Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Publisher: Warner Brothers
Review Date: 7/7/12
A disappointing mash-up of "Dawn Of The Dead", "High School Of The Dead", "Evil Dead", "Buffy The Vampire Slayer", "Onechanbara", and "Bayonetta", although perhaps my standards for the female action genre are set too high. Juliet Starling is a cute and perky high school cheerleader who comes from a family of zombie hunters. When a dark force unleashes a horde of zombies on her school, it's up to her to take them out with her bedazzled chainsaw before the infection spreads. Unfortunately, her boyfriend Nick is a casualty of the mayhem, but Juliet manages to salvage his severed head and keep it alive with a magic spell. Hanging from Juliet's waist, he's a constant wise-cracking companion throughout the game.
Sadly, the initial impression of the game leaves a bad taste, but if you can get through the first painful couple of hours, the game finds its footing and becomes more enjoyable. The first thing you notice is the atrociously bad dialog, which attempts to elicit laughs through crude sexist remarks and vulgarity. Juliet is presented as an air-headed dingbat sex object, and the zombies routinely call her a bitch, whore, and slut, among other things. One of the students she rescues emphatically tells her that he's going to masturbate to her that evening, which really says a lot about the game's target demographic. Other awful lines include:
"Zombies suck dick at driving."
"Feel the testes in my pants."
"I'm going to fist my ass with your head."
"Well, if it isn't the Pirates Of The Jerk-offian."
"I used to think she was hot, but now she has an intestine coming out of her vagina."
"I totally need another tampon."
"I think that zombie was trying to bukkake me."
"That zombie totally pulled my underwear up my butt."
Much like the 2002 "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" game, "Lollipop Chainsaw" is overly chatty, and annoying one-liners are tossed around non-stop. Fortunately, there's a large collection of clips to choose from and the game is smart enough to use them contextually and not repeat them over and over. Not all of the dialog is terrible, though, and there are some genuinely smart and funny moments. For the most part, Nick plays the straight man to all of the insanity that's going on around him, and his naïve sarcasm sets up a nice dynamic with Juliet as well as the audience. The game works best when it takes itself seriously and isn't trying so hard to be funny or offensive. It also knows when to poke fun at itself, and the moments when Juliet and Nick break the fourth wall are some of the best. A few of the more amusing lines include:
"Aw, you're like a kitten. A kitten that doesn't speak Japanese."
"Now I hate you more than Carrot Top."
"It was sad having to kill my friends, but it was also really fun!"
"Again and again with the door! It's irritating!"
"Dying hurts so bad!"
"This is fun! It almost makes me forget that most of my friends are dead."
"It's awful! But hilarious!"
While the characters can be overly grating at first, they definitely grow on you and the voice acting is superb. Tara Strong (one of my personal favorite voice actors) delivers a stunning performance as Juliet, overflowing with youthful energy and cheery optimism. Michael Rosenbaum's delivery as Nick is fabulous, and really conveys a sense of overwhelming dread and disbelief. His sarcastic observations are some of the funniest lines in the game, and his interactions with Juliet are priceless. Sometimes a simple well-timed "what?" is enough to make you bust out laughing. Juliet's zombie hunting sisters Cordelia and Rosalind are also wonderfully realized, and Rosalind's high octane adolescent schizophrenia is as annoying as it is inspired.
As far as gameplay is concerned, it looks great, but the camera and controls can be finicky and the level design is overly linear and non-interactive. However, the game continues to improve as you play through and level up Juliet's abilities. When it finds a groove, it's extremely fun to play, but the experience is uneven and it misses more often than it hits. Boss fights are long-winded and uninteresting, and are mostly endurance tests to see who gives out first. Quick-time events and mini-games break up the gameplay here and there, but they're mostly annoying. The final boss is infuriating in a "Dragon's Lair" kind of way, and I nearly didn't bother finishing the game because he was so frustrating. There's also a level that includes retro variations of "Pac-Man", "Breakout", "Elevator Action", and "Crazy Climber", and the immensely aggravating "Crazy Climber" mini-game almost caused me to quit altogether. I never want to go through that pain again.
This is the first game I've bought that has an instruction manual that contains NO instructions whatsoever. It's simply two pages of legal text completely unrelated to the game. Sheesh. All instructions are presented in-game, but the on-screen prompts disappear so quickly that you can't read them. This makes learning new skills and techniques much harder than it should be. Another major irritation is that the game tries to force you online to play. Why the hell would anyone want to play a single player game online?!? One entire game mode is dedicated solely to leaderboards, which is completely worthless in my opinion. Going online should be an option, not a default. As it is, it takes an appalling EIGHT button clicks just to get to the main menu so that you can even start the game. It's ridiculous, abusive, and uncalled for.
The game encourages multiple play-throughs by offering additional power-ups and costumes, including some cute uniforms from "High School Of The Dead" and several other manga series. These enhance the experience considerably, and a fully powered up Juliet is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Other costumes for Juliet's family members can be unlocked if you score high enough, but I haven't been able to do that yet. I also received a Rockabilly costume as a pre-order bonus, but it's only good for the Xbox Live profile that redeems it and I've yet to see it show up as a selectable outfit in Juliet's closet. This is also infuriating. Downloadable content should be available for the GAME not the USER.
You can also unlock and purchase background music tracks, but apart from a couple of ambient tracks by Akira Yamaoka ("Silent Hill"), the music is regrettably awful. And sadly, the best songs aren't available on the downloadable soundtrack album. The majority of it is hard rock and heavy metal, which doesn't match the tone of the game and becomes increasingly grating the longer you listen to it. The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" and Toni Basil's "Mickey" are nice diversions, but hearing the Chordettes' "Lollipop" on an infinite loop is enough to drive you out of your mind. Especially with Juliet's constant and unnerving chirping on top of it. It gives me a rash just thinking about it. Overall, the game has moments of brilliance and can be lots of fun if you can get past its aggressively crass and adolescent attitude, and its poor design decisions. It's just unfortunate that it tries so hard to appeal to Western sensibilities, when having a wacky off-beat Japanese attitude would have worked so much better.