Lollipop Chainsaw is retarded. Let’s get that out of the way first. Before we can answer questions about whether the game is good or bad, or fun, or exploitative, or any other adjective, we have to acknowledge that it is retarded. Horn-dog seventh graders sit around talking about what kind of games they’d like to play, and one of them says: “A game where a big-titted cheerleader cuts zombies apart with a chainsaw,” and his friends look at him like he’s retarded. This is some seriously low-brow, chin-spittle, can’t-break-the-graham-crackers-neatly-along-the-lines retarded shit.
Just so’s we’re clear.
Your capacity to enjoy Lollipop Chainsaw begins and ends with your ability to appreciate retarded shit. This was not a thing I was able to do for a very long time. I remember being in high school, and people would be talking about Turok or Twisted Metal or whatever retarded shit people played back then, and I would be all smug in my pompous, personal silence about the grandiose high art I was experiencing, like Grandia or Parasite Eve. Which says something about my tastes in video games as a high schooler, sure, but it also says something about the horror 14-year-old-me would have felt if he’d known that 30-year-old-me would eventually play a retarded zombie cheerleader game. I might have thought something like, gee, I wonder what happens to me to cause that kind of brain damage? Like do I get hit by a tractor or something?
The real answer is a little less dramatic: I grew up, and more importantly, I lightened up.
I remember the exact moment, too. It was a movie that did it: Freddy vs. Jason. One of my main dudes is a horror buff, and more importantly is well-versed in the guilty pleasures of B-movies. And he decided, for whatever reason, that we would go and see Freddy vs. Jason. I wasn’t that excited about it, and neither were the other dudes, because who wants to willingly pay actual money to watch that kind of garbage? But we went, and I remember none of us were in a very good mood for some reason, because we were arguing about god-only-knows-what, probably because we were all jobless and hanging out with each other way too much and just about ready to kill one another.
And the movie kicked ass.
I think, at first, I probably concluded that there was just something theraputic about absorbing cotton candy media when you’re in a shitty mood and want to kill your friends. You put something flashy and colorful and stupid in front of your eyeballs for an hour or so, and that calms the nerves and smooths out the anger, and then afterwards you don’t even know what you were angry about. I was wrong about that, though, because six months passed and Freddy vs. Jason came out on DVD, and I purchased it, and we watched it again, and it still kicked ass.
The actual lesson, which I arrived at way, way too late in life, is that retarded shit can kick ass. You just have to loosen the valve on your butthole and enjoy it sometimes. I started doing that with video games, too; I started playing fighting games and shooting games, and racing games, and all the other non-RPG non-Mega Man stuff I’d missed out on through my tight-assed adolescence.
More importantly, I learned to identify the retarded aspects of the games I already loved, the ones I considered to be actually worthwhile. Deep stories, interesting characters, brilliant musical scores, yadda yadda, but retarded gameplay. Ten years of playing nothing but RPGs, and I was only just now realizing that all I’d really been doing was pressing the button that chooses my Attack command, over and over.
I spent the next few years broadening my horizons a bit. I did try, though, to make sure I never opened my mind so much that my brain fell out. I was more willing to take chances on new types of gameplay, or types of gameplay I didn’t much enjoy during my formative years, but I was very careful to never buy a retarded game because it was retarded.
(Well, maybe Crackdown. But who could resist Crackdown?)
That put me into a bit of conundrum, where Lollipop Chainsaw was concerned. Upon seeing the initial trailer I predicted the game would be intensely fun for, say, twenty minutes. Certainly not worth $60. There was no way I was going to play full Xbox 360 disc game price for the retarded boobs-and-zombies game.
And so I didn’t. I made Peanut buy it for me. Heh heh.
And that’s where this “review” ends for you, if you’re not the kind of person who can appreciate retarded shit for no reason other than it is retarded. Not just tolerate it, understand, but actually seek it out, and digest it, in order to be nourished by all its short bus splendor. That’s the first hurdle you have to get over before you can appreciate anything else the game has to offer.
To put a fine point on it: the game doesn’t really offer anything else. It’s shallow gameplay and panty shots from here to Titsville, one “oh my god I can’t believe they did that” moment after another, for seven levels, until the game ends. There’s a reason it’s getting such atrocious reviews. Its Metacritic score is like 68%. But then, Freddy vs. Jason‘s sitting at 37%, and it kicked ass. That should tell you what you need to know.
