Bring it Back | Lollipop Chainsaw
It’s time for another Bring it Back Sunday, where we do a retrospective on games that we haven’t seen in a while. Last week, we put the spotlight on the long dormant Legacy of Kain series. This week, we take a look at a unique collaboration between Goichi Suda (Suda51) and filmmaker James Gunn. Of course, we’re talking about Lollipop Chainsaw! This strange yet peppy hack n’ slash action game gave a unique premise and an incredibly stylish thrill ride. It’s a game I hold dear to my heart, and I’ve been looking forward to this Bring it Back feature.
Lollipop Chainsaw was first announced in 2010, though with only a vague description of a stylish action game. The game was officially revealed the next year and even made a playable debut at PAX Prime 2011. Suda51 and Tomo Ikeda were directing the game, seeing it as a funny game full of extreme twists, but what makes the game extra special is that James Gunn (Slither, Dawn of the Dead) had a hand in writing the game (before his big breakout with Guardians of the Galaxy). Working with Masahiro Yuki, Gunn contributed his trademark humor and provided help to the actors with their roles. Gunn even brought in his brother Sean and longtime friends Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry to provide voices in the game. Part of the goal was to not hold back and make the game as extreme as possible, and it shows within the game.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment was already set to publish, and alongside Suda51, they reached out to James Gunn to get him involved. Showing him clips of a game with an unnamed beautiful blonde cheerleader killing zombies, blood and rainbow hearts were coming out of their wounds. Gunn immediately wanted to be involved. It’s the only video game on Gunn’s writing credits, but we feel like it would be great to see him write a new game. Lollipop Chainsaw would also lean into the zombie theme during promotional periods. There were several collaborations for extra costumes, including Highschool of the Dead, Deadman Wonderland, and even the Army of Darkness. The game would finally release worldwide in June 2012, bringing the insane zombie madness to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Lollipop Chainsaw’s story centered on Juliet Starling, a high school cheerleader that just turned 18 at the start of the game. She also happens to be part of a family of monster slayers. Attending San Romero High School, a nod to George A. Romero, she gets caught in a zombie outbreak started by a mistreated goth kid. During the process, her boyfriend Nick gets bitten by a zombie before she could prevent it. Not wanting to lose him, she uses some magic and her comically large chainsaw to decapitate him. Managing to save her boyfriend from suffering an undead fate, he now spends the entirety of the game as a decapitated head at Juliet’s hip. The journey surprisingly helps to build their relationship, dealing with the good and the bad, and makes for a pretty endearing chemistry.
Part of the charm of these characters come from their actors. Tara Strong (Powerpuff Girls) delivers an incredible performance as Juliet, bringing her energy to the character in a way only she can. Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville) also manages to make Nick an enjoyable character with a lot of his dialogue. The conversations between the couple, the one-liners, and even the interesting family moments provide a lot of laughs. As funny as they can be, they also show what it’s like to be in a committed relationship in the oddest of ways. It’s these performances that make a game like Lollipop Chainsaw work, and it goes further with the rest of the cast. It also helps that the game leans into the raunchiness and sexual innuendo with full force.
Getting to the gameplay, this isn’t your typical hack n’ slash adventure. Juliet will have melee attacks as well as high and low attacks with her massive chainsaw. She’ll also be able to dodge enemies and jump to help her get out of a jam. As the zombie hordes amass, Juliet can use her melee attacks to beat them into a groggy state. Once in that state, with the help of her chainsaw, she can dismember them with sparkly flair. You can kill zombies without stunning them, but that won’t work forever. Killing zombies also earns gold medals, which players can spend to buy new combos and upgrades. As Juliet fills her Star Meter, she can also enter a powered up state where her chainsaw kills in one hit. All this happens while Toni Basil’s “Mickey” plays in the background and “Sparkle Hunting” becomes easier to pull off.
Sparkle Hunting is when you kill three or more zombies in one attack, gaining platinum medals for unlocking cosmetics, art, and music. There’s quick time events where Juliet will use her chainsaw to slice through gates and other obstacles as well. Eventually, Juliet will also get special abilities like the Chainsaw Dash and Chainsaw Blaster. Of course, among the best abilities come from using her boyfriend Nick. Using “Nick Tickets,” Juliet can activate the “Nick Roulette,” which allows Juliet to use more special attacks. This includes attacks like the Nick Popper or Nick Toss, making zombies groggy with ease. If you fall in battle, you can even use the roulette to potentially come back with full health. At key moments, Nick can even attack to a zombie body and use it to pass obstacles.
