On the surface, Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit has a great deal going for it; a mildly arcane sense of humour, an eye-catching (if familiar) visual style and some reasonably taut gameplay mechanics to name just three. The main question - and it's a question that needs to be asked of all XBLA games at this point in time - is whether or not it's worth the now-default asking price of 1200 Microsoft Points. It's actually a bit of a close call in this instance, and while the answer may not quite be akin to a triumphant hell yeah, it definitely warrants a very cautious heck yes. Just.
You play as a rabbit named Ash. As the game opens, Ash is in the process of taking some much-needed time off from work, which he does by chilling out in a bathtub with his favourite rubber duck. Thanks to some suggestive (innocent) pelvic thrusting - and the fact that the duck in question appears to be wearing a leather biker cap - a few paparazzi take some pictures of what they see and Ash is thrown into a barely related quest of revenge… to eliminate a checklist of one hundred different monsters.
It's no surprise to learn that SEGA are publishing Hell Yeah, if only because one of the game's primary sources of inspiration was probably Sonic the Hedgehog. It's smaller and more modest than a Sonic game (obviously) but there are numerous similarities. Ash is capable of moving back and forth at great speed across the game's multi-tiered levels, but in Hell Yeah there are objectives absolutely everywhere. You're never too far away from one of the 100 monsters that you need to destroy, and beating these mini-bosses represents the best part of the game. Once you use one of your tools to defeat a boss, a Wario Ware-style micro-game will immediately commence; some of these involve little more than button bashing, some involve timing, and some of them even involve multiple choice questions in the style of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
These moments are brief and occasionally quite amusing, and to their credit they're almost always inventive and unexpected. The downside is that you end up wishing that the game's creators had spent the same amount of time and effort on perfecting the gameplay and level design. Hell yeah makes non-stop jokes about almost everything; Sonic, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Mortal Kombat all come under fire during the opening half-hour, but all of these irreverent ideas aren't enough to sustain the gameplay when it intermittently gets a tad stale. Some levels are so dull that they seem as if they were designed but an auto-piloting computer, and there's a crushing lack of variety to the weapons that you wield.
There is one very nice touch: when you destroy each monster, they're banished to a strange meta-game in which they're forced to live on an island in hell, and carry out odd jobs that you periodically assign to them. This nets you bonus loot and although it's a pretty insubstantial part of the game, now and again it makes for a very pleasant change of pace.
Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is a very polished production, but nevertheless it's difficult not to feel hopelessly fatigued by the way that it actually looks. It shares aesthetic DNA with at least a dozen recent XBLA releases, which makes it all feel a lot less original than it should. That said, it's technically faultless and never ugly.
Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is far, far from a perfect game, and if you're curious, you'd be best advised to go and watch a gameplay video on Youtube first. If the loud visuals, old-school gameplay and silly humour seem inviting, then there's a good chance that you'll probably dig the absolute hell out of it. It loses steam after the first act and can get repetitive at times, but it also delivers a solid stream of laughs and more than a few impressively sly bits of gameplay design. There is lots of superior software on XBLA at the moment, but if you're flush with MS points and feel like taking the plunge, you definitely won't feel cheated at the end of it.