Goichi Suda, a.k.a. Suda 51, is something of an auteur. His stylish games, including Killer 7 and No More Heroes, have made him a recognizable name in gaming. Reminiscent of Robert Rodriguez or Quentin Tarantino films, Suda’s games are high on humor and over-the-top violence with a sly undercurrent of social commentary and cheeky pop culture awareness. His latest is a collaboration with filmmaker James Gunn (Tromeo and Juliet, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, Slither) called Lollipop Chainsaw, a cartoonish brawler about Juliet Starling, a high school cheerleader who wears the head of her boyfriend on her waist as she wastes zombies in her hometown of San Romero.
Before PAX East, I got to try a little bit of Lollipop Chainsaw as well as sit down with Suda 51 to get his thoughts on Lollipop, his influences and Japan’s place in the world of gaming. Look for that interview soon.
Just by looking at static screenshots you can see Lollipop Chainsaw has a distinct comic book vibe to it. The characters are outlined by thick black lines them as if they stepped out of a graphic novel. The stage select screen looks just like an illustrated splash page taken from an issue of some old pulp yarn, complete with yellowed caption boxes. Primary colors, rainbows and hearts are everywhere. And as he did in his previous games, Suda makes a point to highlight the absurdities of video games and anime, like coins popping out of defeated bad guys and characters performing ridiculous pose routines out of nowhere.
As I played the demo, an early build provided by Warner Bros. Interactive, I guided Juliet through a farm area; where there’s a farm area there’s zombie farmers. They crawled out of the ground groaning things like “Feed the chickens!” and “Milk the cow!” Pretty amusing. But they started to attack, so I had to beat them up.
“It’s psychedelic funk,” Suda said. “Music and zombies are two elements I wanted to put forth in this game ….
Besides pom-poms and chainsaws, there’s also a shotgun-type weapon for over-the-shoulder shooting. This can be accessed by holding the trigger buttons, which makes the switch between fighting styles nice and seamless. Don’t expect to go gun crazy the whole time as ammo is limited.
I should mention the moment-to-moment fighting felt a little unresponsive when I played. Juliet can link together hits and even cancel out of combos with a dodge move, yet I found her movements a little laggy. There was some disconnect between her and my controller inputs. I couldn’t tell if it was the TV used at the time, or if the actual controls were slow to respond to my button presses. Hopefully things get tightened by the time the game’s released in June if the latter is the case.
There was a lot of variety in the demo. I chainsawed, fired guns, and even… danced?!
Yeah. Juliet’s boyfriend, Nick, is only a head, but once in a while you can smack him on top of a headless zombie body to initiate a dancing mini-game. Onscreen button prompts show up in typical QTE fashion as Nick takes over and shakes his new zombie bod. There was even variety in the musical styles. The first time, Nick danced liked he was in an ’80s music video. The next time, it was like he was in some kind of sumo wrestler ceremony. These were fun bits of relief from the combat-heavy segments, though they’re unskippable. Nick needs to dance to break through obstacles that block Juliet’s way. Such a good boyfriend!
One thing that dragged the demo down was a driving interlude. I had to commandeer a combine to chop up zombies with its thresher. A great idea ruined by a camera that was zoomed in on Juliet far too close to see the surrounding area well. It got tedious once I couldn’t find the last few zombies I had to mow down, because the static camera kept them out of sight. I had to drive around aimlessly until I lucked into them. Hopefully the full game won’t have as many parts like this.
As far as content goes, Suda promises a lot. There will be New Game Plus for replaying the game on harder difficulty modes with abilities and upgrades from previous playthroughs, and a worldwide ranking system to compete for high scores. Unlockable costumes and costume DLC should keep collectors happy, and fans of the soundtrack can unlock and play whatever tracks they like best in any stage they want on an in-game jukebox, similar to the iPod in Metal Gear Solid 4. I heard a lot of ’80s classics during my demo time — songs like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “Mickey.” They matched the fast-paced action and bubblegum pop appeal of Juliet really well.
Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka returns from his past Suda collabration, Shadows of the Damned, to score the background music, alongside Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence, who’s in charge of boss music. Lollipop Chainsaw takes its music seriously.
“It’s psychedelic funk,” Suda said in a sit-down interview after I played the demo. “Music and zombies are two elements I wanted to put forth in this game … Akira Yamaoka made the list of music possible music used and then Warner Bros. negotiated to get those particular songs used.” He explained there are lots of different images in the game that would need corresponding music. Music that would work well with the fight scenes, as well as music specific to Juliet and Nick’s love.
Look forward to more Lollipop Chainsaw news. It will most likely be at E3, right around the game’s release date of June 12th for both Xbox 360 and PS3.