Many times over the past decade Electronic Theatre has referenced the continued appreciation of a certain studio as the hallmark of an era. In the late 90’s it was British developers RARE that presented the most forward-thinking, enviable design templates with the likes of Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie and Perfect Dark; the PlayStation 2 years were arguably the team for Team ICO to shine, and on the current-generation it’s Grasshopper Manufacture. No other studio has managed to deliver consistently high quality products across a wide range of platforms to a huge audience and in doing so they have earned the reputation that now proceeds every new videogame release. Lollipop Chainsaw is no different; it may not be the startling revelation in scrolling beat-‘em-ups that many are looking for, but for the core videogaming demographic it’s nothing less than another landmark title for the current-generation consoles.
Developed by Kadokawa Games under the guiding hand of Grasshopper Manufacture and their charismatic leading figure, Goichi Suda (aka SUDA 51), Lollipop Chainsaw is – on the surface – just another scrolling beat-‘em-up. Another modernisation of the formula laid out in the 80’s by Double Dragon and renovated in the early 90’s by Final Fight and Streets of Rage, Lollipop Chainsaw is set to be ranked alongside the likes of Devil May Cry and Onechanbara as a combat videogame in which the player is outnumbered by the hordes. As with both the aforementioned current-generation releases, Lollipop Chainsaw does occasionally demand some lateral thinking to overcome a puzzle or find the correct route, but by-and-large the gameplay remains focussed on dishing-out the pain. This is an action experience through-and-through, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.
Lollipop Chainsaw’s control system is delivered exactly as you would expect: quick attacks, heavy attacks, low attacks, special attacks and dodges. Zombies must be decapitated (heavy or low attacks) to be defeated and while it is possible to decapitate them at any point, it’s much easier to do so after you’ve roughed them up with a few quick attacks. The special attacks allow you to take out several zombies with one swift manoeuvre, but these are of course limited by a meter which increases with each zombie kill. Players can buy new manoeuvres from the in-game store with medals earned by killing zombies, as well as buying health and attacks upgrades (amongst others). Of course, from this brief summation there’s likely to be little to convince you that Lollipop Chainsaw offers anything new. Much like the critically acclaimed Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw adheres rather rigidly to the typical formula of the genre. However, it’s in those moments of unique flair that Lollipop Chainsaw sets itself aside, as is more regularly becoming the Grasshopper Manufacture trademark.
Innovation such as Flower, Sun & Rain and the cult classic Killer 7 can only get you so far. These titles achieve significant audiences amongst the true videogame hobbyists, but to anyone unfamiliar with the developer before going in they can appear too obtuse, almost ignorant of the wants and needs of the average gamer. Shadows of the Damned, Sine Mora and now Lollipop Chainsaw prove that the developer has matured in its respect of the market: it needs to create videogames that sell millions of units on launch day in order to succeed, and it’s more acutely aware of that now. Lollipop Chainsaw has all the zombie head-busting action and sex appeal it needs to compete in the wider market, but still offers plenty of those moments where your jaw hits the floor; where you step back and realise that this moment could only be the creation of a mind finely in tune with what it means to be a videogame innovator.
Despite the suggestion that Lollipop Chainsaw is designed for little more than titillation, it retains the enviable attention to detail evident in all Grasshopper Manufacture productions, and as such Kadokawa Games have clearly benefited from the helping hand offered to them. From the Papberboy esque menu screen to the self-aware references to SUDA 51’s previous works, Lollipop Chainsaw is clearly a product designed out of passion for videogames, and intended for passionate videogame players. It has the pseudo Japanese flavour that many in the rest will assume is actually representative of much of the country’s media, but it’s intentionally tongue-in-cheek presentation is unmistakably the work of SUDA 51, just as the constant references to American pop culture and trivialisation of the west’s lesser known history. The language in Lollipop Chainsaw is eccentric to say the least. Whether it’s a matter of poor localisation or is intended to provide a distinctive distancing from reality remains open for discussion, but given SUDA 51’s previous works, Electronic Theatre is inclined to side with the latter. It’s all delivered with the same kind of flavour we’ve come to know and love from SUDA 51’s personal book of videogame design, and frankly we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Given SUDA 51’s history of eschewing genre tradition in favour of innovation, some gamers might be expecting Lollipop Chainsaw to deviate from the well trodden path of scrolling beat-‘em-ups a little more than it does. However, when the realisation that big budget videogame titles have to sell big numbers in order to be successful hits home, anyone with a passion for the industry will recognise that Grasshopper Manufacture and Kadokawa Games have managed to walk that fine line between mass market appeal and videogame innovation almost perfectly. From the heavy metal overtones to our heroine Juliet Starling’s knowledge of her own sex appeal, Lollipop Chainsaw is every bit the action-packed experience it should be.