Hell Yeah! and Jet Set Radio boxes

Many Windows Phone gamers are familiar with French developer Arkedo’s WP7 launch title, OMG: Our Manic Game. It’s not their best work, but still a pretty little shoot-em-up. Fast forward to this year and Arkedo has actually just released their best game yet (with the help of SEGA as publisher): Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit for Xbox Live Arcade.

We’ve got full impressions of both Hell Yeah! and Jet Set Radio after the break, plus more SEGA XBLA news!

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit

Hell Yeah!

Hell Yeah! (not to be confused with the heavy metal band I’ve never heard) is an all-new Metroidvania-style platformer. The subgenre name comes from the game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which blended the Castlevania series’ action-platforming with the nonlinear exploration of the Metroid series. Instead of separate, discrete levels, games of this type feature vast, interconnecting areas, many of which require new equipment to fully explore. Sadly we don’t have any true Metroidvania games on Windows Phone, but Castlevania Puzzle is based on Symphony of the Night and features a similarly huge map.

Arkedo’s take on the genre revolves around a rabbit named Ash who is actually the king of Hell, hence the title. Someone has taken nude photos of Ash with his rubber ducky and posted them online, where they were viewed by a total of 101 monsters. Thus the king sets out to discovered who took the pics and kill all who’ve seen him in the buff. It’s a silly plot, yes.

The main draw of Hell Yeah!, besides its brilliant art style, is taking down those monsters. Each one is completely different. Some are tiny minibosses, some huge, hulking full-on bosses. Some are even completely innocent and won’t fight back. Whatever the case, whenever you deplete one of the target monster’s life meters, you’ll engage in a short and zany microgame.

Hell Yeah!

These Wario Ware-like activities will have you rapping scrolling buttons to play guitar, dodging obstacles in a truck, mashing buttons to lift weights, and lots more. Succeed and you’ll kill off the monster in a cartoonish and bloody (but not gory) finishing move, often accompanied by references to other games like Mortal Kombat and Chu Chu Rocket. There must be over 30 different microgames, several of which repeat as the game goes on. Still, they’re quite funny and keep things fresh.

Ash starts the game on foot and with no weapons to defend himself, but before long he’ll start to build an arsenal. His chief tool is a buzz saw-like wheel that he can use to drill through rocks, roll up walls a bit, and attack weaker enemies. He can also fire a variety of guns with the right stick, though right-stick aiming doesn’t mix great with pressing A to jump. From time to time Ash needs to hoof it on foot again, mixing things up nicely. Interludes where you man a turret, submarine, and spaceship add even more variety.

While Hell Yeah! Is my favorite Arkedo game so far, it’s not perfect. The difficulty sometimes ratchets up weirdly, mostly due to sections laden with far too many instant-death spikes. It’s also more linear than most games of this type, with little meaningful incentive to stray from the beaten path. Also, while the translation from French to English retains plenty of humor and clever game references, it reads awkwardly at times.

Those quibbles aside, Hell Yeah!’s biggest problem is that it comes so closely after Dust: An Elysian Tale, the final Summer of Arcade release of August and my current pick for Game of the Year. Dust sports full voice acting, a much deeper plot, and more overall polish. But you can never have too many Metroidvania games; it’s not exactly a highly populated genre. With gameplay that mixes platforming, shooting, and exploration, plus a wicked sense of humor and style, Hell Yeah! makes its own mark in the XBLA lineup. 400 GamerScore worth of relatively easy Achievements doesn’t hurt either.

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit costs 1200 Microsoft Points ($15). Get it here at Xbox.com.

Jet Set Radio

Jet Set Radio

Xbox fans may remember Jet Set Radio Future, an awesome skating/graffiti game that was even packed in with the original Xbox at one time. That was a sequel – the original game, Jet Set Radio (AKA Jet Grind Radio) first appeared on the Dreamcast way back in 2000. Considering how few gamers got to play it, the game just begged for a re-release, which now SEGA has now provided.

Jet Set Radio is the futuristic story of a youthful rebellion against an oppressive establishment. Players take on the roll of several anime-like skaters as they skate, grind, and especially spray graffiti across the massive city of Tokyo-to. This game pioneered the art style of cel shading in which 3D characters are made to resemble cartoon characters via black outlines and shading techniques.

You’ll know where to spray tags by the floating arrows strewn throughout each level. Approach one, initiate the tag, and then complete a series of analog stick motions to complete it. The multitude of graffiti designs still impresses and lends the game an authentic counter-culture vibe.

Jet Set Radio

Jet Set Radio on XBLA sports several improvements, including the all-important upgrade to a widescreen aspect ratio. While some of the 3D geometry is a bit basic by today’s standards, the game still looks beautiful (more than ever before, actually) thanks to its bold art design. This version also adds full camera control to the right analog stick. The Dreamcast had only one stick, which made for far less intuitive camera controls.

While those improvements are most welcome, Jet Set Radio’s gameplay is still somewhat dated by today’s standards. Character steering is too stiff and grindable objects aren’t quite magnetic enough, making perfect runs through the levels harder than they should be. Also, the optional Tutorial is foolishly tough to complete, but at least there’s an Achievement for it now.

If you’ve never played Jet Set Radio before, be prepared for a steep learning curve and lots of challenge. But the stylish artwork, eclectic soundtrack, and unique premise still make it worth a playthrough for patient gamers.

Jet Set Radio costs 800 Points ($10). Get it here at Xbox.com.

Coming soon: Sonic Adventure 2 and NiGHTS: Into Dreams

Last but certainly not least, two additional SEGA classics are coming to Xbox Live this Friday for 800 Points apiece. Each title includes 400 GamerScore worth of Achievements.

Sonic Adventure 2 Battle

First up: Sonic Adventure 2, which debuted on the Dreamcast and eventually migrated to the GameCube. Part 2 drops the hub world of the first Sonic Adventure and separates the game into two intersecting storylines: the Hero side (starring Sonic, Knuckles, and Tails) and the Dark side (starring Eggman, Shadow the Hedgehog, and Rouge the Bat). The Knuckles and Rouge levels I could very much live without, but Sonic and Shadow's are just amazing. Plus: 2-player versus mode (local only)! Many consider SA2 better than the original, and the XBLA version’s enhanced widescreen display should make it the best version yet.

The optional ‘Sonic Adventure 2 Battle DLC’ clocks in at 240 Points ($3) and adds three new Achievements, extra multiplayer characters, new menu themes, and the Chao Karate minigame. The first SA's DLC cost 400 Points at launch, so this one is definitely a better deal.

NiGHTS Into Dreams

NiGHTS: Into Dreams launches the same day, but the original version appeared on the Sega Saturn, the precursor to the Dreamcast. This version is based on a Japanese-only Playstation 2 release, but it ends up a bit nicer thanks to HD support, Xbox Live features, etc.

Players take control of the Harlequin-like NiGHTS as he flies through a bright and colorful dream world. You’ll circle through four stages of each world collecting orbs to deposit in an Ideya Capture device, then score as many points as you can before the stage’s time expires and you wake up. It takes a while to get used to the gameflow, but mastering a stage by linking huge chains of orbs, stars, and rings together is exhilarating. Huge, inventive boss fights and a stellar soundtrack contribute to the game’s dream-like atmosphere.

Widescreen visuals, video and image galleries, and the ‘Christmas NiGHTS’ bonus content (sadly missing the playable Sonic feature of the Saturn bonus disc) are just some of the XBLA version’s improvements. Being a game unlike any other, NiGHTS requires some learning and practice to fully enjoy, but SEGA fans shouldn’t miss it.

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