FGC #223 Lollipop Chainsaw

Pedal alongThere are four games that I have 100% “platinumed”. For those of you that blissfully missed the current gaming climate of “achievements” and “trophies”, that means there are four games on the Xbox 360/Xbone/Playstation 3/Playstation 4 that have sucked up enough of my time to accomplish 100% completion. Two of those platinumed games are Final Fantasy 13-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13. That factoid probably surprises no one. Then we’ve got Saint’s Row IV, a game that begged to have every last bit of content squeezed out of its delicious fruit of gameplay. I’d follow that game to Hell and back… and that’s kind of appropriate given its sequel/expansion. And then the final game that I have ever 100% completed is…

Lollipop Chainsaw.

WINNER

I… find that odd.

Lollipop Chainsaw turned me off at its initial release. As much as I love a good Suda game (okay, we’re basically talking about Killer7 and No More Heroes here… does Contact count?), Lollipop Chainsaw looked a little too… is “lol random” an appropriate adjective? Oh, look, it’s a cheerleader with a chainsaw fighting zombies through an American high school. Is… is it supposed to be a parody of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Wasn’t that basically a parody in the first place? Or is it closer to the Buffy source material, and an inversion of the typical teen slasher film? And I’m sure that it’s just a coincidence the plot allows for the heroine to wear the world’s shortiest skirt. Pass.

So then I bought it anyway, because, as we’ve discussed, I will buy anything during a sale. This… also might be why I own every other Suda51 game…

RAINBOWWith Lollipop Chainsaw now loaded into my Playstation 3, I was finally able to look past the generally off-putting cover, and experience the game itself. And, while I’d love to make this another article about the glories of looking past first impressions and discovering the delicious center of this onion we call life, I quit Lollipop Chainsaw almost immediately. I cleared the initial prologue stage, found the game generally fun but kinda clunky, and then died to an early sub-boss during the first official stage. I discovered that that death meant I had to repeat the entire stage from the start, and that was about it for Lollipop Chainsaw. Sorry, guys, but I have better things to do with my time.

Then, for reasons I don’t immediately recall, I decided to try again. I replayed the game from the prologue again (mainly because I had already forgotten how the game “works”), used the excess earned coins to buy a few upgrades for chainsaw combos, and continued on my merry way. I beat the first level pretty handily, and then moved on to the second, third, and beyond. I beat the game inside of a few days, and then went back and ground Juliet against Hard Mode. I beat the top scores. I cooked zombies until I earned all the costumes. I got surprisingly good at stupid quicktime events. And, in the end, the final trophy would only be rewarded for using some random special move (that is to say that the move itself had a random result, which isn’t usually my cup of tea) repeatedly, so I stood around the end of a hellbilly farm and kicked around a severed head until that trophy was in the bag. One platinum trophy earned, and I could finally put Lollipop Chainsaw to bed.

But… why the heck did I do that?

WeeeeeI initially assessed Lollipop Chainsaw’s gameplay as “clunky”, and, even after everything, I stand by that evaluation. Juliet, the heroine of the piece, does not control like your modern videogame action hero. If you’re expecting Bayonetta 2 (or… 3?) here, you’re out of luck. Juliet controls like a hundred pound cheerleader swinging around an enormous piece of gardening equipment. Once you start a chainsaw combo, there’s a level of inertia involved that is usually reserved for particularly chunky boulders. But there’s the “weak” pom-pom attacks that are deliberately lighter and more manageable… except they don’t work like your typical videogame jabs, either. The pom-pom attacks are built more like a lock-on button (which this game also has!), and those weak attacks are meant to bridge the gaps between Juliet and any waiting zombies. The game does explain this (repeatedly!) but, after decades of other 3-D brawler affairs, it never feels right. In short, even when Lollipop Chainsaw is working exactly as intended, it comes off as broken.

But sometimes when you’re on, you’re really fucking on.

There’s a rhythm to Lollipop Chainsaw, and it permeates every bit of the game. From the basic zombie brawls to zombie basketball to even the stupid quick time events, there’s always this undercurrent of timing that is… well… it’s probably not unlike being a cheerleader. I mean, okay, for some reason I never got into that sport (it’s not because I don’t have the legs for it), but the general beat of 1-2-3-4 here is constant between every scene, and only reinforced by the musical genre-inspired boss zombies. It’s the mark of a good game that when you’re in the zone, you can automatically intuit the solution to the next threat or trap, and, once you’re seeing the world through Juliet’s eyes, that happens constantly in LC. Even after not playing the game for at least a year, Bunny AI?when I picked up the Dual Shock 3, I was right back in zombie murderin’ mode, and nothing could stop me.

But that’s true of a lot of games, right? I’ve experienced a similar resonating rhythm with Mega Man or Punch-Out, yet I don’t see 100% clears for those games. Mega Man Legacy Collection is great, but I know that I’m never going to complete that Mega Robot Master Rush achievement. Hell, I can barely beat Wood Man alone with only a buster. Why is Lollipop Chainsaw one of the few games in history to get me to that achievement finish line?

And, reviewing the trophy list, I think I have an answer: nearly every achievement in Lollipop Chainsaw is based on simply playing Lollipop Chainsaw well. And that’s it.

