Many developers excel at one genre, but it's the rare ones that have a distinct style. That's obvious when you see the glut of military shooters out there. Most are good games made by great studios, but they tend to look the same. At times, they're indistinguishable from each other with the combination of explosions, guns and bullets crowding the screen.
It's one of the reasons players should appreciate a talent like Goichi Suda. The developer better known as Suda51 puts a unique stamp on his games. Throw his work in a pile with others, and fans will know which is his.
Suda51's games generally are violent with a dash of bravado. A strong sense of the bizarre permeates his projects, and that's punctuated with elements of retro gaming. But his recent releases are notable for the women. They're usually blonde, alluring, Marilyn Monroe types.
"No More Heroes" and "Shadows of the Damned" put these figures in a support role; they were the goal at the end of each journey. But Suda51's latest female character changes it up. Players take on the role of Juliet Starling, a cheerleader at San Romero High School who happens to have a secret.
She's part of a zombie-slaying family, and that particular skill comes in handy when her town is overrun by the undead. A student named Swan has summoned dark purveyors and broken the barrier that separates the earthly realm and Rotten World, igniting the zombie apocalypse.
On the surface, "Lollipop Chainsaw" looks like another stylish brawler in the vein of "God of War." Juliet slices and dices the undead easily, almost as if she were dancing. But the combat system and scoring go deeper. Players can breeze through the campaign's prologue and six chapters but miss the intricacies of fighting.
The challenge comes in how stylishly players can slice and dice foes. It involves making them groggy with quick attacks and herding them into an area before finishing them off with stronger slashes. There are also other moves, such as a blaster and powered-up Star Soule mode, but skillful players will try to earn coins by eliminating several zombies in one swipe.
The coins in those kills can be spent on upgrades and costumes for Juliet, which is enough incentive for at least a second play-through.
While the game's foundation is strong, it's the level design and humor that keep players off balance and make "Lollipop Chainsaw" a delight. Grasshopper Manufacture takes the common and morbid zombie movie locales and drops a dollop of rainbows and silliness into the arena.
The undead don't moan; they mumble insults. For no apparent reason, Juliet will be chopping up zombies one second; in the next, she will be riding a combine, mowing the monsters down. She even fights inside a giant arcade machine.
Holding it all together is Nick, Juliet's boyfriend. He was a normal guy before being infected. Our heroine saved his life by decapitating him and casting a spell to keep him alive. Throughout "Lollipop Chainsaw," he's just a head attached to Juliet's waistband and acts as the straight man commenting on his odd predicament and the cheerleader's heroics. He also helps out by controlling a zombie body in a short minigame.
Credit writer James Gunn for a script that's as sharp and fast-paced as the gameplay. "Lollipop Chainsaw" never gets bogged down in puzzles or bloated with several battles. The narrative and dialogue are lean. Every experience feels fresh, moving at just the right clip.
Sure, Gunn and Suda51 didn't set out to make Shakespeare, but the game does accomplish its goal as a fun piece of bubble-gum entertainment. It's the video game equivalent of a summer movie, allowing players to escape and laugh for a few hours before heading back to the rote of a nonzombified world.
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Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3