Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit

The first time I heard of Arkedo Studios' Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit was through a trailer Sega released all the way back in March. From this alone I got excited for the title, my anticipation growing as the later announced September 25 release date approached. Over the last week I used whatever free time I could get in front of my PS3 to finish it on time. While I did enjoy my time in the depths of hell, I think it also could have been polished a bit more to make the experience even more fun.

Hell was once ruled with an iron claw under King Hare, but upon his death, his duties were passed down to his son, Prince Ash. Ash ruled over hell through tyranny, but also harbored a love for rubber duckies. A paparazzi found out about this and took pictures of him playing with Ducktator, Ash's favorite duck, in the bath. The photos were then posted onto the Hellternet, pissing Ash off as he sets out on a journey to recover the evidence and kill the 100 monsters that had seen the incriminating photos.

Beyond this premise, the story is pretty much paper thin. We barely see any character development from Ash, or anyone else for that matter, besides that he wants the photos and hates it when monsters say that he's naked. Plot threads are found few and far between, though every boss encounter hints at something bigger in store that keeps interest up enough to continue. I'll admit that I really didn't see the associated twist at the end at all, so kudos there.

Personally, I think the developers have a solid, though imperfect, grasp on level design. Each area of hell stands out really well in their aesthetic to create a balanced variety of settings while surprisingly averting the use of certain generic world types (ice, jungle, etc.), though a level containing lava is arguably justified since the game takes place in hell. It's actually quite interesting to see how the unique art style is used to create these areas, including the designs of the monsters that inhabit them. Some of these levels also contain gimmicks, including a slot machine to potentially gain more money and a level containing a gun that fires a liquid rainbow (no, I'm not kidding) that can be manipulated with the surroundings to hit enemies in tight spots to avoid instant death spikes. Navigation isn't that difficult, thanks in part to a radar to locate monsters and a (mostly) helpful map that can be brought up with a single button press. Know however that you may be forced to memorize the level layout to make your way through.

There are a couple of ways that Ash can engage in combat with the monsters of hell. Ash drives a wheel machine that can best be described as a jet pack/giant buzzsaw/drill combination helpful both for getting through levels, by way of drilling through some surfaces and ascending to higher spots, and attacking monsters. The more generic enemies can easily be squished by the drill, while the special monsters can sometimes have a force field, necessitating the use of the drilling function to damage them. This won't work on most monsters though, which is where the many guns come in handy. Among the guns you would expect, including a shotgun or flamethrower, there's also a holy water gun and a gun that I have described to my brother while playing as firing "rave lasers."

The guns of course deal different amounts of damage and have different ranges, makes them better in certain situations. However, I never found the need to use every gun, preferring to stick to a couple of favorites that fire in spread patterns. I'd also like to add that there's a helpful regenerating ammo meter, though sometimes I felt it drained a little too quickly. Switching between the guns can be done by pressing L1 or using the D-pad (a feature I discovered purely by accident), though either way can get a little tedious depending on how many weapons you have at your disposal. Since aiming is also dictated by the right stick, it can get a little difficult to move and aim simultaneously depending on your speed, resulting in wasted ammo especially if you can't see your target clearly.

Even after you deal enough damage to one of the 100 monsters by exploiting their weaknesses however, you will need to complete a mini-game to finally kill them with a finishing move. The mini-games are very diverse, which is a good thing, but it also creates an erratic difficulty curve, not helped at all by the fact that they get even more difficult to complete over time. A couple are very difficult anyway, including a sniper mini-game, and I felt annoyance when they came up. Some of the more involving ones are a lot more fun, like pressing buttons during a spinning kick or punch animation, and didn't feel like they disrupted the flow of the game as much. On top of this, some of the animations seemed pretty cheaply made, making me question at points how much thought was put into them.

The monsters themselves that Ash kills are all very original in design and are surprisingly memorable despite their numbers thanks to both their unique personality quirks and appearance. Each of them requires a different strategy to defeat, though some of them you can just shoot indiscriminately and I managed to figure out different strategy categories to approach the monsters, one of which I discovered purely by accident (zooming out to show the surrounding area, you're welcome). Until I stumbled across it, I thought that there must have been something I missed or some cryptic thing I overlooked. I didn't want the game to hold my hand in this situation, but I did want something to at least hint at using a feature I had long stopped using by that point.

Only a small batch of monsters, about two or three, are defeated through boss fights. Each of these fights span three stages, though the final boss has five, and have to be completed in their entirety from the beginning again upon your death. While I was able to anticipate certain patterns later, it gradually got more annoying that I had to cycle through every bit of dialogue and watch every animation again, which makes the replays more tedious than they ought to be.

In the in-game store, it is possible to buy not only new guns and upgrades with your money, but also many ways to customize both Ash's clothes and his wheel machine. In fact, these cosmetic upgrades take up most of the shop inventory and can get ridiculously expensive (up to 600 money). While I did stick with the default "naked" Ash with whatever wheel variant I was automatically given by the story, it's still good to know that people who like to customize their look will be busy with over 50 clothing varieties and several wheels.

One major complaint I have about the game is the health system. It's not that Ash doesn't have enough, he has plenty, but the fact that the ability to get it back is hard to come by. The only way to replenish your health is through a Fountaine location. There are two on each map and more often than not will be placed in areas that will require you to fight several enemies and avoid instant death traps just to get to them. What compounds this is that if you die after beating a monster, you'll respawn at a checkpoint with the health you had when the monster died. If it's really low, then your margin for error will be slim to none. I don't think I would mind the difficulty of the game then if health was more plentiful, such as being a random drop from enemies.

As far as replay value is concerned, there isn't a whole lot to draw you back in once you've beaten the game, though it could keep you busy for quite a while. Each area has at least three missions you can complete in isolated mission modes to earn extras for Ash to use, including clothes. There's also finding all of the hidden presents, which contain even more clothes he can wear. Otherwise, there's an element of monster management in a game mode known as The Island, where you can use the monsters you've killed as unpaid labor to grant you bonuses in the main game, ranging from money to health and even store items. I didn't get too much entertainment out of the exercise, but I did take advantage of the rewards that The Island offers.

So, in the end, is Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit a game worth playing? Well, I would say that if you're looking for a game with top notch gameplay and satisfying bosses, then I would tell you to deeply consider your options. On the other hand, if you want a game that's memorable, has a great sense of humor, a wicked soundtrack and a rather unique premise, then I would tell you to go for it. This is one of those titles where I actually want a sequel made so that the ideas presented can be improved upon to create an even better gaming experience.

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