Juliet isn't having the best birthday. Sure, she's a chirpy, fresh-faced, popular 18-year-old cheerleader with a perfect body and a loving family, but her handsomely chiseled boyfriend has turned into a zombie, and things just aren't looking up. But Juliet's nothing if not resourceful, so she does what any right-thinking teenager would: she cuts off his head with a chainsaw, performs a bit of black magic, and ties his still-sentient head around her waist.
Clearly, you aren't supposed to take Lollipop Chainsaw seriously. You play as the sucker-loving Juliet, who, like the rest of her family, happens to be a zombie hunter. As luck would have it, her hometown is having a bit of trouble with the undead, and it's up to her and her chainsaw to slice and dice her way through her high school, across a baseball field, and through other mundane locales rendered all askew by vibrant neon-colored graphics and a general disregard for social propriety.
Just how improper is Lollipop Chainsaw? The opening cutscene features a just-18 Juliet welcoming you to her bedroom while the camera lovingly caresses her bare torso. She complains that she's getting fat from sucking on too many lollipops, though she has a physique women of any age would envy. Later, a high school classmate, saved from a zombie attack, happily calls out that he'll pleasure himself to thoughts of Juliet that night; elsewhere, a zombie-fied football player growls that he'll--well--let's just say the activity involves Juliet's noggin lodged somewhere you don't expect a noggin to comfortably fit.
Meanwhile, the screen explodes with pink hearts, yellow stars, and a million other bedazzlements, amping up the "cheerleader" theme just as Lollipop Chainsaw amps up its "sexual imagery" theme. Cheery pop tunes like Toni Basil's "Mickey" and "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" from Dead or Alive brighten the tone, too. With such touches, the game makes a clear attempt to take the pure pandering of Onechanbara (another game about scantily clad zombie killers) and twist it into something cheeky rather than downright crude. The first hour, however, takes these themes to the limits without doing much to outright parody them, which can be mightily uncomfortable. Eye-opening remarks about Juliet's breasts and anorexia references have shock value, but many of these early "jokes" are hardly clever.
Lollipop Chainsaw remains tasteless from beginning to end, but eventually, "funny" joins "dirty," and the game dredges up some real wit. When Juliet's rock-and-roll dad enters the picture, he and bodyless boyfriend Nick exchange some playful banter; their dialogue might involve a certain use of Nick's tongue, but it has the familiar touch of a protective father grilling his daughter's beau. It's the clash of the absurd and the authentic that makes this silly scene so funny. Exchanges between Nick and Juliet about his head-only state also tend to be hysterical, because they contrast Nick's mournful attitude about the loss of his body with Juliet's perpetual optimism. Even if the sexual drivel makes you feel uncomfortable, pop culture references ("I got that Katy Perry song stuck in my head. What a terrible way to die!") and surreal exclamations ("It is fun! It almost helps me forget that all my friends are dead!") can get you giggling.
The erratic quality of the writing carries over into other design elements too, though let it be said that on a basic level, Lollipop Chainsaw is fun to play. Your basic attacks are a pom-pom pummel that can stun undead freaks, a slower-but-solid chainsaw slice, and a downthrust that carves up zombies crawling along the ground. These attacks--along with an overhead leap--can be combined in various ways, and you buy more combos with the currency that showers down on you like pennies from heaven during battle. On normal difficulty, Lollipop Chainsaw isn't that much of a challenge, and the combo system doesn't have the depth of, say, Bayonetta or Ninja Gaiden. But this isn't Dynasty Warriors with zombies, either: various enemies explode, toss volatile canisters, and generally make nuisances of themselves, so you can't just rely on your standard chainsaw move in every encounter.
A simple combat system like this can fall into a rut, however. Lollipop Chainsaw doesn't entirely avoid repetition, but it does a commendable job of keeping it at bay in the later hours. Battles are broken up by any number of ridiculous moments: driving a combine over fields of creeps; sticking Nick's head on zombies and watching him dance as you perform a series of timed button presses; and shooting boulders from the top of a school bus with your powerhouse of a ranged weapon. One video game-themed chapter offers one surprise after another, playing with your expectations while mixing up the visual style in fun and vibrant ways.
The overall structure isn't so surprising: the game leads you down a set path, opening new doors when you kill the predetermined number of meanies and concluding chapters with foul-mouthed boss characters. These multistage boss fights are entertaining, though--long enough to keep you invested in the fight, but not so long as to get monotonous. Like the rest of the game, boss battles aren't that hard, but they keep you on the move. One such boss is a giant Viking with an electric axe. He splits in two, lower and upper body attacking separately; returns as a giant head that eats his own legs; and spews lasers at you from his mouth. (According to this demon's character bio, his hobbies include disemboweling, drinking blood, and balancing a ball on his nose.)
And so Lollipop Chainsaw is enjoyable, but it isn't carefully assembled in the way of the best action games. The camera, for example, tends to get stuck in tight environments and doesn't move fluidly at even the best of times. Collision doesn't work properly; you can clearly make contact with an enemy yet do no damage, or do damage even when no clear contact is made. Quick-time events are often sloppy, the scene ending when the button press is still in progress, or the game not providing proper visual cues that one prompt has ended and the next (using the same button) has begun. Then there's the auto-aim on your ranged attachment, which annoyingly snaps to the closest enemy regardless of which way you might actually be facing.
There are other such foibles, a mix of loose details and awkwardly executed fundamental mechanics. They don't keep you from enjoying Lollipop Chainsaw, but there's no mistaking it for an action classic. Once you purchase a sizable repertoire of moves, you might have a shot at a good place on the online leaderboards. Actually, Lollipop Chainsaw is built for return visits: the game lasts for five hours or so, pushing you to chase high scores and buy enough combos to earn a fabulous end-level grade. If you do return, Juliet will be at your side, cheering you on while bemoaning her big fat butt. But like many strong personalities, she--like the whole of Lollipop Chainsaw--can grate your nerves. The game has lots of spunk, for sure, but it's ultimately no deeper than its vacuous star.