[22 October 2012]
It’s always nice to see a video game come along that gleefully embraces the medium’s potential for absurdity. There’s a place for verisimilitude, quiet contemplation, and intricate thematic material, but that’s no reason to ignore the fact that video games can create truly outrageous and hilarious situations that couldn’t exist anywhere else (Saint’s Row the Third comes to mind). There must have been many points during the development of Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit when Arkedo (the game’s developer) had to decide whether they should really jam more obscure references, parody songs, and outlandish combat sequences into their game. Judging by the end result, the game’s title was always the answer.
The game’s irreverent tone is quickly established by the opening cutscene (or what Arkedo calls their “non-interactive presentation system”). Ash, the skeletal rabbit prince of hell, finds himself at the center of a sex scandal when steamy pictures of an intimate moment between a rubber ducky and himself are posted to the Hell-ternet. Ash is enraged to discover that 100 monsters have seen the pictures and sets off to punish the looky loos and reclaim the photos.
This journey takes the shape of a side scrolling platformer with a heavy emphasis on dual joystick shooting. Most of the time, Ash is in the center of a circular, bladed jet-pack that has the power to slice through enemies and certain environmental material. Enemies that can’t be sawed to death must be targeted with one of the game’s many ranged weapons (which vary from machine guns to holy water). Hell Yeah isn’t so much about skilled platforming as it is about exploration. In classic Metroid fashion, you’ll revisit worlds after obtaining equipment upgrades that allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas. As the game goes on, the bullet-hell combat scenarios get progressively more hectic while the steps needed to find each of the 100 boss monsters become more obscure.
These bosses are the source of most of the game’s jokes. Each monster has a life bar that is depleted by shooting it. To deliver the final blow, you complete a short minigame or quicktime event. These sequences are bizarre non sequitors in the a game that is already plenty strange. One presents you with a multiple choice quiz where you have to pick the best character from a Sega game. Another asks you to drop a hot pepper into a vat of chili by pressing a button when it swings over the opening. There’s q luchadore quicktime event series which results in Ash pile-driving his enemy from space. The animation, music, and sound are funny, but it is the unexpected nature of these games that makes them truly hilarious.
Doing these correctly triggers outrageous death sequences, full of stylized, cartoonish violence that will appeal to those folks who would like to see a little Mortal Kombat in their Looney Tunes. And just in case it seems like I’m projecting: there is a sequence in which a cartoonish piece of toast pops up from the side of the screen and shouts “TOASTY!” in a falsetto voice. Zelda, Rock Band, and Duck Hunt also get some good natured razzing.
Hell Yeah!‘s artwork and sound design is just as intense (if not more so) than its combat. The vivid colors and quirky musical tracks often threaten to overwhelm your attention. There’s only so many flashing lights you can handle before losing track of enemies. You can only listen to a deliberately-annoying song for so long until you get impatient and start making bad jumping decisions. Equally distracting (in the most delightful way) are the consistent dialogue jokes and obscure references scattered throughout the environment.
“The Island” offers a break in the chaos, but not the weirdness. Every boss that you defeat gets sent to a Club Med-themed forced labor camp in which you can assign them to produce items and money that you can then take back into the main game. It’s not an incredibly deep strategic endeavor, but it is a nice chance to read the monsters’ amusing descriptions and save up for the some of the pricier in-game items.
Understandably, Hell Yeah!‘s weaknesses stem from this indulgent mindset. Trying to jam everything into one game makes parts of it feel bloated. Certain mini-games are repeated multiple times, thereby dulling their initial shine. The sheer number of guns is impressive, but cycling through them all in linear fashion with a single button is time consuming. Their various upgrades and attributes are not all that clear, which led me to stick with one or two for most of the game. Loading in all that art and sound takes a long time and can sometimes hinder the game’s flow. Thankfully, Arkedo acknowledges this issue with a good attitude. One of the loading screen tips mentions the wait times and declares: “It’s a statement.”
Ultimately, these small issues do little to detract from what is an excellent game. Artistically and mechanically, Hell Yeah! is both an ode to and a modernization of the great 16-bit era platformers. Thematically, it engages in and pokes fun at Internet culture and meta-irony while throwing video game fanatics plenty of insider references. I salute any game that has a space-suit wearing monster named “Lord Irish.”
Hell Yeah! was made by folks who clearly love both playing and creating games, Their efforts have culminated in a game that is a pleasure to play.