God Hand Review

☆☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
  
Most people know of God Hand for the PlayStation 2, developed by the late Clover Studio, not as one of Shinji Mikami's masterpieces ranking alongside, or perhaps even above his Resident Evil 4 in quality, but as either a stiff, ugly mess of a game not worth anyone's time, or a game whose main appeal lies in its abundance of ridiculous, referential cutscenes and its hilarious ending theme. This is one of the most unfortunate misunderstandings in recent video game history. God Hand is not an especially beautiful game, but it is only stiff for the 30 minutes or so it takes to get used to its controls (just like Resident Evil 4 -- in fact, the camera and the basic movement controls in God Hand are identical to those in that game), and while the cutscenes and the ending theme are undeniably funny, they are by no means the best thing about the game. No, God Hand is, quite simply, possibly the best 3D beat 'em up ever made, surpassing even such games as Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden Black in quality.

This game lets you spank women... 
So what is it that makes this obscure, poorly-selling game, seen by many as a joke (both literally and figuratively), so good? Well, for one, the brilliant dodging system. Dodging is done with the right analogue stick: pressing forward makes the main character, Gene, perform a lightning-fast duck, pressing right or left makes him side-step, and pressing back makes him do a backwards somersault. This is the cornerstone of the game's combat. Gene fights only with his bare fists (the right of which is the titular god hand) and his feet, and as a result, his range is not that of his weapon-wielding contemporaries (Ryu, Dante, Kratos et cetera). The game is all about getting right up in an enemy's face, dodging his flurry of punches with a series of quick ducks (or, if he attacks in a fashion that necessitates it, a side-step or a back-flip) -- which, by the way, incites an invisible audience's cheers; a nice touch that gets you pumped for your counterattack -- and then, when he lets his guard down for a split-second, punching away. Eventually he'll start blocking, at which point you want to quickly use your special guard break attack (keep up the regular attacks for too long while an enemy is blocking, and he'll make you stagger and kick your ass), keep punching until he's dizzy, and then mash whatever button starts flashing on the screen as fast as you can to initiate a long series of punches, kicks, stomps or spanks (for the female enemies -- kinky!) dealing tons of damage.

...and kick dudes in the nuts... 
It sounds simple, and it is when you're only fighting one enemy. Usually, however, you're fighting at least three, and it's this that makes the dodging system far more than just a replacement for blocking: in order to evade all attacks and manipulate a crowd of enemies into a situation allowing you to engage one of them uninterrupted, you need to constantly make quick, precise movements -- in other words, you have to side-step and back-flip like a madman. The environment also factors in: often, boxes and explosive barrels that can be thrown at enemies from afar are lying around, and positioning yourself in a corner or at a wall can be a good way to stop enemies from surrounding you. Boxes, by the way, contain healing fruits, money (necessary to purchase stronger attacks in a shop you get to access between stages) and cards. Cards decorated with bikini girls fill your tension gauge (which, when full, lets you unleash the divine power residing in Gene's right arm: this temporarily makes you invincible, and dramatically increases your speed and damage output -- the gauge, by the way, doesn't have to be filled via bikini girl cards; attacking enemies fills it, too, albeit far more slowly), while cards with skulls give you roulette orbs. At any point in combat, provided you have enough roulette orbs, you can temporarily slow down time to pick a powerful attack from a roulette wheel, which Gene will then perform.
 
So that's the combat system: frantic and fun, requiring fast reflexes and lots of on-the-fly strategizing. And the difficulty curve? The difficulty curve is absolutely spot-on, thanks to Clover's masterstroke: the dynamic difficulty system. In the lower left corner of the screen, there is a gauge. This gauge goes up when you deal damage to enemies, and down when enemies deal damage to you. There are four difficulty levels (1, 2, 3 and Die -- the last one being a pun, as the Japanese word for "four" is pronounced exactly the same way as the word for "death"), and every time the gauge completely fills or empties, it goes up or down a level. It's a simple system that's been around in arcade shoot 'em ups for a while (it's there known as "rank"), but God Hand is the first 3D beat 'em up to use it, and it's absolutely ingenious; the way enemy speed, strength and aggression constantly adapts to your ability ensures that the game stays challenging -- and, as a result, engaging and satisfying -- from the very beginning to the very end. It's kind of like a good martial arts teacher in the way it constantly spurs you to do better: whenever you do well enough to start feeling cocky, it raises the difficulty and puts you in your place, and whenever you get your ass kicked for a prolonged period of time, it lowers it and lets you relax for a short while before increasing it again.