The controls are loose and confusing, in that “Japanese developer trying to make a Western-style game” way. The camera is too fast in some places, too slow in others, and way too snappy to be really useful. There’s a lock-on button that serves no apparent function but to make your life more difficult. There are three attack buttons, two of which are chainsaw buttons, and the differences between them aren’t immediately apparent. You push a button to pop up a menu, on which the only option is “eat this to restore health”, rather than simply push a button to restore health. The subtitles aren’t sans-serif fonts. The last 360 game I can remember playing with ugly-ass serifs in the subtitles was Deadly Premonition, which had all these same problems.
(Deadly Premonition is another game I bought because it was retarded, I guess. But I exploited Amazon rewards to get it for free, so no skin of my bollocks.)
Once you get through that, the game is just wave after wave of zombies. Your two chainsaw buttons rougly correspond to “high attack” and “low attack”. In between you have a quick pom-pom bash. These three attack buttons can be chained together into a huge variety of combo attacks, each one more sparkly and rainbow-y than the last. Rounding out the buttons are a dodge, an awkward dash toggle, a superhero mode attached to a pink star meter that fills up as you kill zombies, and (of course) a grenade launcher.
From there the game gets as deep as you want it to get, I suppose. Killing zombies earns you coins, and killing more zombies earns you more coins, and killing more zombies stylishly earns you the most coins of all. You use these coins to purchase your combo attacks, static upgrades to health and strength, or ever-skimpier “clothing” to traipse around town with. I’m sure if you want to approach the game as an Arkham city-style ballet of carefully calculated attacks, the game is happy to oblige you. After all, there are harder difficulties, and time attacks, and high scores to beat. I’ll be interested to check back in a year and see what players are capable of with a bit of memorization and practice.
That’s not how I approached it, though. I played on Normal, which was actually piss-easy. My only deaths were during gimmick-y minigame areas with immediate failure states. I bought a lot of combo attacks, but I only ever used two: X-X-X-Y was a powerful flurry of pom-pom hits followed by an arcing overhead saw swipe, perfect for taking out single opponents. A-A-X was a long-distance circular saw attack that mowed down huge groups of zombies. I played a lot of the game A-A-X-ing my way through zombie mobs, back and forth, and never got tired of the game slowing down to show me the triumphant rainbow kill animation. I think it hit that same part of my brain as the ultras in Super Street Fighter IV. You never really get tired of watching Rose electrocute some clown, do you?
The game is not long enough to get boring. Each of the seven levels takes between twenty and forty minutes to clear, depending on how quickly you move and how often you have to continue. That’s just about the right length for this kind of shallow gameplay, but there’s a lot of stuff to find and buy and collect if you really have the hankerin’ for more. This is a good thing, because this is the kind of game that you will quit playing the very instant you become bored with it, and the game knows that. I always like to give bonus points when a game knows exactly what it is, and Lollipop Chainsaw does.
The game breaks up the endless waves of zombies with little gimmick challenges. Some of these are QTEs, some are race sequences, one level in particular is comprised almost entirely of retro video game riffs. These are mostly played for laffs and are relatively inoffensive. None of these are repeated often enough, nor do they drag on long enough, to overstay their welcome. You knock them down and forget about them. The QTEs gave me the most trouble because I still think of my ABXY buttons in terms of a Super Nintendo controller, but that’s my moral failing and has nothing to do with lollipops or chainsaws.
That just leaves the boss battles. And the boss battles are good. I mean legit good. They are creative and outrageous, and long, and difficult, but not frustrating or confusing. I’m sure there was a point in each one where I realized what the game wanted me to do, and my brain went, “Wait what? I have to do what!?” But then actually executing the thing was easier than I expected, and of course very satisfying. They were a blast to play through and easily the high point of the game.
And the final boss… well, the final boss is the most wonderful, retarded thing of all. You’ll never see it coming, but when it does, why, it’s exactly what you realize you should have expected. It’s the thing the entire game had been grooming you to see.
Let’s see, then. Retarded? Check. Fun and uncomplicated to play? Check. Cool bosses? Check. What else was there. Oh, yeah: the cheerleader’s voice is provided by Tara Strong, and I usually don’t hear Tara’s characters bleeding into each other, but her matter-of-fact voice in this game sounds almost identical to Twilight Sparkle’s matter-of-fact voice. This was the source of some bizarre cognitive dissonance, as you can imagine.
And that’s Lollipop Chainsaw in a nutshell. There’s more to say, of course, once you get into the more Freudian aspects of the game. For example, there’s a good discussion to be had on the nature of objectification on display here, to wit: who is objectified, and how? (And the answer isn’t what you’re expecting, if you haven’t played the game.) But I won’t get into that, because that’s not the part that interests me. I was interested in knowing whether the game was worth playing, and it is. And years from now, when I tell people I played that chainsaw cheerleader game, and they go, “That looked retarded,” I’m going to respond, “Yeah? And…?”
Because holy balls was it retarded.