The Prince of Hell isn't very happy. He's a skeletal bunny, for starters, which is hardly anybody's idea of a good time, and he's also – well – completely powerless . On a mission of vengeance after unflattering personal snapshots were posted online, he's trotting through the fiery underworld, pecked at by tiny buzzing insects, taking damage from poison vines and finding that everywhere's shut, and everywhere's locked off to him. These are the first few minutes of Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit, Arkedo Studio's nutty new downloadable offering, but where's the fun? Where's the action? Where are the kinds of clout you expect from being the Prince of Hell?
It turns out that all of that is waiting just past the opening few minutes, and a large part of it comes from the game's very first unlock. Hell Yeah!'s a 2D platformer in the spirit of Metroid or Arkham Asylum, so there's plenty of backtracking and gear-gating lying before you as you pick up new items and learn new attacks. And that starter item? A huge saw-bladed wheel for you to ride around in, grinding enemies beneath you and chewing through soft rock to get at the glistening jewels sealed inside. It's payback, in other words, and it looks amazing.
Camille Guermonprez is the founder of Arkedo Studios - a tiny outfit based in a printing house in Paris, which is probably best known for colourful boutique DS gems like Big Bang Mini – and as he demos the game, he explains that he wants the player to feel frustration for the first few minutes, because his team then gets to offer the soothing balm of hyper-violence, and all's right with the world again. Besides, it's a harmonious fit: Hell Yeah! was born of frustration, cooked up during an abortive family game commission that almost sunk the studio entirely.
“We were furious and we really wanted to get that out of ourselves,” says Guermonprez, as, on-screen, he chainsaws a three-eyed pudding type into five distinct pieces. “We had this energy from working for a year and being very good professionals for a family title and being very restrained. There was this frustration building up, and it had been charging all that time. We kept promising ourselves: next time, we'll kill monsters. There's going to be blood? Yes! Blood everywhere! You have no idea how much blood.”
Actually, there's much more than just blood: alongside Metroid, Hell Yeah!'s a collision of Pokémon's animal-spotting, Earthworm Jim's hopping and blasting and and Mortal Kombat's grisly kills - and if that muddle of influences seems a little console-centric, there's still plenty for PC players to latch onto as well. This a game of squishy treats and pleasantly unpleasant surprises, and it unfolds as you ride your mangling wheel around a selection of bright, themed areas, butchering the game's dozens of unique enemies – each one is essentially a mini-boss, and each one you'll only face once – while unlocking new weapons and items at the shop, and steadily wracking up the scalps you'll need to move further into the game.
It's wonderfully violent – bugs and mechs explode with each step, and even the early arsenal allows you to fire thousands of flaming bullets at once or take monsters down with a thudding rocket launcher. It's astonishingly cute and offbeat and imaginative, too, whether it's the oozing, bright pink intestinal hallways of Hell itself (the place looks like it's been freshly paved with bubble-gum), the rotting, top-hatted octopus who gives you hints, or the bosses that take the forms of malfunctioning teddy bears, twitchy robotic eyeballs, and flaming ghosts, before succumbing to a selection of gloriously good-natured disembowelments and keyboard-mashing mini-game finishers. How mad is Hell Yeah!? Just look at the save points and health regenerators. The first is a disturbingly robust nurse wielding a giant blue Viagra pill. The second is a showerhead spraying cheery spurts of blood all over the floor.
Frustration is understandable, perhaps, but how has Arkedo channelled theirs so precisely into these grimly appealing monsters and spectacularly gynaecological weaponry? “It's simple,” says Guermonprez, blinking as he emerges from his final splatter trance. “You put a little boy in a closet for two days and then you open the door and say, “Come and play outside,” and then just look at the little boy. That's human nature. We were the little boy in the closet for a year, not seeing the light, and the door opened and there was a playfield and the sun was shining and there were toys and we played with the toys. It's as simple as that. My guys are just really good, and this game was really easy for us to make in one way, because it was absolutely the game we wanted to make at that moment, and we had no parental supervision. No adult supervision from Sega, who is producing it. When we show what we did, they didn't blame us or spank us. They said, “That's awesome. That's crazy. Go ahead with it.” Now we can go and play some more.”