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Lollipop Chainsaw Hands-On [PAX Prime 2011]

Those of you out there that have been nice enough to read Shogun Gamer since the site first went online in 2009 may know that I’m a bit of a Grasshopper Manufacture fanboy. In fact I just shouldn’t kid around and say that I simply adore Grasshopper Manufacture as they’re one of the few studios out there willing to take a chance through providing gamers with a vision that may be a bit twisted but is unlike anything we’ve seen before – even if it’s filled with a copious amount of penis jokes.  Ever since I played Killer 7 on the PS2 back in the day, yes I decided to forgo playing the slightly better GameCube version since I didn’t own the console, I’ve been a loyal Grasshopper Manufacture disciple since the company has yet to fail me.  But even with my fandom for all things Grasshopper and Suda 51 related, I was completely 100% blown away by the stylized popcorn action presented in Lollipop Chainsaw, the forthcoming PS3/Xbox 360 game from Grasshopper Manufacture.

Some of my fellow Grasshopper Manufacture die-hard fans may be familiar with the core style that is often found in the games GhM produces, which can often be summed up as batshit crazy.  Grasshopper Manufacture founder Suda 51 is definitely an eccentric chap who surrounds himself with a likeminded team of talented artists and developers but in a way Lollipop Chainsaw is on another level compared to the past games we’ve seen out of the studio.  Over the past few years Grasshopper has evolved in a way through providing games that are still unique yet are more approachable – at least compared to extremely deep fair like Killer 7.  While some gamers may not be able appreciate things such as a rapping skull in Shadows of the Damned, Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that simply oozes pure style out of every orifice in such a way that even playing an abridged demo I’m left wondering if this will become the breakthrough hit Grasshopper Manufacture rightfully deserves.

Even having a base knowledge of the premise of Lollipop Chainsaw I was surprised almost every second in the ten minute demo I played at PAX Prime 2011 this past weekend.  Similar to the No More Heroes games, Lollipop Chainsaw is a stylish brawler except that instead of various beam katanas the player has a chainsaw at their disposal.  I think even the hardcore GhM fans out there will admit that the No More Heroes games really didn’t have an extensive combat system that could be compared to classics such as Bayonetta, but there’s something about Lollipop Chainsaw that just clicks with me aside from the abundance of almost merry violence that almost consistently had me chuckling as I played.  Opting to keep things simple, Lollipop Chainsaw features a light and heavy attack scheme in which the very sexy Juliet, the main protagonist, can dispose of the many zombified classmates and teachers running amok in San Romero High School. 

Since Juliet is a cheerleader, hence why she has an incredibly short skirt and pompons, she is rather nimble on the battlefield which is helpful since I often found myself battling a good number of zombies at once.  Simple things like evading zombies is done in a stylish and slightly tongue-in-cheek manner as Juliet does an over-head leg hop, which may or may not show a little shot of her panties (don’t ask me what color they were since I don’t remember).  I don’t know why I was surprised but the combat in Lollipop Chainsaw is really easy to get into and is filled with the instant gratification that gamers want when it comes to playing a good hack-n-slash title involving a zombie and a buxom legal age of consent teenage cheerleader, of which we know there are so many on the market today. 

Grasshopper Manufacture really didn’t create a very combo or skill laden fight system in the No More Heroes franchise but what I played of Lollipop Chainsaw showed that the studio is expanding their bloodletting horizons a bit.  Yes, it’s entirely possible for Juliet to simply dispose of zombies the normal way by unleashing some heavy or light attacks, but where would the fun be in that?  You see in Lollipop Chainsaw the main item on the menu is absolute gore with a side dish of rainbow pizazz, as evident by a terrific special move I was able to pull off.  In order to receive maximum points and simply feel good about yourself, the combat system in Lollipop Chainsaw encourages gamers to give those undead bastards a bit of an early beating by chaining together attacks and then unleashing the final nail in the coffin with a heavy attack, which when done correctly will result in up to four zombies being decapitated at the same time. Now a group decapitation is all good, but seeing Juliet spin in the air in a strategically placed slow-mo shot with a bit of an emphasis on her ass all while the background goes into rainbow mode is what puts the icing on the cake.  Stuff like strong zombie violence being represented with a mix of blood, vibrant colors and yellow stars falling from the undead you just killed is what makes Lollipop Chainsaw so special and unlike anything we’ve seen before.

Going into the demo for Lollipop Chainsaw I was expecting a rather straightforward demo as Producer Scott Warr took me through the basics which of course involved Juliet killing lots and lots of zombies.  There were a few things that surprised me such as a foul mouthed teacher turned zombie who served as a sub-boss and a few secondary missions that involved Juliet having to rescue a NPC before they were turned into a zombie.  I was definitely enjoying my time with Lollipop Chainsaw, I seriously wish y’all could see me playing since I was smiling the entire time, but things went completely nuts once I fought Zed the rock and roll zombie, who lived up to the No More Heroes tradition of boss battles being stylized, original and requiring a bit of skill.  After a short intro to Zed, which very much was like the boss intros in No More Heroes, I began part 1 of a three part battle with the Mohawk sporting rocker.  The battle against Zed started off relatively easy as I had to dodge some of his attacks and throw in as many heavy attacks as I could when the time called for it.  But eventually Zed amped things up as he called forth a series of massive speakers to fall from the sky, of which he proceeded to hop back and forth from until I destroyed them all.

So far the Zed battle may not sound like much but here’s where’s things get good: after beating Zed down enough I entered a brief QTE sequence in which I had to move the analog stick and tap Y (the demo was on the Xbox 360) as Juliet proceeded to cut good old Zed with her chainsaw.  But being a zombie and all that wasn’t enough to finish the job as Zed decided to dial things up to 11 as he jumped on top of a massive speaker – which conveniently needed to be cut down with Juliet’s chainsaw. After engaging in a brief QTE and avoiding some simple attacks it was finally time to kill the rocker for good and in typical GhM fashion things went out in a bang.  Easily the coolest thing about the Zed encounter and the one thing that surprised me the most, was Zed’s final line of defense involved the lyrics of the song he was singing being projected out on the battlefield – almost like in a comic book.  If I ran into one of these floating letters Juliet would receive a bit of damage so after doing some careful evading I was finally able to get close to Zed and finally cut the bastards head off – thus my time with Lollipop Chainsaw finally came to an end.

Lollipop Chainsaw is a game that is in a way is very basic on the surface but has an essence that at least from what I played goes far beyond the typical genre tropes. One can make the argument that Lollipop Chainsaw is rough combo of Dead Rising thrown in with a little Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth since stuff like the Zed boss battle showed a presentation know-how and design brilliance that isn’t seen too much from games these days.  Even knowing that I played a small chunk of what the final game promises (Nick, the head that Juliet hangs on to was completely silent and Akira Yamaoka’s score wasn’t included) I’m incredibly excited about the momentum Grasshopper Manufacture may achieve if the boss encounters follow the pattern shown by Zed or at least mirror that of the No More Heroes games.  With a subject matter that people still love, or at least I think people still love zombies, and visuals that look like a cartoon come to life Lollipop Chainsaw is poised to become a potential mega hit since it isn’t too niche or bogged down in jokes that may not please certain gamers. But more importantly even with the might of WB Games backing the project and the assistance of Hollywood Writer/Director James Gunn, Lollipop Chainsaw still has that Grasshopper Manufacture style and for that it’s going to be one of my most anticipated titles of 2012.