Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit

A game by Arkedo Studio for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360, originally released in 2012.
Arkedo Studio has made its name in creating games with stylized graphics and quirky humor. Their prior releases include Nervous Brickdown, a competent Breakout clone, and Big Bang Mini, a fireworks-based shooter, both for the Nintendo DS. In 2009, the studio started a project to release one game per month on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, the result of which was Arkedo Series 01 - Jump!, Arkedo Series 02 - Swap!, and Arkedo Series 03 - Pixel!. Once again, each of these titles had stylized graphics, and each offered a relatively short experience focusing on a small number of gameplay elements.

The studio has returned, bringing with them Ash, a dead rabbit who is the prince of Hell. With Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, the studio has taken advantage of the HD format and longer development cycle do deliver a game that surpasses all of its previous efforts in terms of visual splendor. Environments are detailed and varied, bursting with color and cartoony oversaturation. Enemies and characters are bright and crisp with exaggerated and silly features. These oddball creatures complement the overall humorous tone of the story and in the over-the-top displays of wanton animated destruction.

As the game begins, we learn about King Hare, the fearsome ruler of Hell, and his eventual demise. Taking over is Prince Ash, a skeletal rabbit who is somewhat less menacing. Furthermore, Ash also frequently enjoys his private alone time taking a bath with his favorite rubber ducky. Unfortunately, a paparazzi manages to snap a picture of this and posts it on the Hellternet for the demon world to view. When the prince learns of this, only 100 monsters have seen the pictures, so – in a clear underestimation of how the internet operates – he determines that the best solution is to find these 100 monsters and kill them all. And so the game begins...

At the outset, Ash has no offensive capabilities whatsoever. He has a 1.5x jump and a 3x double jump to get around the environment, but he must avoid any enemies he encounters. The layout of the world is a bit confusing at first, given that there is fire nearly everywhere (it is Hell, after all), and it rises up from a number of platforms. While decades of gaming have taught us that we must avoid fire at all costs, Ash may walk across it freely. And, while it takes some getting used to, the player eventually learns that fiery platforms are completely safe… at least flame spouts are introduced. For some reason, flame spouts – with very little visual difference from regular flames – can hurt Ash. Flames as a danger make plenty of sense in later non-fire levels, but it’s a peculiar design choice given the nature of the opening Hellscape.

Soon, Ash is introduced to an odd vehicle that comes in the shape of a huge spinning sawblade that he rides in the center of, Spiral Zone-style. The spinning blade can be used to slice through enemies and certain types of dirt, allowing Ash to go on the offensive while also opening up new paths of exploration. Some types of dirt cannot be penetrated with the spinning blade, however, resulting in a text box that pops up and informs the player that he will have to come back later once the wheel has been upgraded, which is a fairly inelegant introduction to the game’s light Metroidvania elements.

The saw blade offers Ash some new movement abilities, allowing a much higher and floatier jump. The blade works like a jetpack, and the longer you hold the JUMP button, the further into the air you will float. The blade also hugs walls and platforms, allowing you to push yourself along edges as you go. Jumping and shooting is somewhat problematic, however, given that the JUMP function is assigned to a face button while all other commands are initiated utilizing the analogue sticks and shoulder buttons (at least in the console versions), making it difficult to perform one of the most basic of platforming combinations: jumping and shooting at the same time. It is not possible to fire your weapon without also pressing the right analogue stick and trigger, requiring that you alternate between stick and button controls very quickly, putting players without extra thumbs at a disadvantage.

Shooty weapons come in a number of traditional video game forms, including machine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, and grenades. These weapons allow Ash to take out his enemies from a distance, particularly electrified foes that would otherwise harm him in a head-on saw blade attack. Players may spend collected currency in shops to upgrade weapons, restock grenades, and buy health upgrades, or to purchase a number of hats and skins to change the look of your character and his wheel-o-death. While there are a great deal of silly ways to dress up your character and his blade, the hats and skins have no impact on gameplay.

Ash’s primary goal is to seek out each of the 100 monsters who viewed his hardcore ducky picks and kill them. As such, you’ll encounter these creatures frequently throughout your adventure, and each area has a certain number of monsters that must be defeated before you can move forward. You are free to explore the immediate area and kill the monsters in any order you like, but you cannot move into the next area until you have defeated all of the unique monsters contained within. A map shows the location of each monster as well as the locked doors that will open as they are defeated.

Most of the monsters go down rather easily. In the early areas, jamming your saw blade into a bad guy’s face will cause him to spew liberal amounts of blood without much of a fight. Once heavier artillery is acquired, most enemies can be defeated from afar. This a somewhat odd design decision, given that much of the game’s novelty comes from the fact that you must fight 100 unique enemies. However, a great number of them can be defeated mere seconds after they are scrolled into view, making them no more menacing than the popcorn enemies that pepper the environments.

This is not always the case however, and there are several interesting encounters throughout the game. In several instances, you must find ways to move boxes or other objects around the environment in order to kill an unreachable enemy. Some enemies require that you use otherwise passive in-game mechanics to defeat them, such as zooming the camera out to show a monster what is nearby. And occasionally, you encounter a huge showpiece monster, such as sheep with a giant cannon that constantly fires projectiles at you, which you must dodge as you make your way over to it, setting it up to destroy several platforms above it, eventually causing it to crush itself with a falling block.

