Time for some homework. Dig out your PS2 and get your face to somewhere that sells pre-owned games and pick up this absolute classic for the week ahead. It isn’t like there is anything else out, is there? If you already own this legendary piece of software, then it is nigh time you cracked it out for another playthrough. I assure you, you have forgotten how utterly incredible it is. If you haven’t, then chances are you won’t believe a thing you are about to read.
God Hand was the last game by Clover, who also brought light into the world in the shape of Okami and Viewtiful Joe, before being closed. Most of the team have since reappeared in the form of Platinum Games, putting out what is a real contender for best game of this year, Bayonetta, and the soon to be released robot shooter Vanquish. God Hand still has a lot of influence on their output, from the “expect ANYTHING” design choices to the hard but fair difficulty, which rewards perfect play and practice, as well as allowing you to get by on pure instinct.
After a just few hours with God Hand, you will have just smashed your way through what appeared to be the set of A Fistful of Dollars, punched a grotesquely overweight Elvis impersonator in the mouth, dropped a Gorilla in a luchador mask on its head, all the while beating to death various hordes of street punks, ghostly samurai and bondage gear clad hookers. Needless to say, it is one of the greatest games of all time.
Check out this review here, over at the horrific IGN. Don’t worry – if I can avoid it I will never send you there AGAIN. Go on, give it a read. I’ll be waiting here for when you return, PROMISE.
A 3.0 out of 10.0. Those decimals are important, after all. Reading the review, if you haven’t played the game at all, paints a pretty damning picture of God Hand. He was also quite clearly shite at the game. Saying that, perhaps he WAS onto something? After all, the game is ridiculously difficult, and with no tutorial or training mode, it is also pretty daunting to anyone picking it up and expecting to smash their way to victory on their first try.
He was onto FUCK ALL. The review is an incredible example of someone completely missing the point. God Hand never sets out to be easy. God Hand makes a mockery of the last few years of gaming. There is no hand-holding here – you’ve got your fists and your reflexes, and that is all you need. From the word go, you have everything you need to complete the entire game at your fingertips. The ability to hit things, and the ability to ensure they don’t hit you back. Sure, as you progress through the various levels you unlock more powerful abilities, larger health bars and all sorts of useful stuff, but it doesn’t make the game any easier, per say. They just let you get away with more mistakes. The game will ALWAYS punish you for even the slightest lapse – the difference a larger health bar will make is being able to survive to be punished again.
The controls are kept deliberately simple. Three of the face buttons are mapped to your attacks, which can be changed up whenever you unlock something new, while circle acts as a context sensitive button, allowing you to pick up power-ups and weapons dropped by enemies. One stick predictably moves you around, while the other one acts as your evasion method. Flicking the right stick left, right or downwards causes you to dodge in one the desired direction, or backflip out of trouble entirely. Tapping up also allows you to evade an incoming attack, but is one that takes far more skill than all of the others. A quick push of it causes a swift duck and weave, like a boxer, and allows you to stay right up in the face of the enemy, ready to dish out some punishment as their punch flies straight past you. Get it wrong, and they’ll be pulling your teeth out of their shin while you see nothing but GAME OVER again and again.
You will die. A lot, in fact, but God Hand is fair. In most other games, your average enemy is nothing but a minor distraction that you plough through until you reach the real challenges – usually bosses or set-pieces. Here, even the first enemy you meet will make short work of you if you aren’t concentrating, ready to dodge and strike when the time is right. They won’t just wait around while you deal with one of their ilk, either. Lose your focus, turn your back on one of them and they will take every opportunity to beat you to the floor. There is a bit of balance, of course. Beat up enough of them and you can fill your TP bar, allowing you to unleash an unbroken combination of rapid punches and kicks from your chosen set-up. Also at your disposal are a bunch of special moves, providing you have enough points to activate them. These range from spectacular uppercuts, a cheeky kick to the bollocks and even the legendary one inch punch. Picking the right combination of these moves to suit your style is paramount to your success. Despite this difficulty, if you are on form, you can breeze through the game. Firm, but completely fair. If you got punched in the back of the head, it was because you didn’t turn around in time.
So, you find yourself playing better, not getting hit, gaining more skills, getting higher ranks and suddenly everything seems easy. It then has the balls to get harder as you succeed. Clear out a room of enemies without taking a hit and your level will increase, from 1, 2, 3 and eventually, the aptly named LEVEL DIE. Yes. Level DIE. Where you will. Going up through these levels makes the A.I even more vicious, and will randomly throw some really tough demons at you, out of the blue, just to fuck with you. The higher the level, the more cash the enemies will drop, so you can buy even more attacks, health or just fritter it away at the chihuahua races. Honest to god I am not making any of this up.
The plot is also, something pretty spectacular, but ultimately, describing it in detail will add no more to this article. It is all just a delightfully surreal backdrop to the fact that this is a game about smacking thousands of people in the face. Something to do with demons, and arms. It is decent enough to give you some kind of emotional investment in Gene, the protagonist, but really it is just there to keep you moving between increasingly bizarre fight sequences. Kind of like the plot to the every film I have ever loved. Who needs a hero with a troubled past? Gene is the perfect fit for a beat ’em up – a wisecracking arsehole who is always itching for the next fight, be that with a punk who throws his mohican at you like a boomerang or a bunch of midget power rangers. You couldn’t make this up if you tried. Around every corner is a surprise, and you’ll almost certainly have to punch it right in the taint to progress.
God Hand knows its place within the world of videogames and embraces everything that is brilliant about the beat ’em up genre. End of level bosses, makeshift weapons picked up off the floor, life-saving food pickups and a load of things to smash up. It is Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Golden Axe and every other game that you and your little brother used to pretend to play in the arcades because your parents wouldn’t let you “waste” 20p on them when on holiday. There are no pretensions here; this is a game where you punch a load of people in the face and continue to do so until the frankly incredible credits sequence rolls. For a game that appears to be so dumb, so simple – God Hand is genius.