Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit [Review]
If I’ve learned anything from playing Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit it’s that you can make extreme violence seem funny if it happens to cute things. Despite squeezing creatures until they exploded, supplexing them from outside the earth’s atmosphere, covering them in angry bees, or any of the other ways that you can kill a boss in the game, the violence never seemed gory or gross. It was like playing through a cartoon, but one created by a lunatic. A very talented lunatic, though.
That cartoonish vibe will hit you as soon as you start. Despite the fact that the game takes place in Hell, it’s all drawn in a goofy, lighthearted style. It’s not to the point where it looks happy and friendly, as most of the characters look dangerous and mean. There is a goofiness to the visual design, something that is always skirting the line between menacing and funny. You could be fighting a demonic scorpion one minute and then fighting a Zeus who’s flying through the air on balloons the next. It sounds like the game is floundering to find an artistic style, but it all clicks together very well. It’s one of the few games that manages to look both awesome and completely silly at the same time.
That seems like the sort of visual momentum that would be hard to maintain, but they did an excellent job of it. The areas all have their own aesthetics, looking wildly different from each other when you run from the pits of hell to some sort of celestial casino that contains its own weird underworld motocross track. The enemies have almost as much variety, although you’ll whip through many of them so quickly that you might not notice. The game also has a hundred bosses squeezed inside the hours you’ll play it, and there are no cheap palette swaps here. Each boss has been crafted with love and care, and they draw from all kinds of different mythologies and crazy ideas. The game was designed around these enemies, and it really shows. This game probably has more quality bosses than every single retail game released this year put together.
You’ll have a ton of options on how you can deal with them, too. This game doesn’t skimp on the combat abilities. For starters, instead of tiring yourself out by walking around the hellish terrain, you’re riding around in a giant buzz saw. They hand you this ability within seconds of starting the game, and it’s the first thing that really hooked me. I just started running at the enemies and tearing through them with that spinning blade, and I couldn’t stop laughing. It felt like the first time I earned the Screw Attack in Metroid, only to a completely absurd degree. I felt unstoppable right from the beginning, setting me up to feel like a powerhouse.
When they started to put in enemies that were resistant to the blade, I thought that feeling was going to come to a halt, but I was wrong. At that time, I was handed a gun that I could use on the enemies. It was the first of many, many different firearms that I would come to know and love; all of them having infinite ammo so I didn’t have to go fishing around for pickups. All I had to worry about was watching to make sure I didn’t fire the weapons so much that they overheated and needed to recharge. Even if they did, I could just switch to one of the other weapons I had or just pay to make the current weapon better at the shops. Life was good.
It could have been better, though. The control scheme for firing the weapon gives you a lot of freedom in how you aim it, but it can be really awkward to use. To fire, you have to hold the right stick in the direction you want to shoot and then hit R2. It doesn’t sound all that complicated, but moving around in a 2D space with the left stick while aiming with the right stick and firing with another button was just a weird way to control it. It might not bother you much, but it felt really uncomfortable and weird for the course of the whole game.
Even worse is when you want to jump and fire. There were lots of times when I was trying to shoot at something that was close by while I was jumping and I just couldn’t hack it. Adding the jump button to the mess of commands I was already using to move and shoot meant that I’d be lucky to pull off even a single shot in the direction I needed to. Given that some of the bosses need you to stay quick on your feet while shooting them meant that I had to reload my checkpoint quite a few times. I liked that I could shoot in any direction, but there’s really no excuse for it to be this hard to jump and shoot at the same time. Go look at Contra and explain yourselves.
It doesn’t help that the game has a floaty feel to it whenever you move. It’s very, very hard to stop where and when you want to; making the whole game feel like it’s under a coat of ice. I don’t know if it’s supposed to feel like an aftereffect of travelling around in a giant wheel, but it just makes it impossible to be precise when you’re moving or shooting. I can aim wherever I like, but getting the character to sit still in a good spot is far too difficult. Given that you have to weave around a lot to dodge the projectiles of most of the boss characters, it just makes things that much more frustrating to have to worry about whether you’re going to accidentally roll farther than you needed to. Given how small some of your escape windows are, it makes the game a lot harder than it needs to be.
The game’s difficulty level is pretty strange as a result of the floaty movement. After the first few levels the enemies start doing huge amounts of damage. You can easily whip through your entire life bar in seconds if you aren’t careful, and the constant sliding around makes it hard to do that. To fix that, the developers have put in healing fountains every few feet, and the checkpoints are numerous. You’ll die a whole lot, but the game rarely respawns you more than a few feet from the last thing you were trying to do. This gives the game this weird sense of being both easy and hard at the same time. You’ll be dying every few minutes, but you’ll practically be throwing yourself right back into the fray a few seconds later. I liked it, but it did make the game feel like the game was either too easy or too hard with nothing in between.
One major gripe I have is that the game doesn’t let you skip dialogue. Most of it isn’t all that great to begin with, and the game loves nothing more than to place your checkpoints before the characters started talking, not after. If you find yourself dying against the same boss over and over again (you will), get ready to slam on the buttons while trying to get everyone to shut up so you can play the game. If you’re interested in game development at any point in your future, one of the first things I want you to do is make sure your game allows players to skip dialogue and cutscenes. It’s a small thing, but very, very annoying when handled incorrectly.
One thing they handled really well was the death animations. I was worried that having specific death animations for each boss would mean that I was going to have to watch the same animations over and over again. There’s actually quite a few of them, though, and the results are so varied that I never got the sense that the game was getting repetitive. The deaths are also all started up by playing a short mini-game, making it feel like a little bit of Warioware, Inc: Mega Microgame$! was thrown into the mix for the fun of it. These little games are mostly fun and make boss battles that much more interesting. There are a few of them that were hard to figure out and made the fights last too long, but they mostly helped.
It’s that spark of variety that gives Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit its staying power. It has some annoying flaws in its gameplay, but those are all corrected with its generous checkpoints and health. You might get annoyed with these flaws at times, but the fact that you really don’t know what the game is going to do next will keep you playing it. You could be fighting a giant space creature from a rocket ship and have to throw a quarter into an arcade machine to beat it. You could suddenly find yourself in a giant motocross rally where you have to do tricks in order to get by. You might wrack your brain trying to figure out how to kill something that definitely looks like a butt wearing a hat. It’s just really strange in an endearing way, and for all its quirks it’s just a really good time.