In my time as a gamer over the past couple years I've noticed a growing trend in the industry relating to the cheaper titles that are distributed digitally. Not all games follow this trend, but it's becoming increasingly clear that if you buy a game on PSN, XBLA, or Steam for fifteen dollars or less, you're almost guaranteed to enjoy about 5-10 hours of videogame pop culture references and gameplay sampling from all sorts of genres in a blatant attempt to score gamer cred with the hardcore crowd. That's not to say it's a bad thing to draw inspiration from, or pay homage to your influences, but there comes a time when it stops being inspiration and starts being imitation; when this happens a developer should take a step back and re-evaluate the game's identity. I say this because, for all its successes, Hell Yeah! The Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is a textbook case of a reasonably good game marred by its lack of identity. Almost every bullet point I can think of to describe Hell Yeah! would be capped off with the phrase “much like >insert game here<”.
Hell Yeah! The Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is a comedic story about Ash the demonic bunny; the prince of the underworld seeking murderous bloody revenge against those who saw images of him on the internet doing naughty things with his rubber ducky. The setting and much of the humor is all very similar to Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention, even though the details are unique. In Ash's quest for justice, he must travel to multiple themed worlds that he must explore, gradually unlock, and retread through to fight each and every one of the 100 bosses and minibosses that saw the images. The exploration and growth of the character is in 'metroidvania' style, where new locations and skills are unlocked as you play and a sense of exploration is a central point. The graphics, animation, and soundtrack are pitch perfect imitations of Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers; the gunplay is similar to the Contra series; and the minigames are basically the same as those found in the Warioware series.
Truth be told, I found the game fun, but its stunning lack of originality makes it seem stale well before you approach the end. The problem with a game that borrows so many different elements from different games is that it's hard to incorporate them fluidly. The platforming and gunplay are both solid from beginning to end, and the controls are incredibly tight, but trying to do both at the same time is a bit of a crap shoot since you need to hold the R2 button and the right analog stick to shoot in whichever direction you want, but your right thumb can't be in two locations at the same time to jump and shoot, so it leads to a lot of frantic finger movements to kill some of the enemies. In the end, the controls are solid, but the button layout is poorly thought out. Developer Arkedo also committed a major development sin by taking away your accumulated skills at pre-determined spots without any real explanation as to why.
There's also a problem with linearity. Hell Yeah! borrows its level design and exploration elements from the Metroid and newer Castlevania games, but fails to recreate the same sense of discovery and advancement those games were able to demonstrate so well. Most of the barriers you must get through to advance or explore are just gates with a number on them, meaning you must kill a certain number of bosses to proceed rather than obtain a new weapon or ability, and when you manage to get to that key number of kills the game pauses and the screen meanders over to the door you unlocked so you don't forget where you're supposed to go next. If you're lost, you can check out the map, which easily points you to where you have to go with a shining monster skull icon, or you can zoom out at any time to pause the action and get a better look at your surroundings or look for hidden passageways. This mechanic would be fine if there were optional bosses that you could choose to kill or ignore, but to advance, you HAVE to beat EVERY enemy in that area, leaving no room for error, and once you get to the end of the game there's no reason to revisit. In the end, there's really no replay value, since it's all so very linear and aside from collecting skins, playing the slots, and utilizing the useless 'island' minigame mechanic, there's nothing to do once you've finished.
Most of the minibosses in Hell Yeah are pretty simple enemies that don't put up much of a fight. You weaken them with your choice of weapon until their health runs out, then you have to enter one of over 30 minigames to strike the killing blow, and if you fail you get hurt, potentially dying in the process. These minigames are usually pretty simple, consisting of timing, coordination, or simple logic puzzles, but some are based on luck. The big bosses and some of the minor ones force you to read dialogue before the battle, and if you fail you have to re-read it all and can't skip it, which is breaking another of the rules of game design. On the plus side, the major bosses of the game are all large, demanding battles that often see multiple stages. There are also a lot of puzzles to complete, most of which are well designed and fun to overcome, but others are truly annoying and random, with next to no indication of what you're supposed to do.
Hell Yeah! features a pretty awesome soundtrack for the most part, comprised of rocking techno/metal songs that make the fights (especially the boss battles) really energetic, but then there's the occasional track that's slow, boring, and doesn't offer the least bit of motivation. It can really dull the experience, even in the trippy, acid-trip styled levels. The graphics are hit-or-miss, too. The animations are clear, and the colors are vibrant, but sometimes it can be distracting and the bright colors can begin to overwhelm if you have a bigger TV screen. There are also some nasty game-freezing glitches and painfully long loading times to suffer through; luckily the loading screens give humorous and sometimes helpful (but mostly sarcastic) advice.
Hell Yeah! The Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is full of potential and was really shooting for the stars, but it seems Arkedo spread themselves too thinly; none of the game's features really excel and some of them are just plain bad. The whole game took me about 8 hours to complete, but once you're done there's absolutely no reason to return, so I won't be.