Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: Lollipop Chainsaw

I am the last person on the planet who should be reviewing this game.  I don't have a degree in women's studies.  I haven't written any published papers on the role of gender in society.  I haven't really done much more than be the only guy in the room during a viewing of Iron Jawed Angels (a great way to lose whatever ego or sense of self-value you've ever had) and I watched every season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

But since I'm the only one here posting on this here blog, I guess that means I have to shoulder the task!

Lollipop Chainsaw is about a girl who just turned 18 who kills a lot of undead and several demons all based on various forms of rock music.  The end.  If I don't get at least one angry comment below I'm not sure if I'm going to be proud or upset.  But here goes.

Lollipop Chainsaw is the story of Juliet Starling, a high school girl who, on her 18th birthday, has to deal with a demonic infestation of her high school and surrounding area causing most of the people she knew and grew up with to turn into flesh-craving zombies.  She deals with this the way any sane individual would: by hacking apart everything that moves with a a rainbow-colored chainsaw that causes things it cuts in half to explode into glitter.

Now, I'm going to get the blatantly obvious out of the way first.  Yes, the game has some very sexist overtones to it.  Juliet runs around in a skimpy outfit (with several options for skimpy outfits if players invest the money they find on outfits for her), she worries constantly about the size of her butt and if her boyfriend (whose decapitated head is attached to her hip) will still love her, and she is frequently thanked by other students she saves with phrases such as "I never thought I'd be rescued by someone with such great tits!"

So, yeah, there's a reason to be concerned here.

However, it's not quite that simple.

The first major boss you fight is named Zed, a punk rock demon (voiced by Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence), who has a mouth so foul I simply can't post a lot of what he says here.  The tamest is probably "Vanilla Slut," but the words he says turn into physical objects that fly out at you.  The man is literally attacking you with his words.  This also goes along with some of the zombies you fight also saying extremely sexist, derogatory statements.

Now, nobody goes out of their way to make a game that's demeaning towards women (I'm not going to touch the Tomb Raider "we want you to save her from being raped" controversy), and looking at this game, I can see the counterargument in the fact that, at no point, does Juliet let this misogynistic behavior reduce who she is as a person.  She has a solid 3.4 GPA, she's athletic, she has a loving family, and instead of being protected by her boyfriend, the fate of an entire city (and the world) rests on her shoulders. 

No matter what language the game uses, as no time does it define who Juliet is.  I found myself liking this character for her strength, her sense of humor, and her ability to keep in control as everything goes to chaos around her. 

I'll admit, I'm a red-blooded guy.  If I'm playing a game that has an extremely attractive woman in it rendered with today's graphics, I'll admire the female form.  Harley Quinn in the Batman Arkham series was rather gorgeous (and also voiced by Tara Strong in the second one.  Huh.)  I didn't do that to Juliet, though, for two reasons:

1) Let's face it, she just turned 18.  That would be creepy.

2) I didn't want to reduce her to being just a physical object of lust.  The moment I realized that the game actually let you pan the camera around her, I suddenly felt that, if I did this action, I'd be no better than the monsters she was fighting.  I'd be degrading all the hard work Juliet had done so far in this game by admitting "yes, you're right, she is just there to be a masturbatory fantasy for young men, so why bother denying it?"

I have less respect for Princess Peach, and that woman knows how to drive a go-cart, play every sport imaginable, kung-fu fight in huge brawls, and run a kingdom, all while wearing full body clothing.  Of course, in her solo game, you progress through stages by literally "playing with her emotions" and making her cry.

Seriously, what the hell, Nintendo?

As an aside, while I have serious qualms about the character of Juliet being someone to ogle, I'll admit I have fewer reservations about some of the cosplayers I've seen.

Then again, I'm guessing Jessica Nigri wears the outfit because she's a fan of the game, not because she's actively fighting women's oppression embodied in the form of rotting hordes with terrible ideas of women's roles.

...then again, she does go to a lot of gamer conventions.

Anyway.  Gameplay-wise, Lollipop Chainsaw is pretty solid.  Combos are easy to chain together, and once you figure out how many hits each zombie can take, you can move back and forth between the undead hordes with ease, slicing and punching your way to victory.  The soundtrack is absurd in how much fun it is, changing from rampaging death metal to obscure 80s pop (Pac-Man Fever makes an appearance), and when you build up Juliet's "Star Soul Meter" by killing the undead, you can unlock some temporary power boosts while you swing her chainsaw around...all while Hey Mickey plays in the background.  I almost hurt myself from laughing the first time I realized what was playing in the background as I decapitated four zombies at once.

The script has its high and low points, and while Game Informer listed Juliet's boyfriend Nick one of their biggest dorks, I found the conversations between him and Juliet to be some of the most entertaining stuff happening on screen.  The bosses are also great, representing different genres of rock.  I'll freely admit that Josey, the "Master of Funk" was a blast to fight, if only because I'm pretty sure he spoke with autotune while wearing a giant top hat and a pink feathery pimp coat.  And he played a keytar.

Yes, I will agree that on the surface Lollipop Chainsaw does paint a pretty simple picture of "scantily clad woman kills undead," but where it diverts from, say, Dead Or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball is that you're fighting against the objectification with Juliet, you aren't promoting it.   At no point while playing this game did I want to have Juliet taken prisoner to see her tied up, physically restrained by a "strong male monster" bigger than her, or just want her to run through sprinkler systems or fall into large bodies of water to get her wet.  In fact, when the game even indicates it wants to try having things like that happen, I took a slightly twisted pleasure in responding with a chainsaw to the face.

I, personally, think that Juliet is a fine, strong female character who stars in a pretty solid game that was well worth more than the sixteen bucks I paid at Bull Moose Music, and there are few things I'd change about it.  ...well, maybe some of the costumes.  The seashell bikini was probably a bit much.

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