Release Date: 10/10/2006
Clover Studios has certainly been busy recently; aside from the exceptionally entertaining Okami, Capcom is releasing their second Clover developed title in two months, God Hand. But whereas Okami is a fairly easy cel-shaded semi-serious Zelda-esque adventure, God Hand is a fairly difficult not at all serious polygon rendered beat-em-up. That’s a fairly interesting contrast, to be sure, but then again, these guys DID make Viewtiful Joe, so if there’s anything they know about, it’s making games that are about throwing down and beating the crap out of people.
Still, God Hand isn’t exactly what one would consider to be a success at first glance. 3D beat-em-ups aren’t known for their amazing quality or legions of devoted fans; indeed, most of them kind of suck (more recent releases like Beatdown notwithstanding) and sell poorly. It totally doesn’t take itself seriously, either, which might appeal to some folks, but for others, a game that’s a ridiculous satire of itself and various anime concepts might put them off. Does it all work? Does it come together well? Are the jokes funny or just stupid? Is it worth playing?
Says I, yes. Especially since it’s only $30. And any game that can produce an advertisement like this:
… you really should own it on principle. THAT is funny. But that’s hardly enough of a coherent explanation to justify owning God Hand, so let’s get down to business.
You take on the role of Gene, a wandering vigilante of sorts who wanders the wastes of what the world has become, kicking the crap out of bad guys, all with the power of the God Hand. The God Hand is a mythical arm that allows the wielder to brandish power beyond that of normal humans, and considering Gene is something of a martial artist himself, this turns him from a drifter into a badass. Unfortunately, this also means he’s stuck with Olivia, the keeper of the God Hand and a royal pain in the ass, and he has about a billion demons and such on his tail, as they want the God Hand as well. So, his life is kind of hurting at this point.
The story itself can be broken down to two separate types of events that go on throughout the game: events that attempt to advance and develop the story, and events that are in the game to amuse you. The story, as it is, is serviceable, but it’s not really anything special: Gene uses the power of the God Hand to beat the crap out of the minions of evil in an attempt to stop the Four Devas, a group of evil demons (well, mostly demons, anyway) bent on using the God Hand for their own ends. It’s all pretty stereotypical, which I think is meant to be the intention, and for the most part, it’s okay, but nothing special.
The events meant to amuse you, on the other hand, are flat-out awesome. The game spends its time lampooning all sorts of Japanese concepts from anime and TV, to the point where it tows the line between comedy and outright satire at several points. The game itself feels like it’s trying to be a played-for-laughs Fist of the North Star, complete with post-apocalyptic landscape and Gene dressing up like a knock-off of Ken, but with his own minor changes. You run into all sorts of ridiculous enemies, including a gorilla in a Lucha Libre mask with a zipper on his back (because fighting a gorilla isn’t ridiculous enough, apparently), two quasi-gay guys who kick serious ass, a group of shorter-than-average Power Rangers knock-offs with squeaky voices, and a fat cigar smoking demon who speaks Spanish for no adequately explained reason. It’s all rather insane and quite amusing. The game is also not too terribly profane, which works in the game’s favor, because when profanity DOES come up, you’re not ready for it and it’s just that much more amusing. The entire sequence of events with the aforementioned Power Rangers knock-offs, from their ridiculous poses to their stupid playing card themed names and incredibly pun-heavy dialogue, to Gene’s simple yet hysterical response, is collectively a work of comedic art, and I defy you to find something more amusing in a video game (well, one that’s “adult themed”Â; Earthbound is consistently as amusing as this is). I know I can’t.
So, what it all comes down to is this: God Hand has a mediocre story that is wrapped in solid writing and an awesome sense of humor. If you’re looking for something that does Fist of the North Star (a franchise that’s notorious for its terrible games) properly, you’re not going to get anything from this. But, if you’re cool with the wicked sense of humor and okay with the otherwise okay story, there’s a hell of a lot to love in God Hand. It’s surprisingly different, and in a damn good way.
