Gamescom 2011: Lollipop Chainsaw Preview

So yesterday I played Modern warfare 3 and Diablo III. Those weren’t my highlights for the day; a behind closed doors, live gameplay session of Lollipop Chainsaw was. I think I’m just weird that way.

Tucked into an obscure, hidden corner of the Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment stand was a door that led to a small room with about eight chairs and a huge LCD hooked up to an Xbox 360. The room was for a game codenamed “Project Ash”, which to my delight turned out to be Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture’s upcoming title, Lollipop Chainsaw.

Leading our private viewing was Scott Warr from Warner Bros. Prior to him starting the demo he showed us a video message from Suda 51 in which the Japanese gaming legend apologised profusely for not being at Gamescom to show us his game in person. I was a little bummed out too but his message was heartfelt and interspersed with crazy antics, like warning us not to drink too much beer in case we turn into beer zombies, or something.

In Lollipop Chainsaw you take on the role of Juliet Starling, one of the popular girls at San Romero High School. She’s also a cheerleader for the school’s football team, the San Romero Knights. Because of her cheerleading background, Juliet is an agile combatant and is able to leapfrog over enemies and dash about all over the environment with ease.

Lollipop Chainsaw is a zombie brawler (yes, another zombie game) but it has heaps of style, colour and an extraordinary protagonist. Combat is based on combos and we were told that there will be upgrades and weapon unlocks, but Warr could not go into specifics. What we do know is that you’ll receive gold coins for performing well during a fight or for completing mini objectives like saving a classmate from a zombie.

Juliet has a light and a heavy attack at her disposal; the former sees her using her cheerleader pom-poms to almost shepherd zombies into larger groups so she can perform group take-downs with a heavy attack, which utilises her chainsaw. You can also chain together hits, but performing a dodge jump (a leapfrog manoeuvre over an enemy) breaks that chain and you’ll be forced to restart your combo. Juliet will also be able to perform execution moves on zombies; if performed well these execution moves put the game into a slow-mo mode with heaps of coloured effects and pretty, girly pink sparkles. These executions will net you bigger gold coin rewards as well.

Chaining together combos and fighting in a stylish way will fill a power-up metre, which is yet to be given a final name. Once the metre is full you can activate the power-up to make Juliet temporarily stronger. This will also overlay the screen with excessive colours and rainbow effects, which just looks bizarre and hyper-cute against the backdrop of a zombie invasion, loads of blood and numerous dismemberments. Strangely enough it works really, really well and it sounds ridiculous but it fits perfectly with Juliet’s “Japanese Pop” character.

Health is provided from lollipops (hence lollipop Chainsaw), which can be found throughout the levels. The build that we were shown, however, had had the difficulty deliberately scaled down so that we could see as much as possible without our demonstrator dying or getting bogged down in lengthy boss fights.

Speaking of which, Lollipop Chainsaw will feature one of Suda 51’s staples: massive boss fights. During the playthrough Juliet faced off with a boss character called “Punk Rock Zombie”. This boss zombie was definitely not your average undead cannon fodder; he was nimble, dressed up in punk rocker clothing, wielded a golden microphone stand weapon and very talkative. Throughout the fight he hurled abuse at Juliet – literally. Occasionally during the battle he would scream insults (“Vanillaslut!”) which would form giant words that would rush towards Juliet; if she failed to dodge them in time she’d take damage. These word shouts, coupled with narrative panels and cell-shaded graphics, give the game a very comic book vibe.

The game’s script and plot is a collaborative effort between Suda 51 and James Gunn, the writer of films like Slither and Super, and the screenplay for Dawn of the Dead. As a result, there’s some really good dialogue in Lollipop Chainsaw. All of us present at the demo found ourselves chuckling at the one-liners and exclamations.

Lollipop Chainsaw is still in the early stages of development but Grasshopper Manufacture is aiming for a 2012 release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. After seeing the game in action for half an hour I can truly say that this title has my complete attention. I’ve been posting on this title since it was announced, so to see it for myself was very exciting. I even got to ask about the head that Juliet has strapped to her belt: he’s called Nick, and he’s going to double as a weapon with all sorts of upgrades in the game, but that was all Scott Warr was able to tell me.