Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality
14Jul/126

Combat Analysis: Lollipop Chainsaw

The best way to describe the game Lollipop Chainsaw is this; Bayonetta's awkward, underdeveloped, squeaky voiced, ambitious little sister. Personally, this isn't very surprising as it's a Suda 51 game. In my opinion, he makes interesting things, not fun things, and the game experience is very much a reflection of this.

Pros:

  • The game has decent animation. It's not great, but it's decent. There's one problem with them, and it's in the cons.
  • There are solid special effects. The rainbow and glittery stuff is a bit over the top, but interesting, and the normal effects (swishes, dust, whooshes, clouds, etc.) are all good.
  • There IS a combat rhythm and it's plenty engaging. Unfortunately, I had to dig it out of a very unusual set of fundamental mechanics. More on that in the cons.
  • The defense mechanic is solid, but essentially a less interesting version of Bayonetta's; at (almost) any point, the player can use it and it makes the character invincible for a moment. But it simply isn't as fun and attractive as Bayonetta's. However, the dodge can link into distinct attacks, which is unnecessary but fun. One of those attacks is a missile dropkick, and whiffing this made me laugh because the animation is so charming.

Cons:

  • It's frustrating when you can easily tell what's motion captured and what's not. The non motion captured animations have very extreme curves, resulting in a very POPPY animation style. Now this isn't a problem in itself (Aztez's animations are all look like this) but again, some of them look like this and some of them don't and it's distracting.
  • Of COURSE you have to unlock new mechanics and combos. WHY THE FUCK NOT?
  • The (apparently) primary mechanic is this quick style of attack called the pom-pom bash. The thing that sticks out to me about the entire game experience is how useless these attacks are. The game sells you the idea that you need to pom pom bash enemies until they're dizzy, and then use the stronger chainsaw attacks (on a different button) to finish them off. Now I'd be totally cool with this except that not only do the pom pom attacks hit one enemy at a time, but it takes forever to get even the lowest level enemies into a dizzy state. The powerful chainsaw attacks are much slower, but they kill entire groups much quicker regardless. So even though the game is giving me explicit guidance, the guidance is suboptimal. I didn't end up touching the pom-pom attacks at all once I was warmed up, especially since you can still cancel any of the powerful chainsaw attacks with a dodge! This is very confusing and without further understanding, is wasted button real estate. These attacks should be more meaningful or not there at all.
  • FURTHERMORE, the pom-pom attacks, when not mixed with other attacks, are a sequence of 4 hits. However, the attack animations for attacks 2 through 4 are randomized! What the fuck is this?! Functionally they appear to be similar enough to each other that it doesn't make a huge difference, but it makes me feel out of control because I'm not ever seeing what I expect to see when I use those attacks.
  • And not to keep railing on these ridiculous pom-pom attacks, but the designers plugged in the strangest shit I've ever see in a beat 'em up; at the end of pom-pom attacks 2 through 4, the character automatically enters a non-functional taunting animation. This could seriously be fun and charming if it wasn't for the fact that they cannot be canceled with other attacks! If you wait too long before pushing the next pom-pom attack button, you are stuck in this taunt animation. It CAN be cancelled with movement input, though! I'm so baffled by this decision that it just makes me confused laugh whenever I think about it. But then there's THIS doozy...
  • The first pom-pom attack is fired on the negative edge of the button press. But only the first attack! This means that the attack doesn't fire when you push the button, it fires when you let it go. I'm as confused as you are! When I was being baffled by this upon discovery, I realized that a negative edge combat system could be really interesting and afford some distinct advantages, but then I realized it's only that one attack!
  • Lollipop Chainsaw is another game guilty of arbitrary designer-born combos that aren't particularly intuitive. Why haven't all beat 'em ups evolved to a super flexible mash flow yet?
  • There is an entire button devoted to powerful chainsaw attacks that swing low. The game tells you that these are for crawling zombies, except the player rarely encounters those. It can still hit non-crawling enemies, but the button (out of the box) only yields an unremarkable two hit combo. So there's no reason to ever touch this button, which is another classic case of wasted button real estate...
  • Until you've unlocked this one combo that comes out fast and shreds everything. It's ridiculous. Now, instinctively, it's all I use when I'm trying to survive instead of explore.
  • There is a charge system that builds up over time. When full, you hit the right trigger and it puts the character in a beefed up power mode. The game instructs you to use this on elite enemies, except when you do that, it appears to kill them instantly. So you get this huge reward for NO effort and it's very weird and unsatisfying.

