Sunday, July 15, 2012
Review: Lollipop Chainsaw
As much as I enjoy Suda 51's work (either for being over the top or for being really fucking weird - yes, I'm talking about you, Killer7), a shitty game is a shitty game, and Lollipop Chainsaw is no exception. Suda 51 isn't someone I praise for excellent gameplay because barring maybe Shadows Of The Damned (which I'd consider #9 for my top games of 2011), none of his games have the best gameplay mechanics in the world. It's really just the blend of style and just enough substance to go by that makes his games tick, particularly the style, which tends to be over the top blood and gore splashing everywhere on the screen, set the music you'd expect to hear in gay dwarf porn or something (well, not really, but he does make some oddball choices and the results do feel like that at times). But in the case of Lollipop Chainsaw, the substance is rice paper thin and the style honestly isn't all that stylish. Perhaps my expectations were set too high after such a great game, but even when you look at it as some game done by a random person, it still doesn't really feel like a good game... just like a terrible game, if I'm being perfectly honest.
It's Juliet Starling's 18th birthday, and she turns up to school... which happens to be infested with zombies because some goth kid wanted to top the Columbine High School massacre by raising the dead. She saves her boyfriend Nick from a zombie bite by decapitating him, and instead of him dying, he's still alive somehow to provide sarcastic running commentary on what's going on. Whilst this has a decent setup, it all goes to hell in a handbasket from here, and it's not just because the development of the plot and characters are more anorexic than the average supermodel (trust me, we're not getting another Killer7 anytime soon), but also the fact that most of the jokes suck ass. Like Shadows Of The Damned, it's more about taking situations and cracking jokes about them, but while that game was more subtle than not, this game is one step away from being the next Friedberg/Seltzer movie... I mean, at least there are jokes here, but they're all about how "sexy" Juliet is and a whole host of shit that only 13 year olds and drunk 30-somethings find funny. But seriously, the reason I even bring up those two troglodytes who wouldn't know a funny joke if it kicked them in the balls is that there sure are a lot of references to Hot Topic stuff like Katy Perry or My Chemical Romance (oh wow, these guys are relevant again? who knew), and really, it's as funny as you'd expect... not at all, in case you can't figure it out (oh wow it's funny because I've heard of it). There are some funny moments, like the interaction between Juliet and Nick - that's what really works in this game's favor, but beyond that, it's hard to care for a story that only cares about shitty jokes.
Unfortunately, that's not the worst part - nope, that dishonor goes towards the gameplay, and good fucking god, its so shit that it almost causes physical pain at times... almost. Basically, you go through linear hallways and slaughter groups of zombies. Really, it should be a recipe for success because I actually enjoy games like Dynasty Warriors, but what Dynasty Warriors had that Lollipop Chainsaw doesn't is the feeling that you're a real badass warlord taking down 5789892758275976 soldiers at a time. In Lollipop Chainsaw, you fight through like 10 or maybe 30 zombies with a clunky combat engine that makes Medievil feel like Devil May Cry. The idea is that you're meant to use light acrobatic cheerleading attacks in order to herd the zombies together and/or to weaken them, ready for the big finish - that is, the heavy attack, in which you cut their heads off with your chainsaw... would you believe that I snickered a little when I typed in quick attacks, because they feel slow and clunky, almost like the chainsaw attacks - hey, heavy attacks are allowed to feel slow because it's not like you wouldn't use the stronger attack if it was faster than the weaker one. Oh, and you have two different projectile attacks - your chainsaw can double as a shotgun, and you can kick Nick's head at enemies. That's it. No extra weapons, no real upgrades (extra combos isn't really enough), and most importantly, sweet sweet fuck all in terms of anything worthwhile. Even the bosses, who are at least dripping with personality, aren't all that great as it all boils down to hit and run tactics, and the bosses don't really do much to make their fights interesting... or do much, period. Expect to find combat more boring than a more recent episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd.
