In the late 90’s it was British developers RARE that presented the most forward-thinking, enviable design templates. The likes of Goldeneye 007Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark defined the late 1990s. The PlayStation 2 years were arguably the time for Team ICO to shine, and on the Xbox 360 it was Grasshopper Manufacture. No other studio managed to deliver consistently high quality products across a wide range of platforms to a huge audience. In doing so they earned a reputation that preceded every new release. Lollipop Chainsaw was no different; it may not be the startling revelation in scrolling beat-‘em-ups that many are looking for, but for the core videogaming demographic it was nothing less than another landmark title.

Lollipop Chainsaw Likes You to Punch Zombies in the Face

Developed by Kadokawa Games under the guiding hand of Grasshopper Manufacture and their charismatic leading figure, Goichi Suda (aka SUDA 51), Lollipop Chainsaw is – on the surface – just another scrolling beat-‘em-up. Another modernisation of the formula laid out in the 80’s by Double Dragon and renovated in the early 90’s by Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Lollipop Chainsaw is set to be ranked alongside the likes of Devil May Cry and Onechanbara as a combat videogame in which the player is outnumbered by the hordes. As with both the aforementioned Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation releases, Lollipop Chainsaw does occasionally demand some lateral thinking to overcome a puzzle or find the correct route. But by-and-large the gameplay remains focussed on dishing-out the pain. This is an action experience through-and-through, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

Lollipop Chainsaw screenshot

Lollipop Chainsaw’s control system is delivered exactly as you would expect. Quick attacks, heavy attacks, low attacks, special attacks and dodges. Zombies must be decapitated (heavy or low attacks) to be defeated. While it is possible to decapitate them at any point, it’s much easier to do so after you’ve roughed them up with a few quick attacks. The special attacks allow you to take out several zombies with one swift manoeuvre, but these are of course limited by a meter which increases with each zombie kill.

Players can buy new manoeuvres from the in-game store with medals earned by killing zombies. Health and attack upgrades, amongst others, are also available. Of course, from this brief summation there’s likely to be little to convince you that Lollipop Chainsaw offers anything new. Much like the critically acclaimed Shadows of the DamnedLollipop Chainsaw adheres rather rigidly to the formula of the genre. However, it’s in those moments of unique flair that Lollipop Chainsaw sets itself aside, as is the Grasshopper Manufacture trademark.

Never Judge a Book…

Innovation such as Flower, Sun & Rain and the cult classic Killer 7 can only get you so far. These titles achieved significant audiences amongst true hobbyists, but anyone unfamiliar with the developer before going might find them too obtuse. Almost ignorant of the wants and needs of the average gamer. Shadows of the DamnedSine Mora and Lollipop Chainsaw proved that the developer matured in its respect of the market: it needs to create games that sell millions of units in order to succeed. Lollipop Chainsaw has all the zombie head-busting action and sex appeal it needs to compete in the wider market, but still offers plenty of those moments where your jaw hits the floor. Where you step back and realise that this moment could only be the creation of a mind finely in tune with what it means to be an innovator.

Lollipop Chainsaw screenshot

Despite the suggestion that Lollipop Chainsaw is designed for little more than titillation, it retains the enviable attention to detail evident in all Grasshopper Manufacture productions. As such Kadokawa Games clearly benefited from the helping hand offered to them. From the Paperboy-esque menu screen to the self-aware references to SUDA 51’s previous works, Lollipop Chainsaw is clearly a product designed out of passion for videogames. And intended for passionate videogame players. It has the pseudo Japanese flavour that many in the rest will assume is actually representative of much of the country’s media, but it’s intentionally tongue-in-cheek presentation is unmistakably the work of SUDA 51. Just as the constant references to American pop culture and trivialisation of the west’s lesser known history.

The language in Lollipop Chainsaw is eccentric to say the least. Whether it’s a matter of poor localisation or is intended to provide a distinctive distancing from reality remains open for discussion, but given SUDA 51’s previous works we’re inclined to side with the latter. It’s all delivered with the same kind of flavour we’ve come to know and love from SUDA 51’s personal book of design, and frankly we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lollipop Chainsaw screenshot

Innovation Alone: Fighting an Unfightable Battle

Given SUDA 51’s history of eschewing genre tradition in favour of innovation, some gamers might be expecting Lollipop Chainsaw to deviate from the well trodden path of scrolling beat-‘em-ups. At least in a more meaningful way than it does. However, once the realisation that big budget videogames have to sell big numbers in order to be successful hits home, anyone with a passion for the industry will recognise that Grasshopper Manufacture and Kadokawa Games have managed to walk that fine line between mass market appeal and innovation almost perfectly. From the heavy metal overtones to our heroine Juliet Starling’s knowledge of her own sex appeal, Lollipop Chainsaw is every bit the tongue-in-cheek, action-packed experience it should be.

Categories: Games