work, Lollipop Chainsaw, might just be his cleverest, and his best this side of No More Heroes 2, at least.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is Lollipop Chainsaw? A wildly inappropriate game, featuring a heavily sexualized lead, barely veiled innuendo, a premise that makes no sense, and knows it, and in addition, is gleefully proud of it? A game that revels in being the ultimate teenage conception of just what a ‘mature’ game should be, with copious amounts of blood, gore, and sex?
There are multiple reasons to appreciate Lollipop Chainsaw. It is, after all, a hell of a product. Unfortunately, where it succeeds on so many levels, it fails entirely at being a compelling game.
You might appreciate Lollipop Chainsaw for how boldly it tackles themes that most games shy away from. It’s lead is a barely legal high school cheerleader, who has a penchant for ‘sucking lollipops,’ and who likes her boobs to feel the fresh air. References to masturbation, oral sex, anorexia, and much much more abound, and Lollipop Chainsaw can be downright uncomfortable at times, especially as it tries to walk the fine line between being clever and satirical, and being crude and obscene.
The dialog can often come off as simply being in bad taste. Indeed, it can set one off wondering as to whether so much of it wasn’t just lost in translation, and if many of the things that shock and appall us, but are featured so proudly in the game, might not be boiled down to regional and cultural differences. However, when the dialog is good- and it eventually manages to hit its stride- it is excellent, just flat out excellent. The exchanges between Juliet (the scantily clad protagonist) and her dad are perhaps the best ones, as the game then mixes up the two highly opposed themes of blatant sexuality and a parent’s protectiveness towards his daughter in the same scene. The result is some uncomfortable, if outright hysterical, laughter.
Not as clever are the exchanges with Juliet’s now dead boyfriend, whose animated head still hangs at her side. Although these conversations are replete with pop culture references, and are oftentimes genuinely funny, on the whole, they do not exhibit the same wit and level that Juliet’s conversations with her dad do.
Lollipop Chainsaw works at other auditory levels too. For example, the game employs a licensed soundtrack, probably in keeping with its ‘evoke pop culture at every possible juncture’ mantra. Whereas the selection of songs may not necessarily be to one’s liking, it is hard to deny that the songs fit the mood well, and that they do a great job of enhancing the atmosphere.
But as good as Lollipop Chainsaw is as a surrealistic take on pop culture and the teenage perspective, it underwhelms when it comes to the actual gameplay mechanics. Lollipop Chainsaw is structured like an action game, but multiple things hold it back, from a camera that seems to work against you more often than with you, to a general lack of variety and depth that results in the combat feeling repetitive. Requiring you to use your pom poms, a chainsaw, and many a time, environmental hazards, Lollipop Chainsaw attempts to mimic the combo based system of other action games, but generally cannot replicate their depth, even though it succeeds in duplicating their style. Even though the game makes provisions for unlocking more moves and combos, the entire combat of the game comes off as an arduous exercise in pointlessness, as you find yourself mindlessly running through the game on autopilot.
To the game’s credit, it does try to liven things up, sometimes by throwing you into arenas which requires you to use specific environmental objects, sometimes by unlocking new moves, and sometimes by way of multistaged boos fights against colorful characters, both in terms of their visual appearance, and in terms of the language they use. However, again, while you might appreciate the bosses, and how they look, and how well written their bios are, the actual act of engaging them in battles can best be described as banal.
And that, in the end, is true of the entire game. Lollipop Chainsaw works best when you don’t assess it as a game, but rather approach it as a brilliant monument to pop culture. Although it can get obscenely uncomfortable at times, on the whole, the game has a genius sense of humor, and some great dialog. However, start trying to play it as a game, and cracks begin to show, from the shallowness of its mechanics, to its incredibly short length- only roughly five hours.
It’s a great, surreal experience, that is certainly recommended if you have the stomach for it, but don’t go expecting a game that justifies the $60 purchase. It barely works as a game in the first place.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
A good licensed soundtrack that enhances the mood, well written dialog, unflinchingly bold, a great satire of pop culture and the teenage perspective
Shallow gameplay mechanics, short length, bad camera