The recent trend of 2D platformers finding their way onto current generation consoles is certainly something I’ll never bemoan. As someone who grew up in the era of great 8-bit and 16-bit side-scrollers, I always find a comforting sense of familiarity that this type of game brings to the table. Of course, as with any genre, the quality of your experience varies. Take Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, the latest game from developer Arkedo Studios and publisher Sega. It shares the same DNA of some of the medium’s best, and is a well made and well designed platformer at its core. Unfortunately, the pretty wrapping doesn’t necessarily equal a complete package, and a few lingering issues ultimately prevent this game form reaching the heights of greatness it aspires to.
It’s not easy being the ruler of the demonic underworld, as Prince Ash will surely attest. The undead bunny rabbit has a difficult life as the prince of hell, so you can’t blame him for wanting a little leisure time to himself. As the game begins, we catch up with Prince Ash as he is enjoying some quality time in the bath tub with his favourite rubber duck. Your imagination can probably deduce what I mean by “quality time”, and things go horribly awry when a paparazzi photographs him in the act. The pictures are distributed to 100 different monsters as part of a smear campaign, so Prince Ash must venture into the depths of hell, kill these monsters and reclaim his pride. Presumably for consistent comedic effect, he takes on this task without the encumbrance of clothing.
The idea of a naked undead rabbit questing to retrieve nude photos of himself may sound like an odd premise for a game, but it works when taken in the spirit it’s given. Everything about Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is permeated with toilet humour and innuendos, not to mention lots of cartoonish gore. This is a game for the college humour crew, so the preposterous story is forgivable. However, the jokes don’t always hit the right mark. The dialogue contains copious amounts of painfully obvious puns and references to antiquated one-liners, which can be downright cringe-inducing at times. Humour is subjective, and some will warm to it better than others, but I found it to be overdone. The game strives to give us those laugh-out-loud moments, but I rarely progressed beyond a chuckle.
The cornerstone of any 2D platformer is gameplay and controls, and this is where Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit gets respectable marks. The game is a throwback to the classic side-scrollers of bygone console generations, as well as modern ones like Rayman Origins. The latter was going through my mind the entire time, as this game seems to borrow some gameplay elements from it. The levels are designed as any linear platformer would be, with each area being uniquely designed and full of various branching paths that you can explore. Hidden areas you discover will often hold money that you can purchase weapons and upgrades with, as well as gifts and the occasional side mission. It’s not especially deep, but it’s a tried and tested formula that works rather well.
As one might expect, the hazards in Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit are plentiful. Enemies, monsters, traps, spikes and other nasties all combine to make hell a rather hostile environment for naked rabbit on a mission. To keep certain death at bay, you are first given a large, rotating saw blade that is capable of cutting through some enemies and certain barriers. Your loadout is later augmented by guns, rockets and other projectiles. Some areas are impassable until you acquire the right tools, and some enemies can only be harmed by certain weapons. Figuring out which weapon to use in the right situation is one of the pleasures of playing this game, as the need to vary your approach helps keep things fresh throughout the game.
The levels you traverse are creatively designed and fun to play though, however the branching paths and hidden areas give the illusion that the game is larger than it is. Most of the hidden areas only contain money or trinket loot, so exploration is not as fun as you might expect. The experience is also quite linear, since you are unable to progress by veering from the beaten path. Another issue is the occasionally obtuse level design, which can often work against you. Since a lot of areas look the same, it is easy to get lost and accidentally backtrack. There is an in-game map and radar system to help you along the way, however it is next to useless at times. I never got stuck to the extent that I had to restart the game, but there were occasions where I found myself wandering aimlessly.
One of the most interesting aspects of Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is the monster battles, of which you need to complete 100 in total. Each monster functions as a mini-boss that you must defeat, and depleting their health bar triggers a WarioWare-style minigame. In most cases, it will prompt you to mash a button to fill a gauge, press a sequence of buttons when prompted to or complete a mini puzzle. Successfully completing these minigames delivers a stylish (and often gory) finishing move, while failure results in you taking damage and having to repeat it. This is one aspect that might turn off some gamers, since vague instructions and a limited window of time will lead to many failures and probably a few deaths. Killing monsters is also mandatory to progress to the next area, so there is no opting out.