Thanks to the collaborative input of Hollywood writer/director James Gunn, Lollipop Chainsaw is unquestionably Goichi Suda’s most streamlined and coherent action game to date. It’s still the customarily juvenile, demented smorgasbord of disparate ideas that Suda’s fans now demand of his work, but the narrative is far more conventional than usual; if you were told that Lollipop Chainsaw is actually an adaptation of a long-lost Troma screenplay from the early 1980s, there would be no cause for surprise.
A few of its central conceits have been cribbed from previous Suda games; your companion is a disembodied head (a la Shadows of the Damned) and the combat is essentially No More Heroes-lite, but these feel like emerging themes and tropes rather than desperation or a lack of imagination. The action isn’t quite as refined as it was in No More Heroes and its sequel – the camera misbehaves occasionally and heroine Juliet moves a bit more rigidly than Travis Touchdown ever did – so it’s no classic, but it’s the work of a man whose output demands attention even when he’s creatively running on fumes.
And he categorically isn’t running on fumes here. There may be less variety in Lollipop Chainsaw than there was in something like No More Heroes 2 – probably the great man’s most unruly and downright unhinged project – but its lunatic digressions are as welcome and strangely fitting as ever. Whether you’re playing through the sequence that riffs on the Commodore 64 classic Elevator Action, or running around in a neon-lit maze pretending to be Pac Man, the experience never feels disjointed. It’s fundamentally a chaotic mess, but it’s never incoherent. It’s just Lollipop Chainsaw.
Unlike the mythical power structure that you were forced to climb in No More Heroes – gradually killing your way to the world’s #1 assassin – here your enemies are a parade of high school stereotypes. The brain-dead Jock gives way to the sullen Goth, who precedes the Nordic metal-head and the stoned hippy chick with hygiene problems. Needless to say all of these characters look like they belong in a Suda 51 production, but because they’re all a little too normal, the game’s finale has you doing battle with a leather-clad greaser whose motorcycle transforms into an elephant, before asking you to take down a giant, obese Elvis impersonator.
In (partial) place of hilarious weirdness, conventional “jokes” are here en masse too. Predominately dumb and frequently crude, the gags tend to hit just as often as they miss, but a couple of genuinely funny comic conceits raise the laugh bar considerably. One of the best of these involves Juliet’s youngest sister, who can’t help but find almost everything that happens to her simultaneously hilarious and terrifying, and this may have been grating if it ever hung around long enough to become so; instead, the character roars onto the screen two or three times, laughs like a petrified maniac, and then instantly vanishes again.
That kind of wise restraint wasn’t anticipated. Similarly unexpected though are the minor control issues, which could give score attack junkies a few problems until they acclimatise. The game is quite careless when it’s flipping between different control styles, so one minute you’re using a shoulder button to shoot something, and a split second later the same button is used to trigger your multiplier, which is something you’ll do by accident at least once. Daft design errors like that would be easy to criticise if the rest of the package wasn’t so delectable. If you’re willing to take its (very) small imperfections on the chin, you’ll almost certainly enjoy every stupid second of Lollipop Chainsaw.
Lollipop Chainsaw is available now on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Watch the launch trailer for Lollipop Chainsaw below: