If its not wrestlers killing themselves (Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special), it's schizophrenic rail shooters with seven personalities (Killer 7) or even a caricature of the gamer who's obsessed with his own lost masculinity (No. More Heroes).
For his latest work, Suda51 embraces the world of music. By way of an uninhibited hack 'n slash action game with a chainsaw-wielding cheerleader and zombie hunter called Juliet Starling. Normal doesn't quite cover it.
Juliet is pop music manifested in a happy, positive, voluptuous blonde. It's her 18th birthday, and her school's been invaded by zombies resurrected by narcissistic goth Swan - it's up to Starling to wade through the mountains of blood and guts and save the day.
Playing Lollipop Chainsaw is akin to pumping a few hundred pounds of sugar direct into the bloodstream. Juliet is an acrobatic whirlwind who mixes high and low swings of her chainsaw with lighter punch combinations with her cheerleader pom poms.The more zombies you manage to kill in one chain, the more points you accumulate.
Special so-called "Nick Tickets" also open up a spinning roulette wheel that provides access to a range of special attacks by using the severed yet-still-alive head of Juliet's boyfriend, who is along for the ride. When Juliet's ticking star meter reaches climax, you switch to an kill-all mode - to the tune of Toni Basil cheerleader anthem "Hey Mickey" (a tune which you'll have trouble excavating from your noggin).
Battles are fast and ever-varied with new weapons, abilities and enemies that are introduced on an assembly line of pop culture references and screwed up design. Lollipop Chainsaw is, as previous Suda51 projects, an eccentric H-bomb of styles and influences, dismantled and recombined in warped fashion.
American comic book aesthetics, bubblegum pop, funk, hard rock, retro, classic zombie movies, anime and lots of other things come together here in a sprawling mess sewn together like a Pick 'n Nix Frankenstein.
That the bizarre mix works so well is partially attributed to screenwriter James Gunn, who worked to get the characters and story hammered into shape for western players. No More Heroes, for all its brilliance, found a lot of its humour and references disappearing in the limbo between the English and Japanese languages. There's no such mystery here. The humor is crude, sharp and accurate in a way reminiscent of South Park, albeit with more meta-humor and fourth wall jokes.
It even comes an incredible bunch of voice actors, such as Tara Strong (My Little Pony's Twilight Sparkle) and Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville's Lex Luthor) as Juliet Starling and her boyfriend Nick. There's a mix of licensed and original music that sets the tone of the game.
It will probably be a discussion about whether Juliet Starling is a great female character, and about whether Lollipop Chainsaw is a sexist game or not. For me personally, as fair-skinned young man, I think actually is not. Juliet Starling is no Alyx or Jade, but she hovers between being a sort of homage to Josh Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
She's a girl who does not need to be rescued by someone, and wears her boyfriend('s head) as an accessory, yet in other moments she's posing and prancing to charm the "ugly man" audience, like the developers tried to speak two opposites simultaneously.
The musical theme running through the game however suggests Juliet is pop music reincarnated as a person. High school archetype smashed against music culture. All the key characters, from Starling to antagonist Swan can be traced back to their musical incarnations: our heroine's design and superficiality clear indicators of the pop scene she's styled after. Suda 51 is not exactly known for making a minimalist or low-key games.
And yet in the pantheon of those previous titles, Lollipop Chainsaw is surprisingly normal. Sure, insane and crazy it is. But in a way that's more subtle and less confusing than before. The game's built on the No More Heroes approach, but is more linear and focused.
It's even (whisper it) predictable. The same mixture of extreme fighting, mixed with a moderate amount of QTE mini-games, and topped off with some fantastic bosses.
The environments can sometimes be quite sterile, character animations strangely stiff and the game's camera tends to get caught up in all sorts of corners. But the wackiness, the virility of the concept, the combat system...it all adds up to a great game. And the marginal step towards normality makes this one of the more accessible works of Suda51, the right cocktail of tighter focus and a better rhythm to the lunacy: a great summer pop anthem.