Another part of the gameplay involves certain moments where players will activate a minigame. Things like riding a combine harvester to kill 300 zombies or even a parody of Pac-Man. Many of these events even have music like “You Spin Me Right Round (Like a Record)” by Dead or Alive. In fact, part of the appeal to the game is the licensed soundtrack. It feels right at home considering how James Gunn masterfully used music in his Guardians of the Galaxy movies. With tracks like “Lollipop” by the Chordettes, Buckner & Garcia’s “Pac Man Fever,” and even Joan Jett’s “Cherry Bomb,” it’s a fun soundtrack. This is especially apparent in the Fulci Fun Center level.
The musical element doesn’t stop there either. Mindless Self Indulgence’s Jimmy Urine composed all the boss tracks in the game. He event voices the first boss, the Dark Purveyor, Zed. The bosses themselves are actually all music themed. Many of them actually start their fights with a musical introduction. Each boss represents a different style of music too. Zed portrays punk rock, Vikke represents Viking metal, Mariska embodies psychedelia, Josey exhibits funk, and Lewis Legend is the spirit of rock. When all the Dark Purveyors are defeated, they actually help to summon the rockabilly zombie, Killabilly. It’s a fun theme that bleeds into each stage of the game, and really adds to Lollipop Chainsaw’s creativity.
Lollipop Chainsaw did face some controversy during its time in the spotlight. During promotion circuits for the game, cosplayer Jessica Nigri was asked to change her cosplay when wearing one of the unlockable outfits in the game. There’s also the discussion of the objectification of men and women within the game (whether it’s subverting it or not). James Gunn had some of his own discussions regarding the game, and how he felt that Juliet’s portrayal as a full character combats sexism. The Japanese version even got censored to release at a CERO D rating, prompting a more expensive “Premium Edition” to give consumers a CERO Z option. For reference, CERO D is like a Mature (M) rating while CERO Z is an Adults Only (AO) rating.
The game wasn’t exactly a critical success, but it did find its audience eventually, as many Suda51 games do. It was the only game in the franchise, but that didn’t stop Juliet from appearing in a couple other roles. Shōji Satō illustrated the character in a crossover image for Highschool of the Dead during the promotional period. Taking things further, Juliet even makes a cameo appearance in Suda51’s Killer is Dead. In the DLC chapter 51, Juliet can be found in a shaking barrel for a quick cameo. After that cameo in 2013, we haven’t really seen anything from the franchise since. It’s been nearly a decade since the original came out, and we think it’s time to Bring it Back!
With the game being nearly a decade old, the IP has already missed out on an entire generation. Perhaps for the ten year anniversary, they can release a remastered version? It wouldn’t be so unusual considering that No More Heroes and it’s sequel both got Switch ports. The trickiest part would likely be the publishing, with WBIE being the publisher outside of Japan. Kadokawa Games was the publisher in Japan, though it’s hard to say who owns the rights. It’s possible that Grasshopper Manufacture owns the rights, but would need a publisher for a re-release. However things get moving, a port to more modern platforms would bring the game back from obscurity. Of course, with the licensed soundtrack, that may be more difficult.
It may be a tall order, but if the game could see a port, it can gain new fans. New fans could garner interest in a potential sequel. The game offers a fun and unique universe where zombies, chupacabras and black magic exist. We could easily see a sequel taking Juliet to college, maybe even focusing on getting Nick a new body. Suda51 being a part of the project is definitely a requirement. Ideally, it would be great to have James Gunn return to write. Of course, it may be a difficult path for him to take in this stage of his life. Either way, whoever writes the new game would still have to capture the spirit of the original. The humor, the gore, the style; all of it. Whatever the case, we’d love to see a new Lollipop Chainsaw and a return of the chainsaw wielding badass, Juliet.
What do you think? Did you miss Lollipop Chainsaw during it’s initial release? Would you love to see Juliet Starling return to the spotlight? Let us know in the comments below! Also feel free to check us out next Sunday for our next Bring it Back feature. We’ll be checking out a classic Mistwalker franchise, so be sure to be there!