...and if you still aren't convinced it's awesome, check this promotional artwork out. That dude is being punched THROUGH HIS MOUTH.
As for the aesthetics: the graphics are, as I've mentioned, not especially good. Gene is detailed and well-animated, but all the enemy models are plain, and there is a roughness and a featurelessness to the environments usually only seen in pre-alpha code. The sound, on the other hand, is genuinely brilliant. The background music is goofy, but has groove, and does a great job of getting your adrenaline pumping when it needs to; the invisible audience that cheers and boos depending on how you're doing adds tons of character to the game; and the ridiculous voice acting complements the intentionally cheesy writing very well indeed. The game's famous humour warrants mention, too: it's absolutely fantastic, and incorporates great references to everything from movies and video games to boxers and obscene sexual acts.

And that's God Hand. Clover's funniest game; their most challenging game; their most mechanically sophisticated game; their best game -- but also their most misunderstood, because of its rough graphics and its relatively long learning curve. Don't let the nay-sayers and the fans who praise only the humour fool you. The game is wonderful, and if there is so much as a molecule in your body that appreciates 3D beat 'em ups, you absolutely need to play it.
23 Comments
23 Comments
Edited by Icemael

☆☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
  
Most people know of God Hand for the PlayStation 2, developed by the late Clover Studio, not as one of Shinji Mikami's masterpieces ranking alongside, or perhaps even above his Resident Evil 4 in quality, but as either a stiff, ugly mess of a game not worth anyone's time, or a game whose main appeal lies in its abundance of ridiculous, referential cutscenes and its hilarious ending theme. This is one of the most unfortunate misunderstandings in recent video game history. God Hand is not an especially beautiful game, but it is only stiff for the 30 minutes or so it takes to get used to its controls (just like Resident Evil 4 -- in fact, the camera and the basic movement controls in God Hand are identical to those in that game), and while the cutscenes and the ending theme are undeniably funny, they are by no means the best thing about the game. No, God Hand is, quite simply, possibly the best 3D beat 'em up ever made, surpassing even such games as Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden Black in quality.

This game lets you spank women... 
So what is it that makes this obscure, poorly-selling game, seen by many as a joke (both literally and figuratively), so good? Well, for one, the brilliant dodging system. Dodging is done with the right analogue stick: pressing forward makes the main character, Gene, perform a lightning-fast duck, pressing right or left makes him side-step, and pressing back makes him do a backwards somersault. This is the cornerstone of the game's combat. Gene fights only with his bare fists (the right of which is the titular god hand) and his feet, and as a result, his range is not that of his weapon-wielding contemporaries (Ryu, Dante, Kratos et cetera). The game is all about getting right up in an enemy's face, dodging his flurry of punches with a series of quick ducks (or, if he attacks in a fashion that necessitates it, a side-step or a back-flip) -- which, by the way, incites an invisible audience's cheers; a nice touch that gets you pumped for your counterattack -- and then, when he lets his guard down for a split-second, punching away. Eventually he'll start blocking, at which point you want to quickly use your special guard break attack (keep up the regular attacks for too long while an enemy is blocking, and he'll make you stagger and kick your ass), keep punching until he's dizzy, and then mash whatever button starts flashing on the screen as fast as you can to initiate a long series of punches, kicks, stomps or spanks (for the female enemies -- kinky!) dealing tons of damage.

