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Lollipop Chainsaw: Juliet Starling Will Carve a Place in Your Heart
My first question on hearing this title was “what exactly is a lollipop chainsaw anyway?” I imagined something that looked sweet but that would tear you up. And that’s a really good description of the game’s protagonist, Juliet Starling. Lollipop is the brainchild of Suda51 and movie director James Gunn (Slither, Dawn of the Dead remake, Tromeo and Juliet) who wanted to do something different from the regular gloomy zombie game. Suda51, when asked, said “A fun, happy zombie game has yet to exist. Lollipop Chainsaw is the only zombie game that has hearts and rainbows. It is a game you can enjoy with popcorn!” And I would agree.
The game starts, naturally, on Juliet’s eighteenth birthday, and instead of a cake and a nice party she gets a Zombie Apocalypse! But that’s ok, because the Starling’s happen to be zombie hunters, so she’s prepared for this event. Out comes the Bedazzled chainsaw and then the mayhem begins.
I will say up front that this is not a game for everyone and I’m not referring to the Mature rating. Lollipop Chainsaw creates a unique and fun universe that follows its own twisted logic. If rainbows and hearts exploding out of decapitated zombies make you foam at the mouth, then you need to relax. Try eating a lollipop and taking a few deep breaths, then plunge into the fun this game has in store. Even Juliet’s severed head for a boyfriend, Nick, doesn’t quite understand it. But the only answer he gets when he asks her about the rainbows hearts and sparkles coming out of the decapitated zombies is “awesome!” If you think about it, really, a spray of blood and gore is only a little less ridiculous. This game has silly moments, yes, but the story never lets the craziness take over completely, or if it does, then it never lasts very long.
Combat can be clunky in places, but once you play enough to get the hang of it, then you’re golden. Juliet has two main attacks, bashing zombies with her cheerleader pom-pom-fu and then, obviously, the chainsaw. Killing zombies and breaking certain stuff like locker doors, recycling boxes and even vending machines gets you gold medals that buy stat upgrades or new attack combos. Beating zombies with the pom-poms dazes them, and makes them easy to decapitate. Some zombies can take more of a beating than others. They’re the Tough Zombies, which come from many different types of people, like teachers, cops, firefighters and the football, baseball and basketball team, as well as cheerleaders. They all have different abilities. Tough Zombies can also happen when you fail to save a fellow student from the ravages of attacking zombies.
Then there’s “Sparkle Hunting” which happens when you daze three or more zombies near each other and then cut off their heads at once, resulting in gold coins and the rarer platinum coins, which buy extras like more outfits (cause there are skimpier things than cheerleader uniforms) or concept art or music. Tough zombies drop more gold and platinum coins when sparkle hunted. And there’s a special animation that goes along with it as well. Bosses are multi-stage and can be a pain until you figure out the pattern you need to beat them; then it’s just a matter of executing it.
Nick can help Juliet out in certain situations by taking over a special headless zombie bodies. These start mini-games where you must press a series of buttons to perform actions. Winning moves you on, but losing kills you, which means using a Continue and starting at an earlier point in the level. The only time I found this to be annoying was the first time through the school, where losing at the mini-game sets you back much further than anywhere else. You have to clear a lot of the same stuff again, including a tough zombie. Maybe it would’ve been better just to encounter a few random zombies and let Juliet get back without too much trouble.
Much has been made of the advertising, with the skimpy cheerleader outfits and the panty shots and the sheer Fan Service feel of some of the gameplay. And if you go no deeper than the box cover or the advertising, then that’s what you’ll think the game is all about. And even the first cut-scene, which starts in her bed and moves to a voyeuristic shower, gives you the feeling that this game is just another excuse to ogle a cute girl’s butt.
However, as you move deeper into the story, you begin to realize that what seems like fan service is actually a poke at the subject. And the crazier things, like killing zombies by swinging around on makeshift stripper poles that pop up in some places actually end up being more funny than sexy or titillating. Yes, Juliet is sexy, and her outfits are skimpy, but she’s also kick-ass. By the end of the game, the kick-ass factor had become more important to me than her sexiness. Juliet is no doubt an alluring pixel construction, but there’s plenty of chainsaw in this lollipop. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Lollipop Chainsaw is available for Xbox 360 and PS3 right now.