A scantily clad cheerleader fighting zombies with a chainsaw sounds like a second-run movie in a 1970s grindhouse — or a perfect idea for a third-person video game.
Welcome to Lollipop Chainsaw (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Kadakowa Games, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated M for mature, $59.99), an action-packed, overtly violent, comedy horror show offering generous amounts of sophomoric high jinks, profanity, blood, dissection and cheesecake that comes to life from within the fractured brain of screenwriter James (“Scooby Doo,” “Super” and “Dawn of the Dead”) Gunn along with the innovative Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture.
Imagine an R-rated Buffy the Vampire Slayer caught up in the ultra-hip world of Scott Pilgrim while killing the undead at her favorite high school as she celebrates her 18th birthday.
Our heroine, Juliet Starling, voiced enthusiastically by Tara (“Teen Titan’s” Raven and Bubbles from “Powerpuff Girls”) Strong, is a well-trained zombie hunter who uses pom-poms to soften and beat up her prey, acrobatic moves to avoid them and then that wonderful grinding chainsaw to finish off the groaning ghouls.
She and her family are caught in a battle to stop the Dark Purveyors from the Rotten World (rock star demons tapped into genres such as punk and rockabilly) from overtaking Earth by turning all of her student buddies and the friendly townsfolk of San Romeo into the undead.
It looks pretty great on paper, but it gets more bizarre and uncomfortable for the single player as he tackles each area.
Did I mention that early on in the game, Juliet must kill her recently bitten boyfriend Nick Carlyle, voiced with equal enthusiasm by Michael (“Smallville’s” Lex Luthor) Rosenbaum. She ends up using magic to reanimate his head and attaches it to a buckle on her backside.
Nick is now her wise-guy companion who can occasionally help her out of overwhelming situations by using his noggin on top of headless zombies.
That bizarre twist then takes the player on a roughly seven-hour-long, hack-and-slash journey down a psychedelic rabbit hole of depravity.
Make no mistake that the action often requires a button-mashing skill set sure to sprain thumbs and cramp hand muscles as Juliet wipes out waves of attacking zombies that include ghastly farmers, firemen, cops, guitarists, teachers, construction workers and even bulls and chickens.
Amid the spurts of blood, decapitations and vivisections, Nintendo Mario moments also abound as once the zombies lose their noggins, out spews not only blood, but also a rainbow of glitter, hearts, rainbows, stars and gold coins.
Especially successful hunters who take off at least three heads in a single attack get a special treat in a sequence I believe George Romero would see after taking a heavy dose of LSD while watching “Yellow Submarine.”
Now, to mix up the cutting moments, Juliet must also perform some other, minigame-type challenges that can transform her chainsaw. These include:
- * A short game of baseball that requires sticking Nick’s noggin on a headless zombie and having it run the bases to score three runs. Juliet uses her Chainsaw Blaster (a potent shotgun) to fire at ghouls armed with bats and balls that pop up from the ground to try to stop Nick.
- * Basketball is now a much gorier sport as Juliet cuts heads off of attacking players and bounce them into the basket.
- * Our beauty occasionally uses a stripper pole to spin around and quickly dispatch large numbers of her rotting enemies.
- * At one point, Juliet jumps aboard a wheat-thrashing combine and must mow down a set amount of undead simply by meandering about in a field.
- * I did enjoy the pretty clever Pac Man homage that finds Juliet in a maze being chased by those munching orbs.
- * Maybe this one stretches the ridiculous (although I think once we get beyond Nick’s talking, bodiless head, it’s all reasonable), but Juliet uses a Chainsaw Dash much like Sonic the Hedgehog races through courses. She starts running and hits colorful ramps to jump while rolling over oil cans (to keep the saw primed), collecting medals and flattening zombies.
The graphic design layers of Lollipop Chainsaw are impressive throughout with menu screens looking as though they were ripped from a 1960s EC Horror comic book (remember Tales from the Crypt?), plenty of colorful cut scenes and action that blends pulp art and three-dimensional, cel-shaded characters.
Developers try to beef up the content by offering tons of unlockables, such as vicious combination moves, alternate (and even skimpier) costumes for Juliet, lots of hard-core music (punk to metal) and concept art packages.
The soundtrack also is tempting with classic favorites such as the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb,” Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” The Chordettes’ “Lollipop,” Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” and Human League’s “Empire State Human.”
However, once all the glorious “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi” eye candy is scraped away, players often are bogged down in repetitive action that’s stalled in a routine, linear design and game mechanics that are peppered with only some mildly inspired boss battles.
More egregious is the tirade of insults pitched at Juliet by demons, adding an unfunny level of unnecessary vulgarity to the story, enough that it made me feel a bit embarrassed if a female happened to walk into the room while I was playing the game.
Overall, Lollipop Chainsaw might temporarily charm through its colorful and naughty silliness and definitely should amuse the gaming misogynist in the family, but I found the awkward mix of teen sexuality and violence too unsettling.