...and kick dudes in the nuts... 
It sounds simple, and it is when you're only fighting one enemy. Usually, however, you're fighting at least three, and it's this that makes the dodging system far more than just a replacement for blocking: in order to evade all attacks and manipulate a crowd of enemies into a situation allowing you to engage one of them uninterrupted, you need to constantly make quick, precise movements -- in other words, you have to side-step and back-flip like a madman. The environment also factors in: often, boxes and explosive barrels that can be thrown at enemies from afar are lying around, and positioning yourself in a corner or at a wall can be a good way to stop enemies from surrounding you. Boxes, by the way, contain healing fruits, money (necessary to purchase stronger attacks in a shop you get to access between stages) and cards. Cards decorated with bikini girls fill your tension gauge (which, when full, lets you unleash the divine power residing in Gene's right arm: this temporarily makes you invincible, and dramatically increases your speed and damage output -- the gauge, by the way, doesn't have to be filled via bikini girl cards; attacking enemies fills it, too, albeit far more slowly), while cards with skulls give you roulette orbs. At any point in combat, provided you have enough roulette orbs, you can temporarily slow down time to pick a powerful attack from a roulette wheel, which Gene will then perform.
 
So that's the combat system: frantic and fun, requiring fast reflexes and lots of on-the-fly strategizing. And the difficulty curve? The difficulty curve is absolutely spot-on, thanks to Clover's masterstroke: the dynamic difficulty system. In the lower left corner of the screen, there is a gauge. This gauge goes up when you deal damage to enemies, and down when enemies deal damage to you. There are four difficulty levels (1, 2, 3 and Die -- the last one being a pun, as the Japanese word for "four" is pronounced exactly the same way as the word for "death"), and every time the gauge completely fills or empties, it goes up or down a level. It's a simple system that's been around in arcade shoot 'em ups for a while (it's there known as "rank"), but God Hand is the first 3D beat 'em up to use it, and it's absolutely ingenious; the way enemy speed, strength and aggression constantly adapts to your ability ensures that the game stays challenging -- and, as a result, engaging and satisfying -- from the very beginning to the very end. It's kind of like a good martial arts teacher in the way it constantly spurs you to do better: whenever you do well enough to start feeling cocky, it raises the difficulty and puts you in your place, and whenever you get your ass kicked for a prolonged period of time, it lowers it and lets you relax for a short while before increasing it again.

...and if you still aren't convinced it's awesome, check this promotional artwork out. That dude is being punched THROUGH HIS MOUTH.
As for the aesthetics: the graphics are, as I've mentioned, not especially good. Gene is detailed and well-animated, but all the enemy models are plain, and there is a roughness and a featurelessness to the environments usually only seen in pre-alpha code. The sound, on the other hand, is genuinely brilliant. The background music is goofy, but has groove, and does a great job of getting your adrenaline pumping when it needs to; the invisible audience that cheers and boos depending on how you're doing adds tons of character to the game; and the ridiculous voice acting complements the intentionally cheesy writing very well indeed. The game's famous humour warrants mention, too: it's absolutely fantastic, and incorporates great references to everything from movies and video games to boxers and obscene sexual acts.

And that's God Hand. Clover's funniest game; their most challenging game; their most mechanically sophisticated game; their best game -- but also their most misunderstood, because of its rough graphics and its relatively long learning curve. Don't let the nay-sayers and the fans who praise only the humour fool you. The game is wonderful, and if there is so much as a molecule in your body that appreciates 3D beat 'em ups, you absolutely need to play it.
Edited by Underachiever007

Good review. I don't know if it's Clover's best game, but it's certainly up there. 
 
It also features my favorite combat system of any game ever.

Posted by Claude

Your review reads well. Excellent actually, but no pictures. That turns me off.