This is important, because there are a lot of… let’s call them “Legendary Achievements” in modern gaming. What am I talking about? Well, there’s a difference between beating the hardest hidden boss in the game, and beating the hardest hidden boss in the game that incidentally takes fifteen hours. There’s a difference between beating hard mode and beating hard mode without ever taking a hit. And, if you’re at all curious why I completed Final Fantasy 13’s sequels but not Final Fantasy 13 itself, there’s a difference between collecting hidden or random items, and collecting every stupid piece of vendor trash in the universe. It seems like every game has some kind of outrageous achievement along those lines, because what’s even the point in producing a game if you can’t force a player to waste sixty hours working toward some arbitrary goal?

WeeeeeeAnd Legendary Achievements are the bane of my achievement hunting. Usually I have no problem clearing a game. After that task is finished, I have a tendency to look over the remaining trophies, whether that’s in a game-provided list, or requires a trip to Gamefaqs. Nine times out of ten, I’ll immediately find that one Legendary Achievement that necessitates insane mastery of the game. Again, this is usually immediately after clearing the game the first time, and, if the game was any good in the first place, there was probably some challenge there. If I just survived beating the final boss, an achievement for beating the final boss without losing any health and in less than ten seconds seems pretty damn insurmountable. Add practically any other remotely difficult achievement to that, and I throw up my hands in defeat. Sure, there are some other achievements on that list I might pull off, but, dammit, I’ve got a backlog longer than the Andes here, and I hope to have at least played Undertale before the end of the universe. Do you know how much time it takes to write about videogames as much as I do!?

But Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t have any Legendary Achievements. You beat level 1? Great! Do it better. You can kill a bunch of zombies at once? Go for seven! Collecting all the costumes and collectibles is kind of a gimme, but here’s a list of everything you’ve already found, so you’re not stuck looking for blue coins for the rest of your life. Lollipop Chainsaw goes out of its way to make sure its achievements are… achievable, and I wound up plowing through that list as a result. It wasn’t until the last couple of challenges that I even noticed I had nearly finished everything in the game, and then it was just a matter of mastering a few quick minigames. Then welcome to Platinum Town.

YummyAnd there’s an important lesson here. Achievements are, ya know, achievements because they help the player to realize what they’ve accomplished. When you squeeze out the Legendary Achievements, then you’re left with an easy gauge for how “good” you are at a game, straight from the designers. Did you beat the high score? Well, the creators didn’t pull that number out of a hat, if you cleared that number, you have “mastered” that level. Conversely, an insurmountable 9.999,999 score requirement isn’t only difficult, it’s lazy game design that appeals only to the diehards. A much more manageable “generally good” tells the player that mastery is happening, but doesn’t inevitably require a trip to some message board to discover “the trick”. Good trophies/achievements design is an art unto itself, and one that is often ignored in favor of “well, wouldn’t it be cool if only six people got this trophy”.

So good job, Lollipop Chainsaw. I played this game a lot more than I probably would have thanks to its perfectly calibrated trophies, and I’ll remember it fondly as a result. Lollipop Chainsaw might be a janky game, but at least one part of it is platinum.

FGC #223 Lollipop Chainsaw

  • System: Playstation 3, Xbox 360. Sorry, whatever Nintendo system was relevant at the time.
  • Number of players: Only one. Though you can show off your scores online, so that’s kind of like having a second player.
  • Favorite Zombie: There’s something delightfully off-putting about Mariska, the sitar-toting hippy zombie. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s the juxtaposition of her “peace and love” attitude and her stitched together jeans/face.

    LOSER

    The Dethklok wannabe from Stage 2 has got nothing on her.

  • What about the achievement/trophy for looking up Juliet’s skirt? Okay, yeah, that’s a thing… but the record will show it was one of the last trophies I earned! … Though, honestly, I don’t even know why they bothered, like every other cutscene involves some level of panty shot.
  • Speaking of misogyny: There’s an excellent article on Destructoid about objectification and Lollipop Chainsaw, and how it really winds up being the boyfriend, who has literally been reduced to the status of an object, who is the more objectified character in the game. This is clever (and I wish I had that observation first, dammit), and likely wholly intentional. That said, holy crap is Juliet a typical male fantasy, and pretty much nothing is done here to suggest that leering at Juliet in her latest skimpy costume is anything but the intended reward for playing the game well. There’s a lot of cake eating going on here.
  • And speaking of cake: It’s more of a personal pet peeve, but I never need hear another skinny teenager complain about being a fat ass ever again. It happens within the opening monologue! It happens every other time you find a health powerup! It never needs to happen ever!
  • Dialogue Coach: But the rest of the dialogue in the game is pretty damn awesome. The interplay between Juliet and Nick is an unending highlight of this game, and Tara Strong (voice of Juliet) is really bringing her A-game to this production. It’s a rarity on this blog, but here’s a random audio snippet of one of my favorite conversations (NSFW language).
  • Did you know? There was apparently a Valentine’s Day edition of this game released in Japan with additional content (mostly for your PC). This might have contributed to Lollipop Chainsaw being the best-selling Grasshopper game worldwide, so eat your heart out, Shining Soul.
  • Would I play again: Well, I got 100%… is there a reason to go back?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania Aria of Sorrow for the GBA! Aw, don’t be sad, Soma, I’m sure you’ll make a fine vampire. Please look forward to it!

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