Game review: Hell Yeah! for Steam

Sega is giving away some older games on Steam in a bundle, and Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is the only one in the bundle I haven’t played before. As it’s free, this will temper my review somewhat. Man, what a festering bowl of dog snot. I KID! But seriously, this game was very much a mixed bag for me, with lots of stuff to love, and almost as much to hate in equal portions.

Let’s start with the premise. Hell is now run by a dead rabbit, Ash, who has deposed his father for control of the realm. Given how little Ash knows about his own kingdom, and how so few of his subjects seem to respect his authority, I’m going to guess he hasn’t been in power long. But this is just a guess, as the story is ambiguous on that point. In any case, Ash gets caught taking a bath with a rubber duck, and fearing what this might do to his reputation, he sets out to kill every last demon who has seen the pictures online.

So far, so wacky, and the various worlds that make up hell are no less crazy. There’s almost too much going on in the design, although there’s only a few places where it becomes so distracting as to be a problem. In those cases, it’s because the design is in the foreground, hiding Ash, several enemies, and their projectiles. This makes it really hard to know which way to move to dodge, but thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often.

The demons that Ash splatters can be found on an island accessed from the main menu, and they can be put to work to make items or mine money for Ash. So they’re not really dead, just momentarily inconvenienced. Which is kind of cute in my opinion. Then again, I’m a fan of horror movies, so my definition of cute can be a bit warped at times.

The music is really good, with only one level being the exception, and that level’s music is intentionally bad, a happy song that gets on the nerves about two seconds after it starts. But as I said, it’s intentional, and even Ash walks into the level and screams “WHAT. IS. THAT?!” As to the rest of the soundtrack, it’s all really good stuff. I could put on my headphones, put the controller down, and just listen to the tracks loop for a while without feeling the need to stop them.

Remember that there’s a hundred monsters who saw those pics? Well they’re all unique. Yes, there’s some canon fodder clones for each level, but even those cookie-cutter monsters have a lot of variety. This is one of the most diverse, widely populated games I’ve seen in a while. All the enemy designs are fantastic, with a comically cartoonish flair that I thought was really well done and works well with the wacky premise.

Adding to this diversity is a wide selection of weapons, all of which have unlimited ammo that may run out, but just needs a few moments to charge. There is an exception to this in the grenades, but I honestly almost never used them aside from one or two random places. The rest of the time, I was gleefully swapping between missiles, a gatling gun, and a shotgun. Once I discovered that the shotgun was even more effective at clearing obstacles than the drill, it practically became my default weapon. But then there would be a certain enemy who I would feel needed to be taken out by something bigger, and then I might whip out the bazooka. (which is such a fun word to say out loud, by the way. “Here, take this bazooka.”)

And if you get tired of looking at Ash in his default state or his unmodded moto-drilly-saw-wheel of dhoom, you can unlock customizable options for both. Some are found as secrets in the world, some are bought in the shop, and a few are given away to help Ash progress in certain areas. (These are still in the shop, but have no cost.) It’s just another layer of options in a game full of great choices.

I’ll even praise the boss fights, something I’m not usually a fan of. And yeah, there’s a couple of bosses in this that I didn’t care much for, but the vast majority gave me enough breathing room to sort out their patterns, and most also could be taken down with many different methods. So they’re tricky, but not so much that most players won’t be able to find a way around them.

It’s a damn shame then that the controls are such a pain, and that the gameplay is constantly marred by QTEs. As the quick time events are easier to explain, I’ll cover them first. With each unique monster you kill, the game pops up one of many mini-games, most of which are QTEs. If you fail them or just take too long trying to sort out what the game wants from you, you will fail the mini-game and Ash will take damage. The monster he’s facing will get some health back, and you get to try again. UNLESS you had low health and failure kills Ash and sends him back to a checkpoint. With the way checkpoints are sporadically set up, this could very well mean a long, long walk back to the monster. Oh, and checkpoints may or may not restore Ash’s health, so it might be possible that you need to walk Ash back to a nurse’s station for a blood donation, and then walk all the way back. I’ve done this way too many times over failed QTEs, and it’s a massive pain in the ass.

The controls are a little more tricky to explain, because quite a lot of the time, they’re okay. They’re not great, but they’re not bad. Weapons are aimed with the right stick and fired with the right trigger. The right trigger also activates a drill function. This is fine most of the time, unless the game suddenly decides that Ash has to jump and fire or jump and drill. This is because moving from the buttons to the stick and expecting anything resembling accuracy is…well, it’s not happening, at least not for me. So when I had to do either of these, I ended up having to spend a long, long time wrestling with the controls.

The same is true of the dash ability earned a bit later in the game. The initial instructions say to hold the left stick and left trigger to activate it. This is inaccurate. To activate dash requires holding the left trigger, and then selecting a direction with the stick. Letting go of the trigger before the charge is complete makes the dash fizzle out, and releasing both the trigger and the stick at the same time often results in Ash flying off in the wrong direction. Again, for the most part, there’s not many places where you don’t have time to stop and aim. But the few times that the game wants to rush this technique, it gets ugly for me and draws out a single moment in the game into a much longer process, one that will often involve dying and backtracking from a distant checkpoint while cussing the whole way.

Of these two problems, I really think the QTEs are what killed my enthusiasm for this game more than the controls. It doesn’t help that with higher levels, some of the mini-games move faster or have more button prompts in a much shorter span of time. so the higher I got, the more often I was failing the QTEs, dying, and backtracking. I really would have enjoyed this game a lot more if they’d done away with the mini-games and just given the 100 peeping monsters more hit points.

There is one other problem that comes up infrequently, and that’s when the game sometimes decides to strip Ash of his weapons and vehicle for a “puzzle” section. These make a nice change of pace by themselves, but there were a few jumps that had to be damn near pixel perfect, and that led to some of my most flustered moments while playing. In one example, I had to douse Ash in honey to get a giant bee to follow him to a vent spewing acid. Even just saying that, it sounds like wacky fun, right? But there’s a jump involved that has to be perfect, and if you miss it, the bee will slap Ash around and kill him, and then it’s a very long walk back from the checkpoint. This happens in a few other places as well, and it’s not so much the need for perfect timing that’s demoralizing. It’s the lengthy and brutal punishment for failure.

I’m giving Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit 3 stars. This could have easily been a 5 if it was closer to a standard platformer. But it goes a bit overboard trying to pack more wackiness into the monster kills with the mini-games, and in my opinion, it didn’t need them. All it really needed was a few tweaks to the controls and it could have been perfect. As it is, I would find myself hard pressed to want to play this again. It’s cute but annoying, kind of like the theme song to the “Happy Cute” world in this game.