Version tested: PlayStation 3
Did you play Dante's Inferno? Never mind if you didn't - you can't be expected to play every game based on a religious poem, after all - just try to picture it based on what you remember. It was a very particular vision of Hell, wasn't it? A lot of people go with lava, skulls, horns, that sort of thing; Visceral Games went for a giant naked woman who spits demon spiders out of her teats while screaming, gasping and clawing. And that was just the elevator ride down to the front door.
Hell Yeah takes the afterlife in a different direction - into a land of haunted caves, science labs, casinos and spaceships full of talking animals and Saturday morning cartoon banter. Whereas the developers of Dante's Inferno seemed to be using Cleopatra's arachnid-pumping nipples to confront us with serious questions (such as "What the f*** is that you're playing?" in my experience), Arkedo Studio seems to be suggesting that, you know, the afterlife is a ridiculously solipsistic and pathetic notion and let's just shoot some aliens.
Anyway, not unlike Dante Alighieri, Hell Yeah's angry bunny demon prince Ash is haunted by his past. In this case, it's a past where he was having a nice bath when a nasty paparazzo snapped him playing with his rubber ducky and posted it on the Hellternet. By the time Ash finds out, 100 Hellizens have viewed it, so there's only one thing for it: kill them all.
This is not a game of complex morals. Or indeed any concept of morality. As you roam around Hell's beautiful 2D environments hunting down your targets, you'll discover that some of them are jerks, but most are just minding their own business - pottering around in caves, hanging out with friends, waiting for a date, or having a moan about how boring life is - and, sure, some of them spit rockets at you or try to zap you with electricity, but mostly just as a defence mechanism. This doesn't stop you killing them. Not even if they're a bit dim. "I like all these sparkly lights," says one green spiky blob thing. "Oh, you like lights?" says Ash. "Would you like to see some more? Perhaps even move toward the final one?"
This isn't exactly Shadow of the Colossus, then, but killing your targets isn't always straightforward either. Half the time they are bigger than you and any contact will result in a knockback, potentially into other incidental critters or traps, or at the very least a hit to your deceptively stingy health meter. Quite a lot need to be peppered with bullets or rockets using right-stick aiming while you jump out of the way with the rest of the controller. Fortunately you are the prince of Hell, so you get a sweet spinny-blade jetpack thing to ride around on, meaning you can float through the air much further than the average plumber or hedgehog (or Italian poet). Elsewhere, quite a few of your targets require a bit of lateral thinking, usually along the lines of, "How do I get something to drop on this guy's head?"
When you run down their health bar, you need to complete a Wario Ware-style microgame finishing move to take them down for good. For example, you might need to alternately tap two face buttons to pump some iron, which beefs you up and allows you to punt your enemy through a goal net, which then dices them into messy giblets that splash all over the screen. Or you might need to direct a little truck left and right to dodge around blobby aliens as it drives up the screen, so that you can be rewarded by watching an 18-wheeler slam into your target and then reverse back and forth over their corpse. I lost count of how many variations there are, but they are all similarly poignant reminders of the quiet sadness one encounters in those final moments of being pulped or fried by an angry skeleton bunny.
As you explore Hell's various dungeons, hippy communes and asteroid fields, obviously you collect a lot of money and jewellery, which you can spend unlocking weapon and health upgrades and, perhaps more importantly, new hats and bike outfits. Ash looks pretty badass anyway just driving around on his jetpack grinder thing mincing his subjects, but he looks even more badass decked out in a stunt rider helmet or Danny Zuko quiff with his jetpack dressed up as a donut.
One question that any action adventure set in Hell should have an answer to, of course, is what happens to Hell's citizens when they die? In Hell Yeah, they go to The Island, Ash's own private penal colony, where they slave away for his benefit. If you get bored of re-murdering the dearly departed, you can retire to The Island for a while to adjust slider bars that determine how many of your battered subjects are put to work in different areas - mining for in-game currency, for instance, or dredging the harbour for special prizes. Anything they find goes to you for use in the game. You can even zoom in and watch them as they toil.
Killing all 100 of the people who saw Ash with his rubber ducky will take a good few hours, and there's a bit of light gear-gating and backtracking, as well as a few frustrating hold-ups as you struggle to find the appropriate levels of dexterity to outmanoeuvre and shoot to death an annoying guy floating in a pen above some instant-kill spikes. It would be wrong to suggest that Hell Yeah is an immaculate piece of programming - it is absolutely gorgeous, a delicious feast of tasty animation drowning in buttery detail, but it can be slightly awkward at times and some sections are more of a drag than others.
The important thing, really, is that you like the sound of it. If you enjoy impish cartoon worlds that mask their pristine internal consistency under a measured low brow, and you can put up with falling in a pit occasionally and having to go back to a checkpoint, then Hell Yeah: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is probably exactly the game about Hell that you've always wanted. If not, I suppose there's always Dante's Inferno. Tits.
8 / 10