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God Hand (PS2)

November 3, 2006 By D. Riley

Oh Clover, we hardly knew ye.

Before the news broke of their dissolution, Clover was just like any other studio. They puttered around under the Capcom aegis creating quirky games that pleased their fans and seemed to draw in a fair bit of commercial success as well. I guess whatever sales came from their library weren't big enough, but one would be hard-pressed to find a gamer who wouldn't consider games like Viewtiful Joe and Okami classics of this generation. At least, you'd have a tough time convincing me that a gamer holding those opinions was worth my time of day. If it wasn't for Hideki Kamiya I wouldn't have games like Devil May Cry (created before the founding of Clover) or Viewtiful Joe. Without games like that my experiences with the Playstations and Gamecubes of this generation would've been decidedly less fun. Knowing that Clover isn't out there slaving away on their next instant classic makes me a little sad, but I want to believe the people out there who banded together as Clover aren't lost, but only scattered. I want to believe that there's a Viewtiful Joe 3 in the works out there somewhere, and that it won't be the let down that Viewtiful Joe 2 was. I want to believe that Hideki Kamiya will, for once in his life, get the chance to work on a sequel to one of his games.

But before I digress too far, I should remind myself that this isn't about Clover, it's about God Hand.

God Hand immediately strikes the player as a love letter from its creators to its creators. At no point during its run are you ever led to believe that God Hand was made to please you, the fan. If you can pick up the controller and enjoy God Hand for what it is, good for you, but make no mistake: you are not the target audience.

What they have made is an explosively difficult game, like its predecessors, Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe, taken to the Nth degree. It is a game that hearkens back to the sadomasochistic times of iconic games such as Contra and Final Fight. If you were playing a game like God Hand in the arcade you would have to come prepared to expend more than a few week's worth of allowance in quarters to play it to completion. It does not pull punches, and the description on the back of the box of "ball-bustingly hard" barely does the game justice. When I was playing through the original Devil May Cry in college my roommate would frequently leave during my more prolific bouts of profanity and controller hucking. In the five years since then I'd thought I'd matured quite a bit. God Hand was placed in my Playstation to convince me that this was not the case, and a small part of me buried deep in my hateful heart was yearning to buy one of those recently released NERF controllers in order to save me the aggravation of smashing cheaply made Chinese Dual Shocks against the ground while suffering fits of rage brought on by flamingly homosexual carnival folk turned pro-wrestlers.

Godhand #1
Dragon Kick your ass into the milky way

In God Hand you take control of Gene, a down on his luck loser who finds himself delimbed while trying to save a girl by the name of Olivia from a pack of thugs. Now only half a man, Gene is fortunate that his would-be damsel in distress is the last surviving member of a clan whose sole imperative was to protect the arms of an ancient warrior who banished Satan from the earth. As luck would have it these magic-imbued limbs are able to be attached at will and it's not long before Gene is unwittingly drawn into a campaign against thugs, demons, and Satan himself.

This is really just a roundabout setup for a game that's not too different than the Streets of Rage and Double Dragons of yore. It all boils down to this: there are bad guys out there doing things you don't want them to do. It's your job to stop them, and they're not exactly the type to sit down and talk things out over tea and cake. Most of them are content to kick you in the "junk" and bash your head against the pavement.

Gene is lucky, then, that he is not ill equipped to handle these foes. The holy arm bestowed upon him grants a fighting prowess that every six year old kid has dreamed of while maneuvering Mike Haggar around Metro City. Gene's special powers are divided into two parts, the ability to unleash the God Hand every so often for increased power and invulnerability, and the Roulette, a series of non-interactive beatdowns that really make you feel like the bad guy got what he deserved. Witnessing Gene deliver a series of jabs that lift his foe into the air, or a kick so powerful it launches his enemies into space is truly a sight to behold and I, personally, never got tired of them.

Gene's standard combat is a little less astonishing. Though there are no shortage of techniques (the game boasts over a hundred individual moves), their implementation can give the player the impression that he's just mashing buttons to reach an end. You are allowed to map up to six techniques into a "create your own combo" on the Square button. Other techniques can be placed on Triangle, X, and a few other combinations, but your bread and butter will be hitting Square multiple times until the enemy either blocks or gets dazed. In the case of the former, a well placed guard break attack (often difficult to time) will allow you to continue your combo unmolested, with the latter a simple press of the Circle button drops you into a button mashing sequence that really allows you to lay the hurt on your opponent. Gene executes hyper-speed kicks or knee bashes with all the style of a true professional, and when you're really entrenched in the moment of the game it's easy to forget that you only needed one button to get you there.

God Hand is more about the theory of combat than the execution. You need to figure out what a good combo is BEFORE you fight the bad guy, you need to know when's a good time to interrupt your Square mashing with a brief kick from the Triangle button. Get the theory down and you'll encounter what really makes the game difficult, something that's been mostly forgotten since the days of 2D brawlers. Unlike most other 3D brawlers, substandard fare like The Bouncer where enemies are content to come at you one at a time, the enemies in God Hand often refuse to wait around while you karate kick their friend's sternums in. You'll probably spend as much time in the game dodging their attacks as you will delivering your own. To this end the game has implemented a fun little evasion system using the right analogue stick in exchange for stripping the player of camera control. This is no big loss, as the over the shoulder camera is plenty effective in almost all situations, and the cases where it isn't Gene has a helpful radar warning him of when the forces of evil try to attack his lily-white behind.

