If you're a small developer used to making small games, there's a lot you can do when presented with a bigger budget and a major publisher. You can make a deeper, more involved story than usual; you can design bigger and more complex environments; you can hire Hollywood voice talent; you can motion-capture every motion that it's possible to capture.
Arkedo Studio chose to apply its resources to filling the screen with as much hand-drawn 2D art as possible, all the time. It's a remarkable achievement. Hell Yeah! doesn't just have some of the best 2D art in recent memory, it has the most. Hell, as depicted in Hell Yeah! is brightly colored, always moving, and packed with detail. Flames dance along every surface. Tiny enemies buzz around everywhere. Absolutely everything glows, pulsates, or otherwise animates. In fact, the look is busy enough that Arkedo highlights spikes with glowing circles, just to make sure the instant-death traps don't get lost among the madness.
It sounds like too much to deal with, but it rarely is. I don't know exactly how Arkedo did this, but the visually dense world is somehow easy to read. And the goals are straightforward enough, your character powerful enough, and respawns quick enough that I never felt like I couldn't handle the environments.
Those straightforward goals include finding and killing 100 unique monsters for the crime of seeing embarrassing pictures of you (your avatar, Ash, the rabbit prince of Hell, is not a kindhearted or sympathetic character). Again, the monster designs show Arkedo's commitment to 2D art, as each big sprite is one of a kind, ranging from a turd with a chainsaw sticking out of it, to a robot panda, to an astronaut with ads for adult businesses on his spacesuit. You only see them for a minute before your spinning sawblade jetpack thing – or one of your many, many guns – destroys them, but you can catch up with all of them again either in the Monster Index, which houses a biography and two different names for all of the monsters you've killed, or on the Island, where you put them to work making items for you.
You may have guessed by now that Hell Yeah has some crude humor in it ("a turd with a chainsaw sticking out of it.") In fact, the game is just as rich with juvenile jokes as it is with sprites ... in a good way. While it's hard to nail down the difference between annoyingly immature jokes and endearingly immature ones – and maybe the line is different for everybody – for me, Hell Yeah! falls on the "endearing" side, with an enthusiastic, gleeful silliness to its gross-out humor. As a 32-year-old, I found it cute; if you happen to be 14, you're going to love it unreservedly.
Nowhere is that humor more evident than in the minigames. Whenever Ash kills a unique enemy, he finishes it off in a cartoony "fatality" style minigame. Sometimes you aim a reticle to throw a coin into an arcade machine, triggering a Space Invaders-style fleet to descend and blow it up. Sometimes you catch bouncing corn cobs in a frying pan, which summons a giant microwave to explode your prey. It's like a violent slice of WarioWare in the middle of the action. Like WarioWare, you will occasionally fail and be annoyed, and you'll eventually see all of them, but not after being surprised and amused by a few dozen different minigame executions. They all use even more custom art – because Hell Yeah just didn't have enough.
All that attention to visual detail comes at a price, as there are a few significant, and weird, shortcomings. While Hell Yeah is sort of structured as a platform-adventure game (think Metroid), with the ability to teleport from world to world and access areas you couldn't before, the game explicitly tells you when and where you need to go at all times, robbing the player of the discovery of new content in an old area.
Checkpoints can occasionally be frustrating, as they occur in seemingly random locations and deposit you back after death with however much health you had when you passed – so if you died because you barely had any health, you'll have to go right back through that spot in the same critical condition. Loading times at startup are also rough, though Arkedo uses the opportunity to tell more jokes.
Still, I strongly feel that, while these complaints get in the way of making Hell Yeah a perfect game, they don't stop it from being a worthwhile one. The effervescent and copious presentation, the silly minigames, and the joy of shooting rainbows from a magic octopus to make a blissed-out cloud disappear (for example) make it worth taking Ash's giant wheel for a spin.
This review is based on the XBLA version of Hell Yeah!, provided by Sega. The game is out today for $14.99 on PSN, XBLA, and Steam.
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