Warner Bros' upcoming Lollipop Chainsaw, developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, is a bit odd. The name kicks things off, but things don't get much less odd once you start actually playing the game.
You play a cheerleader called Juliet Starling (voiced by the very experienced Tara Strong) and, heading to school one day, you notice that almost everyone has become a mindless zombie. Fortunately, you happen to have your bedazzled chainsaw of undead decapitation in your gym bag, so without hesitation you start it up and get to work.
The way this plays out is as a roaming brawler, with three key buttons to think about. You can chain melee attacks by spamming one button, while a second links together various chainsaw based attacks, and a third initiates a dodge. Initially simplistic, this control mechanic opens up over time as you learn simple combos or purchase more advanced moves at the in-game store.
During a recent hands-on session, I began by concentrating on chainsaw attacks: I mean, would you want to risk punching the bad guys when you've got a roaring saw thing in your hands? Very soon, however, the sheer weight of numbers meant the chainsaw alone was insufficient at keeping the undead at bay.
Next, I learned (by way of well-placed in-game tutorials) that utilising melee attacks was a useful way to both stun the zombies and also push your way through them, as Juliet actually makes forward progress as she chains together various attacks in this way. It's all just pushing one button over and over, but the way Juliet flips and kicks and spins and punches makes it feel satisfying nonetheless.
Stunning has another added benefit: zombies are guaranteed to be decapitated should you attack them with the chainsaw. Decapitate at least three zombies at once and you'll earn bonus coins, which you then need to purchase the extra moves and other stuff from the in-game shops. This simple mechanic, which is gloriously slapstick to behold, adds a lot of strategy and risk/reward consideration to the combat.
The other core component of the undead destruction is the aforementioned dodge ability. Operating primarily as a "get out of danger" move, it's also contextual - pressing it while pushing your stick towards an enemy, for example, will cause you to leap gracefully over their heads.
Additionally, chaining dodge with another attack can actually lead to a combo or special move in and of itself. Leaping over a zombie and then spamming the chainsaw button will see you insert the chainsaw between the enemy's legs and then, well, lift it upwards. If it wasn't for the fact that your enemies are zombies, this would probably be even more cringeworthy than it already is.
Throughout the experience, Juliet proffers her observations on life and the actions of the undead. She also shows a lot of skin, with unlockable outfits (as seen in the game's gallery) promising to reveal even more. There's also plenty of suggestive in-game dialogue, stating things like "don't use the camera to look upskirts... too often", as well as pre-animated moves and cameras that go out of their way to concentrate on the crotch or lavish the player with sideboob.
The game is linear, however the environments you're fighting in always have at least some degree of free-roaming ability, which helps give you some options once the difficulty ramps up (which it does, and pretty quickly at that). There's also often some sort of random event that triggers a change in the level, resulting in you ending up going somewhere other than you thought you might, as busses crash down the hall of the school or someone blows up the floor underneath you.
I had a lot of fun in my short time with the game, and can see it's a title that focuses on entertaining and being inane above all else - something of a hallmark of Goichi Suda (Suda51)'s games of late. It did get pretty seriously hard, however, even on the "normal" difficulty level, with zombies able to attack you while you're dodging and a health-bar that likes to head toward "empty" at high speed.
If you like the sound of a polished, sexy, violent, and ultra-Japanese zombie-fest, Lollipop Chainsaw is out on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on June 15th.