- Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture< br>
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Horror Action
- Pros: Great Screenplay, Fun Characters, Original Gameplay, Amazing Music
- Cons: Unrefined Mechanics, Short Playing Time, Repetitive Action
Juliet Starling is to zombies as Buffy Summers is to vampires. She's a slayer -- a lollipop-sucking, chainsaw-wielding, undead-killing machine. When a former classmate of Starling's at San Romero High School (a nod to George A. Romero, director of "Night of the Living Dead," among many other horror classics) tries to open a portal between our world and that of the "Rotten World," things get a little hectic. The undead take over the high school and Starling has to slice and dice her way through armies of the undead to several overlords who hold the keys to stopping the inevitable apocalypse. Across teen-centric settings like a high school, sports stadium, and arcade center, "Lollipop Chainsaw" goes for a decapitation record for the summer season and finds enough visceral thrills along the way to satisfy fans of the genre.
The mechanics of "Lollipop Chainsaw" are simple enough -- daze the zombies with your pompom skills and then use a combination of low and high hits with your swinging blade to take them down. Two face buttons are largely defensive (hitting them away with your pompoms or leaping them to dodge) and the other two are offensive. As you earn zombie medals through combat, you'll be able to purchase killer combinations for more impact and the game will unlock new skills for you as it progresses including a blaster gun on one level and a charging chainsaw ability on another. The developers also attempt to break up the combat with some mini-games, especially on the arcade level, and a healthy number of Quick-Time Event sequences.
As for storytelling, Tara Strong (a great voice actress who has worked on dozens of animated films and TV shows including "Princess Mononoke," "Teen Titans," and the DC Universe films "Wonder Woman" and "Superman vs. the Elite") plays the lead character with a perfect blend of whimsy and power. She's a great heroine, the kind of memorable character we don't often get in video games. Much of the credit for her development as a character must go to filmmaker James Gunn, the director of "Slither" and "Super" and the writer of the remake of "Dawn of the Dead." As a credited writer on the game, Gunn brings so much life and energy to "Lollipop Chainsaw" that it makes one wish that he would alternate films with future video game scripts.
It helps that Strong is surrounded by equally-talented voice actors, including Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor from "Smallville") as the decapitated head of Juliet's boyfriend, who she wears on her belt and occasionally attaches to zombie bodies when she needs a bit of brute strength, and Linda Cardellini ("Freaks and Geeks") & Kimberly Brooks (a voice actress from "Batman: Arkham City" and "Mass Effect") as Juliet's sisters. We often discount having a strong voice cast behind a game but the team that made "Lollipop Chainsaw" adds a sheen of professionalism to the entire affair that so many titles are sorely missing.
As much talent as people like Gunn, Strong, and Rosenbaum bring to "Lollipop Chainsaw," it means nothing if the game doesn't play well. The core mechanics of the combat -- hit, jump, slice -- is strong and what you'll rely on over and over again. However, the combos that can be bought at various stations throughout the game feel woefully underdeveloped. It got to the point where I very rarely even used any of them.
There are also a few mini-games that amplify some of the mistakes in design and controller mapping. For example, there's a baseball game in which you have to shoot zombies before they kill Nick, your boyfriend, as he tries to round the bases three times. If it's not bad enough that the same button shoots as the one that starts a turbo superpower, the actual process of aiming and shooting is disastrously designed. The L2 button allegedly locks on a target but the number of times that it would choose a target other than the one I was looking at was maddening. There are also a few mini-games like baseball and a couple of arcade ones that are just frustrating.
Even more frustrating is the shocking length of "Lollipop Chainsaw." You'll finish it in an afternoon. While I've long avoided the "this game is too short" school of criticism, believing that too many games actually pad their running time with unnecessary repetition, this one just doesn't deliver as much as one needs for a full price tag in 2012. It's partially because the writing and voice work is so strong, but I wanted more time with these characters and more challenges with the gameplay. Honestly, the end comes when you'll think you're about a third of the way done and being able to replay levels for point values only works for truly hardcore gamers.