Imagine, if you will, that the Prince of Darkness is a skeletal rabbit with a penchant for nudity and a rubber ducky fetish. The paparazzi of Hell (seriously, where else would the paparazzi end up?) snap a series of compromising photos and publish them on Hell's equivalent of TMZ. In an effort to protect his reputation as a total badass, Ash sets out to retrieve the photos and eliminate all of the monsters who viewed the images. This is the premise on which Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is built.
It's completely absurd, occasionally self-referential and packed with the kind of attitude that we haven't seen since the 16-bit console wars, but amazingly enough, it all works. Coming from the small French development house, Arkedo Studio, Hell Yeah! feels like an old-school Genesis game in terms of style. The only difference is that it was assembled with current-generation tools.
Hell Yeah! is spread out across 10 different worlds, which are equivalent in scope but distinct in style. Each has its own look and feel, complete with level-specific enemy types. Individual levels are connected, allowing players to move back and forth. It's not quite Metroid style, as the game tells you where to go when it's time to backtrack, though it makes the game feel more open than a purely linear level system. Shortly after you pass the halfway point, level teleporters open up. These grant the ability for direct world-hopping, even among areas that aren't directly connected.
Visually, Hell Yeah! does a great job of looking bright and colorful. Just because it's set in the underworld doesn't mean it has to be depressing. Everything — from the enemies to the environments — looks as though it was lifted right out of a comic book. Though the graphics are all HD native, the aesthetic has an unmistakable '90s vibe to it. It even starts up with the SEGA voice sample that was a staple of the Genesis era.
As you adventure deeper into Hell, it's obvious that the team at Arkedo didn't just look to the '90s for visual inspiration. It also attempted to capture the classic platforming style of gameplay. For the most part, the team succeeded. Ash controls surprisingly well, allowing for precision movement across most of the game. On foot, Ash uses a double jump. While riding his buzz saw of death, Ash has what is best described as an extended float. How high you jump depends on how long you press the button. Inertia is a factor when moving, though it can be canceled with a quick backward tap.
With that said, there is one area where the control setup could have been better, and that has to do with the weapon mapping on Ash's buzz saw. The guns are mapped to the right stick but require the use of the trigger to fire. While it sounds good on paper, this doesn't always work in practice for two reasons. First and foremost, some shots require accurate aiming. Moving with one stick, aiming with the other and then firing with the trigger requires a bit of finger gymnastics. The second problem is that off-screen enemies don't take damage. Your bullets only hurt what you can see.
Since Hell Yeah! uses a relatively tight camera, having off-screen enemies is more common than you'd think. You can zoom out the view, but only when the action is paused. It's an odd restriction. If the game allowed you to map shooting to the right stick (so you automatically fired when aiming) or gave players the option to play in the zoomed-out view, it would have been better off. Thankfully, this is more of an annoyance than a game-breaking issue.
In addition to the platforming levels, Hell Yeah! also includes a space section and a submarine section. Gameplay here is similar to when Ash is in his buzz saw, though you have full freedom of movement. It's an enjoyable change of pace.
Each of the unique monsters that have to be destroyed (including boss monsters) has a specific weakness. Some may seem frustratingly difficult at first, but that's only because you're attacking the monster in the wrong way. Once you determine their Achilles' heel, each of your targets will drop like a rock. In this way, it's much like the games of the 16-bit era from whence it pulls inspiration. If anything, Hell Yeah's only problem here is that it can be a bit too easy. None of the monsters are particularly challenging, with the solutions usually being somewhat obvious.
Humor is a staple of Hell Yeah!, both in its completely over-the-top story, as well as in the game itself. This is evident in the loading screens (where elevator music plays) as well as in the monster QTEs. Every time you eliminate one of the key monsters, a short QTE plays out. Complete it to deal the killing blow. Mess up, and you take damage while your target recovers a bit of heath. In all fairness, calling them QTEs is a tad harsh; what's here is more like the minigames found in Nintendo's WarioWare series.
There is some repetition over the course of the game, though there are enough kill sequences to keep it feeling fresh. Some of the more memorable ones include playing an Ocarina, a spoof of Guitar Hero and one where your opponent is fried to a crisp as a slice of toast appears on the screen yelling, "Toasty!" The pop culture-based references extend to the unlockable Island minigame, which is ruled by a tentacle (think Maniac Mansion) and has a castle that looks suspiciously like Castle Grayskull.
The Island is a basic virtual pet game. All of the defeated monsters are banished here, ready to be put to work for Ash. Monsters can be allocated to one of four tasks: items, life, money and surprises. When a task is complete, an item appears that can be sent to the main game for Ash to use. Monsters get unhappy from overwork, so you have to periodically check in and cycle out those who need a break. It's no Pokémon, but it is required if you want to unlock all of the custom outfits in the store.
Taken individually, each section of Hell Yeah! could be called derivative. Put them all together, and the game as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It may lean toward the easy side, but for anyone who grew up during the 16-bit era, Hell Yeah! hits all of the right notes.
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