God Hand 2
Don't act like you don't like the ball buster

So the combat of the game isn't as complex as the Xbox's Ninja Gaiden, but it gets its licks in where possible. It's relaxing to be brought back to this stage of early brawler combat where all you had to do was hit the A button a whole bunch of times and that was that. The really creative people would end their combo with a "Forward, Forward, A" uppercut or something, but it really wasn't required to have a good time.

One gets the idea that the combat in God Hand was kind of secondary anyway. Don't get me wrong, the game rests solidly in its beat 'em up category, but while you and Skate were messing with the thugs in search of your kidnapped brother you would've never expected to run into a team of midget power rangers, or a gorilla luchadore with a bone to pick. God Hand delights itself (and its creators, presumably) by focusing on the absurd. From fat, cigar chomping Latin-accented demons named Elvis to an overly defensive senile grandpa with a penchant for hurling large boulders your way, it's hard to believe that anything in this game was meant to be taken seriously. This sort of laissez faire attitude to evil and crime fighting is really crystallized by Olivia, Gene's sidekick and quest giver, who is so flippant in her ways of sending Gene into certain doom over and over again that it's downright farcical. In a sterling scene late in the game Gene is accosted by three thugs inside of a hotel room. After sidekicking two of them through the window he pauses in his heroic beatdown to motion to the final thug, who soon realizes he is in an inconvenient position. The gang member obliges the hero, placing himself in front of an open window so he can be kicked into the stratosphere with the rest of his companions.

What makes the game so charming is that none of the characters seem to realize the predicament they're in. Gene is a character that I'll never get tired of, the idiot hero, the guy who obviously THINKS he's great, but doesn't always have the mettle to stand up in the most challenging of situations, a guy who can deliver a series of astonishing spin kicks to the face of a porcupine demon one moment and have a "Kick Me!" sign placed on his back the very next. The gaming world needs less flaxen haired, starry-eyed SquareEnix youths and more idiots like Gene, who are out there to get rich and laid and if they can save the world in the process, then so much the better. The world needs more games where point A to point B is full of nothing but mohawked badguys quoting lines from infamous Mike Tyson speeches.

Experienced from this angle, God Hand is a popcorn game through and through, and it's really too bad that many people won't have a chance to experience some of the game's more gut busting moments because it's too hard or too repetitive (fall in love with the six or seven enemy types, you'll be seeing them a LOT) for your average Joe. Like I said at the beginning: this game wasn't made for anyone but Shinji Mikami and his crew and, like Gene, if they can entertain you in the interim that's great, but it isn't really what they were shooting for. Most people won't like this game, and that's fair, but I hope that they can respect what a game like God Hand represents: a time when you grabbed big guys with blonde dreadlocks and slammed your knee into their head over and over again and that's all that gaming really needed to be about. Deep storylines about love and non-violence and respect are all well and good, but that doesn't always get you where you need to be. When the evil, but well intentioned, Elvis fell to my hands after a slew of continues, I empathized with Gene's parting words, "Too bad, if you weren't a demon we probably could've been friends." I shed my single tear, had my moment of silence during the loading screen, and was ready to kick some more demon ass as soon as the next stage booted up. Not every cut-scene has to be an hour long, and not every game has to have some hidden meaning behind it. Oddly enough, you probably won't even know you're saving the world in God Hand until the world is practically saved already... and then you get to fight a kung-fu guy with an afro!

God Hand 3
God power keeps my pimp hand strong

For me, God Hand came at just the right time. After the summer drought finally ended it seemed like every game I was looking forward to was either an abysmal failure or just "Okay." Even Okami, which was generally excellent, was too long for its own good. Maybe not since Resident Evil 4 has there been a game where I sat at work, reading game related message boards to sublimate my urges and thinking about how great it'd be when I finally got to home and play. I'm usually far from the norm when it comes to these things, but I really wish that everyone could experience what I experienced playing God Hand, even for just a moment. I know they made this game for themselves, but is it so bad to think that a bit of it was set aside for me? God Hand might not have been the best swan song for Clover to go out on, but it certainly hit all the right notes with me. When Clover gets back together, in whatever form that might be, I'll be waiting there with open arms.

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6 comments for ‘God Hand (PS2)’

#1 4_point_maverick Nov 3, 2006 10:25pm

Oddly enough, I just bought the DMC 5th anniversary collection and am playing through the first DMC. Much swearing and controller throwing has ensued since.

I read the review about God Hand on Gamespot, which was positive, and was planning on picking it up after i beat all the DMCs. The $30 price tag doesn't hurt much either. Now that i learned that its pretty similar to Viewtiful Joe and DMC i'm definitely getting it.

#2 R. LeFeuvre Nov 4, 2006 11:42pm


You just sold a copy of the game.

#3 Servo Nov 6, 2006 10:46pm

A standing ovation is in order

#4 D. Riley Nov 7, 2006 11:36am

I'm gonna feel really bad when you people don't like this game. :shock:

#5 TrueTallus Nov 7, 2006 02:06pm

Neat article! What did you think of the music? Was it awesome or was it AWESOME?

#6 D. Riley Nov 7, 2006 02:13pm

Being a tried and true Hawaii 5-0 fan, the first stage's theme holds a special place in my heart.