Oh silly me, there's more to this game than shitty levels and clunky combat, for there are mini games to be played! Some of the mini games range from running zombies over with a tractor, to cutting up thrown zombies baseball style, to cutting off heads and throwing them into basketball hoops, which are about as silly as you'd expect and are pretty much there for the sake of being there. I don't think a single one of them was fun in the slightest. It just felt like unnecessary busywork, and what kills them is that they repeat. You'll be doing them multiple times throughout the game, and honestly, they're no Mario Party mini games. They're just drab.
But while the mini games tacked on and sometimes frustrating depending on what you're doing, kicking Nick's head onto a headless corpse and getting it to move is just really poorly implemented. Instead of using the left analogue stick to move, you have to press the button that's on the screen to move him. Whether this was conceived after a night of Japanese cocaine binging or cough medicine overdose is up for discussion, but I think we can all come to a consensus on the fact that tacked on quick time events are shit. Like... what's the point? They're not even good, that's the part that hurts the most. Better than those found in Asura's Wrath, sure, but nothing about them is anything more than that. There is a huge sense of urgency to them, but sometimes, it feels like they come at you and leave way too quickly, giving you no time to react, and one failed button press leads to instant death. No redo until you get back to that section or anything, it's right back to the last checkpoint. If they were slowed down by a second, I'd actually say that these are good, if really fucking pointless and there for the sake of being there quick time events. The idea of Lollipop Chainsaw is to replay the levels on harder difficulties to get higher scores (usually through combos, killing zombies with style and not dying), but if playing through them the first time sucked balls, what makes you think repeated playthroughs are going to be any better?
Hell, even the graphics aren't that good. The styles presented throughout the game are, but it's the technical aspects that are very underwhelming. The textures look like they came straight out of a PS2 game and a good deal of the scripted events and animations don't seem to make any sense in their movement, like they're on their own plane of existence. Maybe there are too many frames that are played at a slow frames per second rate? I'd say so. But where it's technically mediocre, it's stylistically good. As expected, decapitations result in blood spewing everywhere, topped off with pink sparkles and hearts and all that other girly shit, which goes well with her character... I mean, she is a blonde and "sexy" cheerleader, after all. Then there are the bosses, which have various musical styles like punk, electronic and psychedelic, and the look is just right. Whether it's a stage or a room full of fluorescent colors, while the battles themselves may be dull, at least it looks good. The colors are washed out, yeah, but sometimes, it works because those moments would be ruined by vibrant colors... sometimes. Overall, there's a good sense of style, but everything else feels underwhelming.
The sound design is great, though. Unlike the rest of the game, it feels alive. The voice acting is exciting, sarcastic - whatever tone it has to be in any given situation, especially with Tara Strong as Juliet. She really brings her character to life as a ditzy cheerleader with every word that comes out of her mouth. That's not to discount the rest of the cast, but really, you could say the same about all of them. The music is lively, dreary, and whatever else would be fitting! Akira Yamaoka is back for his second Suda 51 game, this time aided by Jimmy Urine (lead singer of Mindless Self Indulgence), and the two of them compose... well, a Mindless Self Indulgence album. Lots of rock, punk, metal and electronic music strewn throughout, but it all fits well with the game world - not only because if it you put this in any other game, it'd sound bizarre (whether it's Silent Hill or Brutal Legend), but also because it helps accentuate the visual style for the bosses, or because it helps give out the feeling that we're a cheerleader in a zombie apocalypse of sorts. But then whenever Juliet enters super mode (which, after killing a good amount of zombies in a row, basically lets you one shot kill more zombies and fuck up bosses), Mickey by Toni Basel plays, which really goes with the fact that you're a cheerleader because, well, it's a very cheerleader-y song. If nothing else, the music does sound pretty good.
It's understandable that Lollipop Chainsaw has its fans, but I am not one of them. While other Suda 51 games aren't really known for having good gameplay, they have decent enough gameplay to go well with an excellent sense of style, and for that reason, they are still good games. Here? It's like he held back a bit on the style and the gameplay is just flat out terrible with some really crap attempts at variety because the core gameplay is boring and nothing attempts to mask that fact or kiss its booboo all better. Ultimately, Lollipop Chainsaw is an extremely underwhelming game that really accentuates what could really go wrong with the average Suda 51 game. I suggest skipping this one and just keeping an eye out for what he does next.