Story Rating: 7/10
The graphics in God Hand are pretty decent, if not jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The character models all animate quite well, especially Gene, though he has a lot more animations than most of the enemies do, so one would expect this. It is nice to note that his animations all seem to flow into one another nicely, and considering how you can customize his fighting style (more on that later), this is no simple feat, so it’s good to see how much effort went into this. Gene also tends to look better than a lot of the enemy models, but the disparity isn’t as noticeable as in most games, which is positive. The environments all look different from one another, in many cases noticeably so; you could go from fighting in a rock cavern to fighting in an amusement park themed town or a nicely decorated mansion or what have you, and for the most part, they all look pretty good. There are some mild clipping issues here and there, though, and God Hand ultimately doesn’t look as good as something like Resident Evil 4 or other top-level graphical titles, but it does look quite nice overall, which is definitely a good thing.
Graphics Rating: 7/10
The music in God Hand is eclectic, in most cases; several of the tracks are of a distinct western themed surf rock, but in many cases the music goes in random directions, including some substantially more rocking tracks and a semi-disco sounding Elvis mock-up track (no, I’m not kidding). It’s a really fun musical arrangement, and most of the music is good enough that you might actually want to have a copy for yourself (though this is yet another game with no OST available, damn these people!), which is surprising.
The voice acting is mostly pretty good, as well, and while there aren’t really any stand-out performances (though Gene’s voice actor has his comedic timing down solid), nobody’s a flat-out failure either, which is really good. The sound effects are also very solid, and as most of them involve the act of making someone stop living with your fist, it’s good to see that the hits all sound convincing and powerful. All told, God Hand is yet another awesome aural experience, and you’ll certainly find it to be to your liking.
Sound Rating: 8/10
At its core, God Hand is, as I’ve said, a beat-em-up. You control Gene from a third-person behind-the-back perspective as you move him around the game world, and the camera is largely locked into this position. If you’ve played Resident Evil 4, you’re already familiar with this viewpoint, so you should be right at home. The left stick moves you around, and three of the face buttons are used for attacks; one is used for your combos, while the other two are designated for single-hit moves. Ideally, you would place long delay, high damage moves on the single hit buttons and fast multi-hit moves into your combo chain, but you’re more or less free to do whatever you want. The triggers are used to enable your God Hand power, use your Roulette Wheel, turn 180 degrees, and taunt, and the right stick is used for dodging. The controls are all largely responsive and feel pretty useful, but some explanation of what the holy hell I was just talking about might be in order, so let me get on with that before we lose track.
The first thing I should tell you is that all of your attacks are customizable. You can visit a shop (well, THE shop, seeing as how there’s only one) in between levels to purchase upgrades for Gene (including larger life and God Hand energy bars and larger combo chains) as well as new attack moves (there’s a Casino here as well, and if you need me to explain what that does, god help you). Attack moves come in many different types, each with different animation delays and effects (knockback, stun, gurad breaker, etc), and they can be slotted to two sets of locations: in the combo, which places them as part of a combination that pops up as you spam the button, or to one of the individual attack button sets (which include two singular buttons, as well as each of the three attack buttons and down). You can change your button assignments up at any time, so if you decide you don’t like your combo any more, modification is only two menus away, which is pretty cool. There’s also a wide variety of attacks to choose from, and more are added as you progress through the chapters, though attacks from later chapters tend to be patently better than ones from earlier chapters. Still, it’s a good idea and one that’s well implemented.
Dodging plays a very large role in your combat, as well. Basically, Gene cannot block attacks, at all, so if you want to not get punched in the face, you need to dodge. Flicking the right stick accomplishes this; flicking it backwards makes Gene do a backflip, left and right makes him sidestep in the appropriate direction, and forward makes him bob and weave. Learning when to dodge is a vital skill; doing so too early or late results in a pasting, but doing so just right leaves enemies swinging at air and wide open to an ass-whipping. This is the most important mechanic of the game, right here, and it adds a major amount of depth to what would otherwise be a shallow beat-em-up.
