‘Lollipop Chainsaw’ sweet, but not filling

If there’s one medium where the glory of excess still reigns supreme, it’s video games. Leading the charge of hyper violent insanity are the games of Goichi Suda, a Japanese auteur who makes games about talking demonic guns, elderly assassins with energy cannons disguised as shopping carts and football players who pilot giant robots. Miraculously, Suda and his team have managed to up the ante yet again with the hack and slash adventure game “Lollipop Chainsaw.” However, all the madcap charm in the world can’t compensate for ho-hum gameplay and a game length shorter than the heroine’s skirt.

The fictional high school of San Romero has been overrun by zombies, and the only one who can set things right is a brave, blonde, buxom cheerleader named Juliet Starling. A gothed-out geek whose hobbies include plotting world domination and practicing his scary faces in the mirror has opened a portal to the Rotten Dimension and turned most of the students who mocked him into the undead. Fortunately, Juliet is not on her own. The severed head of her boyfriend Nick, her sushi-knife wielding sensei, and her zombie-hunting family all show up to lend a hand—offering Juliet upgrades to her equipment and moral support.

The story is light and fun and more than a little crazy, but the relationship between Juliet and her boyfriend is surprisingly heartfelt, considering that he spends 99% of the game dangling from her belt. The bizarre bosses—each based on a different genre of music—add another layer of crazy atop an already bonkers premise. Genuinely funny moments abound such as when Juliet enters an arcade full of zombies playing video games about killing zombies.

“We should totally kill them. It’ll be so meta,” she exclaimed.

However, gamers not fond of constant panty shots, blood spatters, and f-bombs will want to sit this one out.

Unlike the story, the gameplay is pretty run-of-the-mill. “Lollipop Chainsaw” has players running from one area to the next, clearing classrooms and gymnasiums full of zombies with a variety of chainsaw and pom pom attacks. While each of Juliet’s attacks look cool enough, actually controlling her feels somewhat clunky, and a lack of multiple weapons with which to liberate the undead from their limbs means that combat can get stale. Compared to games like “Bayonetta,” which feature plenty of unique weapons and razor-sharp controls, “Lollipop Chainsaw” feels dated. It’s a shame that the combat, which makes up the meat of the game, doesn’t quite live up to the high standards set by other titles in the action genre.

Breaks from combat come in the form of mini-games, such as zombie basketball, which requires Juliet to score three pointers by chopping off zombie heads, and a sequence where she must run over zombies with a tractor while avoiding explosive barrels. Her boyfriend’s severed head can be attached to certain zombie bodies, but this mechanic unfortunately results in nothing more than a series of button presses, which grows tiresome quickly. The problem with the mini games is that they all feel like fluff meant to give you a rest from the sometimes monotonous combat. If more time had been spent on perfecting the core gameplay, these goofy interludes wouldn’t have been necessary.

“Lollipop Chainsaw” features the usual system of health and attack upgrades that you’d expect from any action game circa 2001. Lollipops, which restore health, as well as new outfits and attacks, can be purchased at kiosks scattered throughout the game. It’ll take more than one play-through to max out all of your skills, but since the game’s best feature is its story, not its gameplay, a second play-through isn’t that enticing. What’s worse is that the whole game can be slain in a mere six hours.

The presentation is an inspired mismatch of ‘50s innocence and gory grindhouse cinema. While shopping, the barbershop-classic “Lollipop” plays in the background, and the menus all look like school notebooks. The bosses also sport names like Killabilly. The voice actors nail the funny lines and make the bad ones tolerable, and the game pulls off its cheesy, self-aware theme with gusto.

It’s a shame that the best things about “Lollipop Chainsaw” have nothing to do with the actual gameplay. It’s funny, stylish, and refreshingly bizarre, but the combat plays it safe and ends up tasting like candy that someone dropped on the ground, washed off, and tried to pass off as new. Still, for gamers looking for something light and sweet, “Lollipop Chainsaw” makes for one heck of a rental.