Gamers are well acquainted with revenge narratives and collection tasks, but it’s rare for the two to be combined. Hell Yeah! marries the pair off with style as anti-hero Ash tours a side-scrolling cartoon underworld in search of one hundred monsters who stole compromising photographs taken by a paparazzo of the rabbit when pleasuring himself in a bath. Each scoffer must be murdered and ticked off a to-do list; only then may the bloodthirsty bunny rest in the knowledge that his reputation has been repaired.
It’s a vibrant, irreverent premise reminiscent in tone of Nippon Ichi’s output in Disgaea (a series also set in a breezily jovial imagining of hell) – a feeling amplified by Ash’s brattish swagger and his put-upon companion butler. In execution too, this, the first publisher-backed downloadable game from French independent studio Arkedo draws heavily upon Japanese influences with outlandish animations, over-saturated colours and endlessly creative acts of violence. Each of the one hundred targets is visually diverse, with its own offensive or defensive tactics for evading Ash’s ire, and the desire to see what the designer’s have concocted next is often just as powerful as the pressing need to clear the task list.
Despite appearances, this is a platform game at heart, with Metroidvania echoes as you zoom the camera out to check which unexplored nooks and crannies on the widening map could hold monsters seeking refuge. And beneath the kindergarten colours and smooth cartoon edges, it’s a hostile netherworld, filled with spikes, spurts of flame and eternally whirring circular saw blades. Ash’s double jump affords tight control, but his health bar is fragile and you must make frequent stops under the blood showers positioned throughout the world in order to recuperate.
When a monster’s health bar has been sufficiently depleted with some softening rockets or the pepper of machine gun fire you must complete a Wario Ware-style microgame to claim the ‘kill’. These take the form of five-second concept pieces in which you must, for example, jab a finger into a bee hive while the drone is looking away, or steer a truck along a motorway while dodging the aliens. Successfully complete the microgame task and you’re rewarded with a relevant finishing animation as a swarm of bees descends onto your target and stings him to oblivion, or an 18-wheeler truck slams them to pieces. Eventually these set-pieces begin to repeat, but they offer a satisfying moment of silly ceremony to each of your assassinations.
Progress is limited by hellish gates, which yield only when the requisite number of monsters have been harvested, a design decision which adds focus but perhaps at the expense of a true sense of freedom and exploration. Arguably the game’s most interesting twist is that, in Hell Yeah, death isn’t final. Rather, each monster, is sent to The Island when defeated, where you can apply them in different types of slave labour. It’s a vengeful take on the Pokémon collecting dynamic, as you may choose to concentrate your captured monsters’ efforts in mining for money, helping to increase Ash’s life bar, or dredging for special items.
Hell Yeah! may wear its warm immaturity on its sleeve, but its jokes are strong, its protagonist and antagonists likeable and its rhythms satisfying. Taken in isolation, the game’s discrete elements lack inspiration – but in concert the game succeeds in finding its own tone and character. There’s some repetition in the latter half of the game, a sense of ennui that no amount of outlandish animations can quite dispel, but taken as a whole, Hell Yeah! upholds its title’s exclamation point from start to finish.
Xbox 360 version tested.