Of course, an over-the-top beat-em-up isn’t complete without over-the-top special attacks, and God Hand’s got them covered. There are two separate ways you can unleash hideous special damage: the Roulette Wheel, and unleashing the power of the God Hand. The former works simply enough: push a button, and the world slows down as a spinning list of your special attacks pops up, then select an attack from the list and the game unleashes hell for you. Depending on the attack chosen, you burn a set amount of specials (generally between one and three) to do it. What makes this interesting is that you will generally assemble a list of several of these attacks, then the game will pick a few at random and throw them onto the wheel, so you never know what you’re going to get. Occasionally, an attack called “Grovel”Â also pops up, which does what you’d expect: leaves you open to get smacked in the face. It’s a neat system that’s surprisingly effective. You can, as I noted, also unleash the power of the God Hand: as you fight, you build up a meter full of power which can be unleashed at the press of a button to allow you to unleash hell. Unleashing said power makes Gene’s arm spaz, and he basically attacks significantly faster and for greater damage, ALA Fist of the North Star. Of course, it only lasts for so long, but it’s still a very welcome addition.
And it’s a good thing Gene has all of these skills; he needs them to survive. Enemies are frequent and hit pretty hard, and if you don’t master the usage of these skills, you’re pretty much paste. God Hand ends up having a pretty frantic pace a lot of the time, simply because battles usually require you to be on top of everything going on; if you’re not unleashing combos, you’re breaking the opponent’s block, and if you’re not breaking their block, you’re dodging heavy blows. It’s very fast-paced and hectic, and it makes the game feel a lot better than it would otherwise. Boss battles also seek to liven things up a bit, and the odd demon will pop up here and there to cause trouble. The demons are particularly interesting; when enemies die, some will randomly arise as ethereal demons of immense power, which changes the world around you until you kill them. There’s not really a REASON for this, but it’s pretty cool, all in all.
Also, occasionally, you’ll bumble across little pixie-demons who offer you challenges, which range from beating up lots of guys in a certain amount of time to destroying an SUV, all for large cash prizes. Round that out with the casino games and the poison Chihuahua races (don’t ask) and you’ve got a lot of random crap you can do when you’re not busy, y’know, kicking ass.
So, alright, now that I’ve gushed immensely, what’s WRONG, you might ask? Well, the single biggest complaint I can levy against the game is that the camera takes some real getting used to. The RE4 camera, while it’s great, isn’t so much for God Hand; Gene turns like a tank, and it can be really difficult to do what you want to do in the first few stages. You’ll get used to it after a while, though, and the 180 turn button helps. The game also features an auto-lock on, but it tends to just kind of lock-on to whatever, which is something of a hassle when you’re targeting the wrong person. The game is, as noted, frantic, and combined with the difficulty of the title (even Easy is a touch challenging), you can easily become overwhelmed at times. And, sadly, if you’re not a fan of beat-em-ups, you might not like God Hand; while there’s a lot more depth to this than, say, Spike-Out, it can still get pretty repetitive.
Despite the negatives, though, God Hand remains a hell of a lot of fun. The gameplay is rock-solid, and even though there are some negatives to it, once you learn the fundamentals of the game, you’ll find a fun, entertaining gameplay experience inside. It has its flaws, true, but they’re negotiable, and the positives outweigh the negatives.
Control/Gameplay Rating: 7/10
There are multiple difficulty levels to challenge, unlocklable costumes and soundtracks to get, and a bunch of stuff to do in the Casino that will most likely bring you back for a second go. Beyond that, though, the fighting system is solid enough to merit going back to the game on its own. There’s something distinctly satisfying about the combat, and no matter how badly you smite the game on what difficulty, you’ll most likely find yourself coming back to the game just to goof around and destroy things. God Hand is one of the few games that retains replay value simply by being an amusing experience, and even if you do shelve it for a while, you’ll most likely find yourself jonesing for another go, if only to plow someone with a wicked DDT or to smack them across the screen with a wicked roundhouse.
