Suda51 is a showman. When you're about to witness a presentation of one of his games, you already know you are in for something quite special. Each game has its unique elements, a bit of madness, and certainly some sexual references: Grasshopper Manufacture always leaves its mark on the world of video games. But what leaves its mark on the minds of those who met Suda51 for the first time is his charisma, his great humor and that look that only creative madmen have.
Unfortunately Suda51 is not here in person to present Lollipop Chainsaw. Suda51 being Suda51 however, he makes sure his presence is felt with a pre-recorded presentation to introduce his latest. We see a room full of journalists laughing out loud while Suda, as usual, tries to introduce the title via plenty of blunders and letting us all understand that this game won't be of the ordinary kind.
We can't say we're surprised.
The "not ordinary" in Lollipop Chainsaw, however, doesn't derive from the gameplay. This is a simple hack and slash where we face a zombie apocalypse that has broken loose in an American high school. Classic gameplay, classic setting, classic enemies too. Yet, within the first few seconds, it's apparent that something is different.
First, there is no testosterone. The hero of the story is a cheerleader named Juliet Starling, described by Suda as a "kick ass cheerleader with great power". A pin-up looking girl, dressed in short skirts and tops, armed with pom-poms, lollipops and - of course - a chainsaw.
We laughed out loud when the producers revealed the name of the school where the story takes place. San Romero High School, which is an obvious reference to the father of all zombie movies, George A. Romero, who has shrewdly become a saint in Suda's twisted universe. Priceless.
This school has been completely overrun by zombies, who naturally have begun eating the brains of all the students and professors. A few survivors have desperately sought shelter in the school's classrooms, and only one hero is left - make that a hero and a half. Juliets trusty sidekick is a talking head (im)properly positioned on her hips. Clearly, the particular location of the head allows the lucky/unlucky aide a particular vision of the Juliet's panties, resulting in various sexual references. Another Grasshopper trademark ticked off.
The enemies have little to do with the classic zombie iconography: they are fast, smart and even speak. Most recite lines from Z-grade movies, and Juliet is always quick to answer with quirky lines of her own, such as our heroine accuse a dead zombie professor for the bad grades she had received during the year. Who wouldn't want to do that?
Saving the civilians never seemed to be the primary goal: Juliet seems more concerned with taking out anything that isn't human. Helping them did secure Juliet some extra cash though, and even if the developer weren't ready to tell us what we would actually be able to spend it on, we were promised some "very awesome things." It's also worth to keep in mind that civilians can be infected at any point of time.
Sadly we were not allowed to try the game, but the control system was explained to us. It's all pretty standard with combos and finishing moves that trigger spectacular animations, reminiscent of Travis Touchdown in No More Heroes - another great title by Suda51 that has clearly inspired a lot of the mechanics in Lollipop Chainsaw.
Even the visual style recalls Grasshopper's previous productions: cel-shaded graphics, this time enriched by thick black outlines that give the game a comic book-style of its own, an idea assisted by the presence of a user-interface reminiscent of old American comics.
In a second phase of the presentation we were shown a boss fight, with our heroine facing a punk-rock-zombie named Zed on a huge stage. Before starting the clash, the game shows a written description of the enemy, which was promptly moved away and commented by Juliet, as if the girl also had access to the game's UI. Nonsensical and funny.
The fight opened in a classic way. Zed looked like a ordinary boss: faster, tougher, and equipped with a large energy bar. After hitting him repeatedly, however, we realized that the battle was divided into several phases. Suddently we were dodging guitar amplifiers falling from the sky, while punk rock music were blasting towards us from the huge stage. Our task was to saw a giant speaker in two while eluding Zed's attacks. Finally, in a third phase, Zed threw us some LPs which we had to counter and send back to him. From time to time the zombie stopped in the middle of the stage, shouting "Yeah", and here we witnessed a real stroke of genius: his screams turned into giant, deadly letters. By dodging the Y, E, A and H, we were able to give him the coup de grace.
So ended the presentation of one of the most fascinating games we've seen in the last few months. As always, Suda51's creativity has once again been showcased and yet another videogame-star seems to have been born. We look forward to get our pom-poms on, in Lollipop Chainsaw.