Posted by Icemael
@Claude: I'm not a big fan of pictures in reviews, but I suppose I can throw some in and see how it looks. I'll just need to find some good screenshots.
Posted by Claude
@Icemael said:
" @Claude: I'm not a big fan of pictures in reviews, but I suppose I can throw some in and see how it looks. I'll just need to find some good screenshots. "
They don't have to be screenshots. Let your words describe your image. Have some fun.
Posted by Yummylee

A well detailed review, and one I agree with on most points. The humour is the part were I'm more iffy towards since I found most of it to be a long line of hit n misses; especially with a lot of the banter with Gene and that eye candy sidekick of his. Elvis was pretty funny, at least. As well as the Demon boss since hearing his voice always reminded me of Spottwoode from Team America.
 
Unfortunately, I find it pretty tough to stay stuck in Godhand nowadays. The environments were bad to begin with, but after all these years they've become a real eye sore. I don't stray away from games because of graphics, but Godhand's are so dry and practically devoid of life. 
 
All in all, it was an awesome game and one I'm glad I caught up when it still rather new.

Posted by Enigma777

I'll always remember this game as the one that broke up Clover. However with Platinum knocking it out of the park lately, that might not be a bad thing, though I'd love a true, full-featured sequel to Okami...

Online
Posted by ShiftyMagician
@Claude said:
" @Icemael said:
" @Claude: I'm not a big fan of pictures in reviews, but I suppose I can throw some in and see how it looks. I'll just need to find some good screenshots. "
They don't have to be screenshots. Let your words describe your image. Have some fun. "
But not too much fun.  We don't want you to take that literally and make some ascii art in this joint hehehe.
Posted by Icemael

Images added.

Posted by Claude
@Icemael said:
" Images added. "
Holy shit. That changes everything.
Posted by Psykhophear

Yeah, the graphics aren't that impressive by today's standard but other than that, God Hand is amazing. I love the music, the humor and the gameplay.

Posted by Slaker117

Well written, nice job.
 
One question though, is this game art?

Posted by csl316

gotta say that all I needed to see was the ad.  sold!
 
(and the fact that Clover kinda became Platinum Games helps.  those guys are kings)

Online
Posted by Claude
@Slaker117 said:
" Well written, nice job.
 
One question though, is this game art? "
I never played the game, but this review is art. Can't you see it?
Edited by Icemael
@Slaker117 said:

" One question though, is this game art? "

Yes. In fact, according to my wondrous and incredibly accurate art-o-meter, it's exactly 8.56% more art that Gears of War. Just look at the promotional artwork! A dude with a collar and a Capcom tattoo being killed by a phallic object entering his mouth... very symbolic indeed. What Clover was trying to tell us with that image, was that Capcom are secretly keeping male slave prostitutes, who they tattoo to make sure all the other pimps knows they're their property, and that many of these male prostitutes tragically choke to death when giving oral sex to customers. This is why Clover was let go, by the way. After the game's release, Capcom saw that Mikami and friends were trying to expose their illegal, evil, dick-sucking ways, and promptly fired them.

So yeah, this game is very art indeed. I mean, if trying to save fellow men from the cruel fate of choking to death on dicks isn't art, I don't know what is.
Posted by Slaker117
@Icemael:  Wow, that is quite a bit of artfulness. Thank you for shedding light on this horrific act.
 
But seriously, nice review. Well written and informative. Can't ask for much more.
Posted by Gwendolyn

A good review of a good game.

Posted by Fallen189

You forgot this 
 
  

Posted by Napalm

I fucking love God Hand, and I am greatly excite that you posted this. I love you.

Posted by SlightConfuse
@Napalm said:
" I fucking love God Hand, and I am greatly excite that you posted this. I love you. "
my thoughts exactly
Posted by Icemael
@Fallen189: Never gets old.
Posted by Sayishere

*Looks at Chie* 
 
GO GIRL!

Posted by JJWeatherman

 you absolutely need to play it.    

Well, fuck. I'm convinced. I have a lonely PS2 sitting in front of my TV never being used anyhow. May as well put it to use with an interesting game. I wonder if I'll be able to find it.  :/
 
Good review btw.