Grasshopper Manufacture's games have always had abstract, manic personalities. Lollipop Chainsaw is no exception, though this time there's something a little different about it.
The story of 18-year-old zombie hunter and cheerleader Juliet Starling massacring hordes of the undead in a sunny suburban high school seems uncharacteristically tame by studio head Suda 51's esoteric standards. Both cheerleaders and zombies feel overly familiar; Grasshopper's always excelled at showing us things we've never seen before, and white trash stereotypes thrown together with zombies is a mix that's close to being worn out.
Happily, any concerns that a Western influence has turned Suda's vision into a generic cash-in are quelled as soon as the action starts. Lollipop Chainsaw is a lot like the John Hughes movies it's riffing on, with judgmental first impressions of this scantily clad blonde dissipating like the social cliques of The Breakfast Club.
The demo begins with Juliet arriving at San Romero High on her 18th birthday, only to realise the school has been overrun by zombies. Whether she decided to bring her chainsaw and the decapitated head of a guy named Nick (which Grasshopper's not talking about yet) with her to school before she found out about the zombie invasion is anyone's guess, but anyway - all that stand between her and getting converted to the undead are her chainsaw and high school spirit.
The combat in Lollipop Chainsaw feels good. Really, really good - it's as exciting as your first kiss as a teen. Juliet animates beautifully, and vivisecting the undead in showers of blood, rainbows, pixels, stars and coins is extremely gratifying.
Curiously, for all the blood in the game, it doesn't feel gory. Probably because the blood doesn't look authentic, but rather like hyper-real neon blood, wherein amputated limbs glow like Christmas lights. Its sickeningly sweet rendition of violence is such saccharine eye candy that, if the sexualised portrayal of a barely-legal high school student didn't make you want to take a shower, the cacophony of colour will make you want to brush your teeth.
The combat sees light attacks carried out with pompoms strung into heavy attacks performed by the titular chainsawy. Getting a multi-decapitation combo results in a "sparkle hunting" bonus where the screen turns blue and rewards you with a score bump and extra coins (which will be used for upgrades, though this isn't being shown off yet). Murdering the undead fills up a glittery gauge in the corner and filling it all the way unleashes a special ability consisting of brief invulnerability and extra-powerful attacks.
Throughout the bloddy, confetti-filled halls of San Romero, other students can occasionally be found in trouble. Lollipop Chainsaw being cut from the same cloth as other Grasshopper games (and Dead Rising for that matter), innocent civilians have the hilarious habit of standing in the same place, pantomiming their panic. It's the kind of low-budget nonsense with a Japanese twist that adds to the game's charm. Despite Slither scribe James Gunn taking a co-writing credit, Lollipop Chainsaw feels very much like an Eastern rendition of trashy Americana.
If you rescue your fellow classmates, they'll shower you with coins before inexplicably evaporating in a cloud of pixelated ash. Fail to rescue them in time and they'll join the ranks of their undead brethren, resulting in extra-difficult zombies. There's a disarming sense of guilt associated with cutting down those you failed to save just moments ago. With great zombie-slaying power comes great zombie-slaying responsibility.
Mini-bosses feature too, and they're as tongue-in-cheek as the rest of the game. "Do your homework!" shouts one Mr. Fitzgibbon before hurling his podium at you. While you can't attack him directly, hopping over him and unleashing mid-jump chainsaw slashes tends to do the trick. His dying words - "You're getting a C-minus, bitch!" - make you wonder what you'd have to do to get an F.
Mr. Fitzgibbons is only the appetiser. A separate demo shows off the game's first real boss, Zed the Punk Rock Zombie. Heroin-thin, sporting a ludicrous spiky red mohawk and skinny plaid pants, Zed would be right at home in Suda's No More Heroes. Squaring off against him in a junkyard (complete with a scrapyard rave happening in the background), Zed fights with the power of rock - and his words. Literally. He'll yell phrases like "vanilla slut" or "f***ing bitch", which manifest themselves as shaky neon subtitles that must either be cut down or dodged.
On the demo's easy setting, he's not particularly challenging, as a series of heavy attacks will bring him to his knees, but this is only the beginning. Even after bisecting him from noggin to navel he continues to mock. "I think I just jizzed a little," he retorts, before pushing himself back together. As Grasshopper's mantra goes, "Punk's not dead."
Now he starts dropping gigantic speakers over the playing field as he hops from one blaring tower to another, evading your sight. His speakers keep replenishing as they're cut down, but ultimately they're no match for the chainsaw.
Zed finally collapses, the letters "AAAA" shooting out in all directions and needing to be dodged before you can deliver the final blow. Juliet chops off his hands, which give her the finger as they hit the ground. She then proceeds to slice him in half down the middle all the way. "So emo," Juliet whines, while he ruptures blood all over the place.
This is Suda territory, alright.