I had the opportunity to test drive Lollipop Chainsaw, the latest from Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture, at E3 this week. Before the demo began, I was asked if I wanted an explanation of the controls and mechanics, or if I’d rather figure it out on my own. I’d seen a few people playing it before and it seemed like a simple enough hack-and-slash game, so I jumped right into the action.
The demo opens with the main character, Juliet Starling, on her way to school. What separates Juliet from most people is that instead of riding a bus or driving a car to school, she gracefully cuts her way though zombie hordes on foot. There’s no real introduction to the playable prologue, no explanation as to why there’s a zombie outbreak or how Juliet got her chainsaw. I’m going to guess these missing elements of the story are explained later on in the game, but I was so entertained by the demo I probably wouldn’t mind if they weren’t.
The day the game begins happens to be Juliet’s birthday, and she’s a bit upset that exploding buses keep getting in the way (as anyone else would be!). As you trek through the streets on your way to the fictional San Romero High School, you encounter a few side objectives. All of the extra events in the demo were short rescue missions for survivors, marked by an S.O.S. symbol above their head. Survivors have a visible health bar and can be killed, so putting a real effort into saving them has a worthwhile payout. When completing an objective, the player receives a large sum of zombie coins, which can be spent at an in-game store on upgrades and costumes. Dispatching three zombies at the same time will also add an extra coin reward.
There weren’t many items available in the demo’s version of the shop, but some items included an instant heal and a max health upgrade. Health can also be restored by picking up giant lollipops scattered throughout the level. Some of the zombies are named, presumably Juliet’s former classmates, and are much more powerful. When Juliet finally arrives at school to meet her boyfriend Nick, she finds him getting into a fistfight with a zombie. Realizing he’s been bitten in the arm, he prepares his last words for his love. She refuses to let him go, and somehow decides that decapitating him will save him. I guess it works (you’ve seen his talking head attached to her hip in other media).
The controls are fairly straightforward. B/Circle is dodge, X/Square is a light pom-pom attack, and Y/Triangle is a heavy chainsaw attack. RT/R2 engages sparkle mode, which causes all chainsaw hits to be instant kills, even on named enemies with a high amount of health. The most effective strategy I found was to use light attacks to stun enemies, showing stars above their head. This indicates the zombies are now vulnerable to heavy attacks, ensuring the next hit from a chainsaw is a kill. Named or otherwise powerful enemies are either not vulnerable to being stunned or take longer to stun, though the demo wasn’t long enough for me to determine which of those is more accurate.
Lollipop Chainsaw is graphically decent, a lot of fun to play, and completely absurd and hilarious throughout. Combos are easy to execute but health is sparse to encourage careful play and increase the challenge of survival. The game is due out next week Tuesday for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. View a new set of screenshots at the gallery.