After finding great success on the XBLIG and PSN marketplaces with their minimalist Arkedo series, the latest project from Arkedo was picked up by none other than SEGA, providing the funding for the small studio to produce a rather unusual looking cross-platform action platformer. That project, now officially known as Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, was finally released to the masses recently, available on XBLA, PSN and Steam. It’s their biggest project to date, but does Hell Yeah! deliver? In terms of style, it definitely does. In terms of actual gameplay, the results are mixed.
Hell Yeah! is a firepower-heavy platformer set in a bright and colorful variant on the classical image of Hell. In the Arkedo iteration of Hell, the damned are ruled over by the player’s character, a bloodthirsty skeleton rabbit named Ash. One morning, Ash wakes up to find that a website has turned up scandalous paparazzi shots of his coy relationship with a rubber ducky. No satanic leader can stand to be seen in such an adorable and innocent light, which spells disaster for the rabbit. However, in a neat twist on the usual collectibles, Ash realizes that only 100 monsters have viewed his illicit pics and resolves to kill each and every one. It’s a neat subversion of the Super Mario 64 archetype that leads directly into the main objective of the game.
Each expansive zone of Hell is populated with a handful of the 100 unfortunate individuals on Ash’s hit list, as well as a ton of obstacles and minor enemies to plow through. Ash doesn’t enter the fields of Hell unaided, equipping a giant buzz saw jetpack armed with a slew of unlockable weaponry. While the levels give off a real “Metroidvania” vibe, the game is largely linear mixed in with a few open environments, plenty of secrets, and a handful of side missions. Using the agility of the jetpack and the sheer drilling power of a buzz saw, Ash must navigate the many challenges the game throws his way in a large variety of neat set-pieces and cool environments.
Indeed, Hell Yeah! deserves nothing but praise for style, which is something Arkedo easily excels at. The idea of Hell certainly conjures up images of a lot of brimstone and fire, but zones often subvert this idea by adding in plush locales that are designed less around torment and more around Ash himself. A nightclub, a beach-side casino resort, a haunted museum—it’s hardly what you expect, but detailed backgrounds and fitting music sell each and every locale.
Particularly amusing is the cute level, which nails the adorable platformer stereotype, complete with an ersatz Laura Shigihara style song in the background about happiness and love. The gameplay itself also caters to this intensely varied style, throwing in on foot segments, sniper challenges, vehicle levels, and many more unusual mechanics.
Then you also have the deaths, which certainly deserve a paragraph of their own. Tracking down and killing each of the marked monsters isn’t terribly difficult for Ash’s overstocked firepower, with each one serving as a sort of micro-boss. Sometimes you’ll need to jump and dodge carefully, other times rely on exploiting a weak spot, while occasionally, you just have to solve a rudimentary puzzle. But as soon as that health bar ticks down, a surreal quick-time event pops up with a ludicrous premise and little time to react. Maybe you have to mash the face buttons to chew some cheese, or perhaps you’ll need to finish a very short Guitar Hero level. One particularly amusing example throws you into a battle straight from the very first Ultima. There’s a surprising amount of variety in the designs of the mini-games if not necessarily in the mechanics, and each one has a satisfying payoff in the form of an absurdly gory cut scene. The causes of death are endlessly varied. A tyrannosaurus, the world’s greatest wrestling pin, the wrong end of a Space Invaders match, thousands of rats: that’s just a tiny slice of the deaths animated into the game. There are a few repeats by the time you reach the end of the game, but it’s still impressive and stylish.
Less stylish is the many flaws of the game, and there are numerous. Foremost among these is the rotten checkpoint system combined with instant death spikes and the downright unfair nature of the health bar. Checkpoints are weirdly placed and not marked, so backtracking becomes an extremely frustrating reality. Traipsed through a maze and collected a ton of gems, but then died to an instant death spike? Do it again, and again, and again. But the most egregious design error is the way that checkpoints start you off with whatever health you had when you crossed it. Were you one hit from death and stuck between two enemy gauntlets when the game decided to save? You might as well smash your controller ahead of time, because that’s how frustrating it can become. It may have worked if there were health pick-ups to soften the blow, but blood is only trickled out by expensive power-ups or a series of medical stations. Can’t beat a boss without taking a hit? The only other option besides playing better is to trek back across half the level to one of the very rare health stations. That’s leaving aside some serious control issues during hectic fights, with a control scheme that seemingly requires an extra finger on your right hand. Your gun is aimed with the right stick, fired with the right trigger and jump is mapped to A. During the final boss, for instance, the action of a later phase takes place on small platforms above instant death spikes, and the only way to complete it required weird and uncomfortable contortions of the hand to keep up with the assault.
Final Verdict: The varied art and manic pacing of the game makes for a very stylish product, but the substance is occasionally marred by some critical design flaws that seriously impact the latter half of the game. Hell Yeah! is certainly not a bad way to spend six hours or so, but be prepared for some frustration, and not in a good way.
[xrr rating=7/10, max_stars=10]
This review is based on a review copy of the Steam PC version of Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit provided by Arkedo, distributed by SEGA.