In summation, there is a very strange disconnect between what the game expects of you and what you end up doing. It's like someone on the design team put down these vague goals and then completely different people that don't really understand combat tried to build mechanics that met those goals. It really is incredibly awkward in this way; I don't usually spend that much time wondering why certain design decisions were made but that's just a part of the Lollipop Chainsaw experience. Haha! The game is by no means bad (as a game experience, it's just another generic beat 'em up construct with the same old on-rails structure), but the combat is just so bizzare. Depending on how passionate you are about really understanding the combat experience you've got in your hands, it might be very difficult for you to enjoy it. ;)

  • http://Blog.mike-Monroe.com Mike M

    Spot on review man. This game was definitely a mixed bag. The Nick Roll and Chainsaw Blaster both felt like poor mechanics shoved in for the sake of variety.

  • Kyle W

    I’m as pleased as could be that someone else has the same issues with Lollipop Chainsaw’s combat that I do. Found you via a Google search concerning the game’s combat mechanics.

    I understand that the combat mechanics are built around the idea of:
    1) Pom-pom enemies to stun and “herd” them together, so that you can
    2) Chainsaw the stunned group for crazy Sparkle bonuses

    But as you said, it takes a stupid amount of time to stagger even one enemy, and by the time you’ve gone and staggered another two or three — much less maneuvered them near each other — the first one of getting back up.

    As for the first attack being on the negative edge of the button press, I understand why. One of the unlockable attacks involves holding the initial pom-pom attack for a moment or two in order to charge a “butt bash.” If it was on the front of the press, that attack couldn’t be used.

    And finally, there’s the subject of enemy stagger. Especially on higher difficulties — where this game suffers since it becomes more annoying than satisfying — even your strongest chainsaw attacks are shrugged off, and zombies easily swing through them to interrupt your combo, since apparently even a zombie sneeze trips Juliet up.

    Now, yes, I’ve focused on the negative, but honestly? I love the game. Actually, I adore it. The combat does take a while to get used to, but in the end I do always leave the game with a smile on my face. I do wish the combat mechanics made a little more sense, though.

    • http://www.benruiz.net Ben Ruiz

      Glad you know feel me on this and I’m doubly glad you dropped some of your personal insight! That’s good to know about the negative edge because I was seriously very confused about this. But a mechanic of that nature on that button definitely clarifies the weirdness there. While I still find that very awkward, I admit that a huge majority of players would never notice this before they unlock that attack so I’ll cut the devs some slack on this one. Haha!

      The stagger idea is very frustrating to me personally because enemies with that behavior (not disrupted/interrupted by player attacks) really change the nature of the game. It’s fine when you have an occasional elite enemy but if that’s the way most enemies are on higher difficulties then sounds way less interesting. In my experience, beat ‘em ups that do this sort of transmogrify themselves into weird rhythm games where it’s no longer about metered but realized aggression and more about microscopic poke bursts while you’re finger clings desperately to whatever poor button fires your defense mechanic. Haha!

      And I’m with you; it’s still enjoyable as a product because it has a lot of heart, and it does still have that engaging combat flow.

  • thatguy

    this game is closer to no more heroes in terms of combat with the high low mechanic. I think No More heroes had a better implemented combat system than this.

    I’d love to read a combat analysis of No More Heroes from you (also vewtiful joe)

    Non related but i have a question about beat em ups.

    Why is that in a fighting game when you hit an opponent they are locked in hit stun and if your fast enough you can execute a full combo on them yet beat em up enemies sortha randomly negate what ever combo your doing.

    Like in God of war the snake ladies will just dash out of a combo your doing on them and in bayonetta you’d be combo-ing enemies and some of them randomly parry you out of it (especially on harder difficulties)
    this thing has bothered me for a while and feels kinda cheep

    • http://www.benruiz.net Ben Ruiz

      It’s really just a design difference between the two types of games. The traditional fighting game combo is a very difficult thing to do, so the reward is justified.

      Since combos in beat ‘em ups are “the default mechanic” so to speak, the reward would outweigh the difficulty if there weren’t enemies that could trump your combos. I agree it can be done with more elegance than in your examples, but if there’s anything I’ve come to understand it’s that finding the middleground between “perfectly disruptive” and “not cheap feeling” is super tricky.

  • jpL

    It’s a real bummer to play this game for the first time and on hard mode. Enemies take sooooooooo many hits to put them into kill state. This is the one game I recommend playing on easy. Mostly because it’s such garbage otherwise.

    On hard mode I never made it past the first stage. The game just feels really really bad. And I am afraid to even give easy mode a chance.

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