Just looking at the Suda 51 name and Juliet Starling’s outfit, you know this is going to be another bat-shit crazy game from the Japanese auteur and Grasshopper Manufacture. What I didn’t expect to see at the developer walkthrough with Producer Scott Warr at Warner Bros Interactive’s Gamescom HQ was some of the most engaging action of the week.
You are high-school cheerleader Juliet Starling who forgoes further extra-curricular activities in favour of a spot of
vampire zombie slaying and it looks like they’ve chosen her 18th birthday (cutting it close, Suda-san) to come and find her at school. We’re not asking why zombies are there; let’s face it, if no film in history can give us a decent explanation, why should we expect any more from Suda 51’s pigtails-and-chainsaw vision? Juliet attends San Romero High, an on-the-nose reference reference to the classic zombie director, who still manages to get his dues despite his last few films being absolute shite.
The visuals aren’t your usual standard as they have a cell-shaded flavour to them, most noticeable thanks to the thin black line around the characters, who themselves have richly shaded textures. Think The Darkness II but with less gloom. Additionally there is a film grain filter on top, which does a good job of hiding any rougher edges.
The third-person combat is looking outstanding, even at this early stage. Scott Warr was showing off three different styles at our presentation. The cheerleader pom poms get a shout for a few melee attacks that aren’t particularly damaging, but are very useful for bunching enemies together so you can unleash a powerful attack with your chainsaw and hopefully take out a bunch of enemies at once. It’s the arcing kicking moves that really add some style though as we’ve not seen any this cool since Bayonetta. The chainsaw seems best used for finishing moves, as it’s perfect for decapitating the undead. If you behead multiple targets in one move, you’ll get a bigger bonus to be spent on upgrades later on. Weaker chainsaw slashes can also be used to soften enemies up before really driving it through them. Moves can be chained together to build up your Rainbow metre for a powerful attack. The action is already looking a hell of a lot more fun than the combat in Suda’s No More Heroes games, which barely evolves throughout.
Colourful flashes and explosions of love hearts surround almost every attack. It’s like the game is bursting straight out a teenage girls MySpace page and makes Dead Rising look a bit lame in the process despite the higher zombie count and weapon customisation. Skip towards the last third of the announcement trailer to see the combat in action.
Aside from splitting zombies down the middle while you run around the school, you’ll have the chance to rescue classmates. If you don’t get to them in time, they’ll turn into zombies too, but they’ll be a lot tougher than the others and will bear a considerable grudge against you. Rescue students in time and you’ll get to lead them to safety. Hopefully this won’t take long, as escort missions are about as fun as having your bicycle seat stolen.
Sub-bosses are against named zombies, such as Mr. Fitzgibbon, one of your teachers who has gone the way of the undead, but it still unattachable from his desk, as he swings it around trying to take your head off. We’re presuming he’s a zombie, or maybe he’s just really pissed about the lack of homework Juliet’s returned. Using a cheeky leapfrog move over his head, Juliet can attack his undefended back until he dismisses class for the final time.
Full bosses will have Suda 51’s trademark all over them. They’ll be mental. They’ll be sweary. And they’ll probably be absolute jerks. The one we saw at Gamescom was a punk rock singer, complete with tartan pants and a Mohawk. The mic-stand is his weapon and whoever said 'words can’t hurt you' has never seen anyone shout “Cocksucker!” so loud that the words form into physical letters that come at you like a wall. It’s really childish, but compared the po-faced norm of most games it’s very amusing. This multi-staged battle starts with him attacking with his mic-stand, before moving onto trying to knock him off various loudspeaker stacks by cutting through them like a giant redwood tree before applying the same technique to his torso and face.
With more locations, moves and weapons yet to be revealed, this is looking like one of dark horses of 2012, hopefully that’s early 2012. With the other upcoming titles in the melee-action genre either taking a strong RPG fantasy-setting focus (Dragon’s Dogma) or splitting fanbases in disastrous fashion (Devil May Cry reboot), this could be the perfect does of Bubblegum Violence we need in our lives.