Replayability Rating: 7/10
Okay, time to fess up: God Hand is kind of rough. You really need to learn how and when to dodge, or you’re dead as dead can be. Enemies will be more than willing to gang up on you, and even on the easiest difficulty setting, it’s a touch on the difficult side (though it’s not quite Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry 3 hard). That said, with practice and perseverance, you’ll find that the game, while difficult, isn’t cheap; if you can master the timing of dodging and mix up your combos, you can severely unleash your pimp hand upon the forces of evil. It can be challenging, I imagine, to tow the line between “difficult”Â and “cheap”Â, and God Hand does so admirably and without too much frustration. And hey, there are three difficulty settings (though you have to unlock “Hard”Â to play it), so even those that find Normal to be a cakewalk will have a challenge in store for them.
Balance Rating: 8/10
Can one call a product original when it spends half of its time making fun of other products? I’d like to think so. As a game, God Hand feels more than a little bit like Ninja Gaiden mixed with Final Fight, but the actual execution feels unique, and I can’t recall another beat-em-up that feels anything like it. The story is cliché, but the comedy built into it is fantastic, and gives the storytelling a unique feel many games seem to lack. All told, God Hand has a familiar feel, but it isn’t really quite like anything you’ve played before.
Originality Rating: 7/10
God Hand is a hell of a lot of fun to play, period. Beating the mess out of enemies with a fully customizable attack set is great, and being able to set up your own combos and attacks is great. The combat is a lot of fun, and whipping the crap out of the enemies, fighting your way past their defenses and destroying them utterly, is very satisfying. Between the solid gameplay and the amusing story bits, you’ll find yourself wanting to see what God Hand will throw at you next, and in both respects, you’re rarely disappointed.
Addictiveness Rating: 8/10
9. APPEAL FACTOR
On one hand, it’s Capcom. You all know Capcom, right? Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Onimusha, Mega Man, Street Fighter? Yeah, those guys. You know Capcom, and you know they tend to make good games. This is Capcom at their finest, what’s not to love?
On the other hand, God Hand can be punishing, especially to players of below average skill, and the beat-em-up genre hasn’t exactly been well received in the past several years. Make no mistake, God Hand is really good, but will it appeal to you? That’s hard to say. If you like challenging gameplay and beating the crap out of things, this is a highly enjoyable experience and should appeal to you, period. If you’re not looking for something to challenge them skills, though, or you’re just not thrilled with the idea of 3D Final Fight (or you bought Yakuza and hate me forever for recommending it), you might want to rent God Hand first, as it might not be what you’re looking for.
Appeal Rating: 5/10
All told, I enjoyed the hell out of God Hand, and continue to do so. In many respects, I can liken it to Yakuza; the beat-em-up gameplay is very similar, and both are very satisfying to play and very enjoyable. But it’s where the games differ that makes them both such great products; while Yakuza was a story driven game that drew a complex web of trickery and deception amongst its main characters and took itself very seriously (well, mostly), God Hand is the exact opposite: simple story that totally makes fun of itself and laughs heartily at every turn. God Hand is an entertaining, amusing, not-at-all serious game that’s a lot of fun to play and very humorous in design. Is it difficult? A bit, yeah. Is it perhaps a little limited, what with it being a beat-em-up? Well, I didn’t think so, but I can see how some might. But all told, it’s fun to whip the hell out of enemies, and you will laugh at least twice playing this. It’s absolutely worth playing through, and if you miss it, you’re missing one of the better games to come along this year.
Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10
Overall Score: 7.2/10
Final Score: 7.0 (GOOD).
Short Attention Span Summary
God Hand is a surprising title that’s unsurprisingly good. I haven’t played too many games this year that kept my interest entirely the whole way through, but God Hand definitely did that in spades. As a full-priced game, it’d be solid, but at $30, it’s flat-out awesome. A strong presentation, good sense of humor and entertaining gameplay system bring out the best in God Hand, and what flaws do exist are few and manageable. It’s not for everyone, but you should definitely check God Hand out, if not for the gameplay, for the distinct and entertaining humor.