The climate in gaming right now is a precarious one. Gamers, much like so many other segments of society have become far more segregated, which brings about brutal instances of discrimination and a climate where many gamers feel left out of not just the player experience, but also in the lack of representation with regards to characters and the stories they tell. The lack of meaningful female protagonists in video games has led to every game featuring one being placed under quite the microscope. No recent game featuring a female lead has been under as much scrutiny as Lollipop Chainsaw. The game proved to be a lot of things to different people; to some, it’s just a game that happens to star a female character, to others it’s full of objectionable content that proves to be a bit much, while to others it’s something else entirely. I fall in the latter, with the game proving to use it’s seemingly crude content to speak to much larger issues within gaming.
Lollipop Chainsaw’s story focuses on a high school cheerleader named Juliet Starling, who happened to be celebrating her birthday on the day the events of the game take place (that’s actually an important plot point). On her way to school to meet up with her boyfriend, Nick, zombies attack the school and all hell breaks loose. What Nick doesn’t know is that his lovely seemingly harmless girlfriend is a member of a family of zombie hunters. Juliet calmly pulls a chainsaw from her purse and administers violent chainsaw death to the undead occupying San Romero High, but not before one of the zombies takes a faithful bite out of Nick’s arm. Faced with the choice of killing Nick and letting him become a zombie that she’d have to eventually kill anyway, Juliet makes a bold decision that actually puts the wheels of one of the most important story facets of this game into motion. All of the stuff I just mentioned happens in the prologue level, by the way.
If the story feels like a campy Hollywood horror movie, it’s because the game’s script was written by James Gunn, who was responsible for the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, Scooby Doo, and Slither among other films. Strangely enough the seemingly cheesy writing Gunn is known for seems to work well within the confines of a Grasshopper Manufacture game. Neither takes themselves seriously, and that helps breathe a lot of life into the zombie action game genre, which has been beaten to death over the years. The one thing that felt a bit overdone at first was the overuse of certain phrases being levied at Juliet during the course of the game, most notably in the first level. My concern seemed to wane however when the encounter with the first boss took place and you realize this was a big portion of the theme within the first level. You see, the first boss hurls vicious insults that actually take physical form that can damage Juliet. It’s literally the personification of the phrase “words can hurt”. For those who can see what’s actually happening there, it can prove quite the teachable moment.
Then there is the plight of Nick, who during the course of the game has moments where he’s treated like an accessory for Juliet during her mission. The rest of the Starling family actually does a lot to belittle him as well. It’s quite the interesting piece of reverse objectification that yet again will become quite apparent to those who get it. Sadly, for the commentary hidden with the game’s writing, many gamers that the message is supposed to impact will completely miss it; while some gamers will be instantly put off by the way the message is made and will decry it.
At its core though, Lollipop Chainsaw is an action game with typical modern hack and slash game problems. The core game play runs the risk of becoming repetitive on multiple occasions, the camera can prove to be problematic at several points, and there are a few moments where the extra weapons seem shoehorned in. One such moment was the Zombie Baseball segment of level 2. There are moments where the auto aim was absolutely frustrating, and there seemed to be points where Juliet’s Chainsaw blaster could not fire around Nick, which left him vulnerable to enemy attack. These minor gripes aside though, you’ll have an absolute ball cutting zombies in half, and the boss fight are a blast.
Lollipop Chainsaw won’t be for a lot of gamers, in fact, a lot of them will be down right offended. It does however succeed in one important facet, that being it turns the mirror on the player and forces them to confront their treatment of other gamers. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a very fun game, and if you get nothing else from Lollipop Chainsaw, you’ll get a good time.