There are several boss fights as well, but they come in the bullet-cushion variety, leaving you to slowly whittle down their health over long multi-phase battles that are not particularly noteworthy. Destroying a boss yields a cartoony gigantic explosion ala Drill Dozer and Car Battler Joe.

Once you have drained the life of one of the 100 unique monsters, you will be dropped you into a simple minigame. Pass the minigame, and the monster is defeated. Mess up, and you take damage and the monster gets some of his life back. (Thankfully, there are no minigames following the boss encounters.)

Most of the time, these minigames require very little thought on the part of the player. Simple examples include games where you mash a button as quickly as possible, or execute timed button presses, and things get slightly more complex with button matching games and QTE’s. However, while the minigames repeat throughout your adventure, you will sometimes be dropped into a game that isn’t clearly explained or which requires pure luck in order to pass on the first try. As such, you may find yourself losing health and extending a battle with a creature that you have already technically defeated. Draining the monster’s health bar again puts you back in the same game, where you will have hopefully learned from your previous error.

One minigame in particular – a sniper game – requires that the player find a demon’s face amidst a series of smileys under a strict time limit, leaving the player to scroll madly around the screen trying to find the intended target. Scroll to the right and don’t see the target? You lose health and have to fight the monster again. Try again and scroll to the left… Didn’t see it? Try again.

Given the frequency of health-restoring checkpoints, the player is never far from a full health restore, and rarely needs to repeat much gameplay when killed, but the mindless minigames were clearly designed to support the game’s overall humor rather than to thwart potential success. (For a similar example, refer to the quizzes in LaserCat – and similar quizzes are used in Hell Yeah – which task the player with answering an obvious or silly question in order to earn a key… but with no real penalty for getting the answer wrong). Successfully completing a minigame initiates a humorous animated sequence which destroys the monster in an over-the-top fashion. These include things like unleashing a huge laser beam, burning the monster to a crisp, or running it over with a truck. There are many unique death animations, but they are repeated several times across the 100 monsters you must defeat, so their novelty is short-lived.

With the game’s generally low difficulty and repeated gameplay, the player’s ultimate motivation to continue lies in moving forward to the next humorous moment. Unfortunately, Ash’s quips wear thin quickly and the narrative is largely uninteresting and nonsensical. Monster death animations and fartybutt trampolines are amusing the first time you see them, but they grow stale upon repeated encounters.

There are several notable attempts at adding variety to the experience, including some vehicle sequences that see you navigating a submarine underwater to move crates while avoiding sea mines, and a lengthy space ship sequence that has you blasting baddies while grabbing fuel pickups. There are also times when Ash is forced out of his saw blade and must navigate an area without the aid of his offensive abilities, forcing him to avoid enemies and fight monsters indirectly.

Also adding to the variety is a somewhat perplexing secondary game that comes in the form of The Island. Here, all of the unique monsters that you killed during the main game are put to work as slave labor, giving you the opportunity to harvest additional goodies to gain money, special items, etc. You get to assign how many creatures you wish to perform a certain task and then check back in on them later to see what goodies they have uncovered. You even manage creatures that have grown weary of work by punishing them or sending them to relax on a beach. This is an interesting concept, and it gives the player yet another reason to view each of the 100 unique creatures outside of the stat screen in the pause menu.

However, the island is completely inaccessible from within the game itself. Once a new monster has been killed, there’s no way to go in and assign it to a particular task. Instead, the player must quit the game, go back to the main menu, go to the island to perform tasks, exit back the menu, and restart the game. Furthermore, one of the things that monsters can do is mine for items to restore your health. So, you go to the island, get your health item, and then exit back to the menu to continue your game. But since health restoration points act as checkpoints, chances are you’ll be starting the game with full health anyway, rendering the restorative useless. There’s no way to access a restorative item while you’re actually playing the game, which is the only time that you might need it. The island concept, while interesting, is ultimately is neutered by its poor integration into the overall experience.

Hell Yeah is a game with a great deal of potential that is marred by some questionable design choices, repetitive gameplay, and short-lived humor. Arkedo was built upon delivering beautiful games that explored a small number of mechanics that were enjoyable in small doses. With Hell Yeah, they have extended this design philosophy to create an experience that is enjoyable for the first couple of hours, but ultimately grows thin when spread out across a full-length game.

Developer Arkedo Studio is based in Paris, while the publisher, Sega is… well, Sega. As mentioned, Arkedo has previously worked on 2 games for the Nintendo DS: Nervous Brickdown, a Breakout clone, and Big Bang Mini, a fireworks-based shooter. They also created a bullet hell shmup for Windows Phone 7 entitled O.M.G. (Our Manic Game). These games clearly originate from the same pedigree, as evidenced by the stylized graphics, esoteric music, and sense of humor.

At the end of 2009, the studio began a project on the Xbox Live Indie Games channel to release one game per month (and these games have since been released on PS3 via PSN). Each of these smaller games focused on a single gameplay element. Arkedo Series 01 - Jump! is a platformer that focused on jumping, Arkedo Series 02 - Swap! is a block-swapping puzzle game, and Arkedo Series 03 - Pixel! (created in conjunction with Pasta Games) is also a platformer with a pixel art style and pixel-based puzzles.