I’ve had roughly ten million conversations about hypothetical situations that end in “Man that’d make a great video game/weapon/character/boss”, but usually those involved are being facetious. “Hey, what if a rabbit was the prince of hell, his father died (Disgaea?), then someone took pictures of him bathing (?) with a rubber ducky then he had to get them back for some reason?” asked Arkedo, developers of Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit. Arkedo then made that environment, and lo and they did deliver on the strange game resulting from that concept, but the actual gameplay may have been a bit of an afterthought.
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit tells the story of Ash, the prince of Hell, and his task to eliminate all 100 enemies who have seen his embarrassing bathroom antics. This involves some pretty outlandish… everything. For instance, though this is a platformer, you don’t simply jump around (except in specific areas), you ride in the center of a massive sawblade-jetpack. Within the first half an hour or so there’s a party-balloon-wielding robot (monster), a rampaging cybernetic gorilla, and a poop monster with a chainsaw coming out of its head. The game is also littered with short conversations rife with some-great-some-offensive gamer cliche jokes, bosses who don’t seem to have a reason to be angry, and a helpful minion octopus with only three legs. This game is weird.
Hell Yeah! is presented in traditional 2D adventure platforming fashion complete with monsters guarding doors, bosses blocking off different zones with different themes, and new abilities which unlock previously unreachable locations in the earlier zones. “Metroidvania,” if you will, though I’m not a fan of the term in this case. Not because they’re all that different in the way the game is laid out, but because the games in those franchises do it much better than in Hell Yeah!. The game is full of doors which require a certain amount of monsters to be defeated. The radar points you to them, you usually have to finagle through some platforming exercise (like jump over these spikes, or shoot these enemies, or both!) then find whatever trick is required to kill the monster. Roughly 50 percent of them simply need to be shot to death with one of the game’s many weapons (all of the bullet or explosive variety) and then finished off with a minigame.
“Finished off with a minigame,” yes. Minigames are most often found in party games, or representing puzzle elements in RPGs or adventure games, not so much action platformers (though quick time events could arguably be called minigames). There are about 25 or so different minigames ranging from simply mashing A to button sequences to timing. Though some of them are much more difficult than others (search and destroy is way too hit-and-miss) they wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that you get hurt AND the monster doesn’t die if you fail. It’s one thing to punish the player for not succeeding at a minigame by prolonging the encounter, but also hurting the player? It’s frustrating to platform your way through whatever puzzle you have to do (some of them are quite challenging) just to die because you hit a button too late or didn’t realize what the minigame was.
While the minigame frustration only occurs with some of the more obscure minigames, the game is riddled with other design oversights and shortcomings. There’s a dash feature which you’ll use about 10 times in the whole game due to the amount of time it takes to charge and your inability to jetpack after using it. It’s not fun, it’s not fast, it’s just an excuse to have a different sort of puzzle purely for variety’s sake.
Since the wheel can’t jetpack after you let go of the jump button, you can’t shoot enemies very well in the air. In many games, you can jump, shoot, then jump again, etc. In Hell Yeah!, you may sometimes find yourself holding the jump button down with your index finger so you can aim the right stick with your thumb and shoot with which ever finger isn’t writhing in pain. Since holding down the right trigger is for drilling (through crystal or shielded enemies), the game prevents you from aiming with the left stick even while in the air, resulting in some decidedly clunky combat. Fortunately another oversight makes up for that: the shotgun is ridiculously over-powered, so frustration can sometimes be thwarted by a lack of balance. Does that count as harmony?
Though the gameplay is rocky at times, the aforementioned issues are really only present in very specific locations- usually ones without enough checkpoints or without a healing fountain. Fortunately, the environments and enemies are always fantastic. The monster designs range from goofy to cute to crazy horrific and each monster has a bit of a story to it that either matches the puzzle or is at least worth a chuckle. Most importantly, the zones are mostly quite unique. Most platformers base levels off of climate, topography, etc. like with an island-themed level, a fire/volcano level, a forest level and things of that nature (hah). Hell Yeah! takes it in a bit of a different direction, with my favorite locations including a museum, a night club and a bug-infested zone. Though each of these locations have one thing I hate about them in their level design, the themes are all refreshing and new, to enough of an extent.
All these baffling decisions sitting right next to goofy, weird enemies and locations is a polarizing experience. The game presents itself amazingly (even though some of the jokes fall flat and at times may go a bit far to make fun of gamers and the very game they’re playing) complete with some truly unique locations with a delightful, vibrant art style, but the gameplay is at times bland, other times frustrating, though usually enjoyable. It seems like all of the ideas for the locations, monsters and weapons were created before the game was made and the game was jammed into them as time was winding down. The level design from a gameplay perspective sometimes flows quite well, taking great advantage of the wheel’s jetpack and the platforming nature of the game, but at other times the level is riddled with lightning-fast reflex puzzles and hidden insta-kill obstacles that aren’t fun to encounter.
Hell Yeah! is worth playing, worth seeing, worth experiencing and perhaps that’s all that should matter. Every new zone in Hell Yeah! is complete with a fun concept, mostly well done level design, a good 10 – 25 percent of incredibly frustrating content, and some zany bosses to kill and upgrades to acquire. It’s a strange game unlike many others, though strange for the same reasons as other strange games. However all of the nifty goofiness doesn’t make up for those moments where you feel the ragequit meter rising, and rising quickly. If you love platformers no matter what, buy this game because as a platformer fan, I did enjoy it. But this is no Braid, no Super Meat Boy, and it’s not a game for everyone.
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit was developed by Arkedo Studio and published by Sega. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.