Doodi and LB asked the question “are gamers better off now than we were fifteen years ago” during last week’s Thick and Thin. This is an appropriate question for this game review, since Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is exactly the kind of game that that would have been popular fifteen years ago. Hell Yeah is a side-scrolling, double-jumping, Mario-inspired clone of the games that flew off the shelves back in the 90s. I could easily see this title parked in between Toejam and Earl and Zombies Ate My Neighbors in my Sega Genesis game collection.
Why so Wrathful?
In Hell Yeah!, players assume the role of Ash, the current reigning Prince of Hell. The game begins as Ash is just discovering pics of himself, in a compromising position with a beloved rubber ducky, have been making their way around Hell’s internet. The Prince of Hell vows revenge upon the prying paparazzi and death to those who stand in his way, or laugh, or whom he suspects may have laughed. Ash starts out on foot but soon is introduced to a jetpack, that is also a drill, and is also a unicycle of death. Along the way he picks up weapons like machine guns, grenade launchers, and RPGs.
Hell is Red
The developer, Arkedo, did a commendable job creating a game straight out of the 90s. The graphics are quite a bit sharper than a Genesis game, but it’s 2012...they better be better! My biggest complaint with the graphics is the liberal use of red: red flames, red rocks, red blood, red, red, red. I get it...Hell is red, but it’s also hard to look at for an extended period of time. The old-school “hit it till ya get it” difficulty curve is in full swing. If you don’t master the moves you will not advance in the game; at least you’re not pumping quarters into it. You can go back and revisit the tutorials at any time, in case you forgot how to double-jump or wall-jump.
What’s the Deal with the Wheel?
The wheel is your chief mode of transportation in the realms of Hell. It doubles as a jetpack, which allows Ash to travel vertically, in addition to the normal horizontal movement most folks associate with a wheel. The wheel is also a highly customizable weapon of murder. My favorite customization was the hatchet wheel of death: tiny hatchets attached to the outside of the wheel gave the inevitable hit-and-runs an over-the-top malevolence missing from most transports, outside of a Death Race. The wheel is also a drill. There are some substances in Hell, usually containing gems or just there to hinder passage, that cannot be exploited without the drill function of the murder wheel. Alas, there are some areas of Hell where the wheel must be left behind, leaving Ash on foot...these will not be your favorite sections.
Hell is Full of Idiots
Just because Ash is running the show down below do not assume that he is some sort of evil mastermind: he is not. Ash is almost dependant on his butler, Nestor, who provides the bulk of the tutorials. You will see a lot of Nestor. The denizens of Hell are not much smarter than Ash, and will usually divulge their exploitable weaknesses up front. After dispatching a demon, Ash will record that demons name and background into an index. These demons range from the predictable to the outrageous pigs with heat-seeking rockets and poop demons. Yes, that means demons made of poop. Apparently hell is not only hot, it probably smells like shit. The finishing moves for these demon battles are mini-games with elaborate death scenes as your reward. Don’t let the toilet humor, bunny protagonist, old-school gameplay, or delightful murder wheel fool you...this is no kid’s game. The communication is text-based but often profane, there is quite a bit of satanic symbology (as you would expect in Hell), and a metric shit-ton of blood.
The Bottom Line
Are we better off than we were fifteen years ago? I think so. Hell Yeah! encapsulates many of the elements that defined a cutting-edge game in the 90s, but also reveals many of the limitations of what side-scrollers can do. Sadly, I’m not the same gamer I was fifteen years ago and I can see Ash driving that murder wheel through a 3-D Hell environment leaving hatchet-tracks and a trail of blood on the brimstone streets behind him. I want the controller to kick when I squeeze off the shot the that sends the poop demon to, uh, wherever demons go after Hell. I want to play the new stuff while I fondly remember the old stuff. Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit delivers on the nostalgia, but at the same time reminds me of the necessity of change. It’s cool, it’s hard, and it’s fun, but if you do manage to finish it you will likely never play it again.