It was during the sixth console generation when 3D action games finally came into their own. The beat em’ up genre itself was evolving in new and exciting ways, giving way to the likes of Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and even Dynasty Warriors realized its potential. Even The Warriors proved you could do a decent licensed game in the genre.
The genre was not without its growing pains. There were still some nasty stinkers like The Bouncer, or the utterly repugnant State of Emergency, that would pop up now and then. It was a magical time that saw a lot of experimentation and there would be one that would stand so tall that it would defy all conventions.
God Hand was and still is so unique that there is still nothing else like it. At the time it bewildered many professional reviewers and it took a years before it found its audience.
Developer: Clover Studio
Platforms: PlayStation 2 (reviewed), PlayStation 3 (via PSN download)
Release Date: September 14, 2006
Clover Studio was a branch of Capcom that fostered some of the greatest talent the gaming industry has ever seen. While this studio produced some of the best games on the sixth console generation, the team would be reborn as PlatinumGames. So much of their panache is still very evident in God Hand.
The very first thing that happens is a very unusual cutscene, with bizarre dialogue and a very obscure reference to Fist of the North Star. God Hand wears its influences loud and proudly on its sleeve. There are frequent quotes and references to things Mike Tyson had said in the past, and hearing basic enemies blurt these phrases out is completely surreal.
Playing God Hand is an assault on the senses. It is a very hardcore beat em’ up that manages to push the player to their physical limits. It is both hilarious and intense at the same time. It is almost as if you have opened up the Lament Configuration, but Japanese comedians have come instead of the cenobites.
The comedic cutscenes are a reprieve from the pulse pounding and sweaty combat, which is the closest gaming has ever come to being a pure martial arts sim. Gene’s puglisit style is mostly suited for one on one combat, but that does not mean he won’t be up against several thugs at once.
It is on the player to concentrate on a target, and to mind their surroundings with the help of a very useful radar system. Getting Gene to keep bullies in view is simple since he turns like a turret, and the camera is always locked behind him. It’s made even simpler thanks to L1 dedicated to making a 180 degree spin.
It is a bit confusing for those who are accustomed to most modern games which default camera control to the right analogue stick. In God Hand, it proves you don’t need it. Instead, the right analogue is dedicated to sidestepping, back flipping and dodging; making Gene’s defenses impregnable.
Compounded with basic movement functions and punching or kicking is the “Level Up” mechanics. The leveling system is actually a dynamic difficulty modifier that fluctuates depending on how good you are doing. Effective at dodging and landing hits? The game will get spicier.
This will go all the way to “Level Die” (actually 4) and the longer you maintain a high difficulty level, the more money earned. Money is what Gene needs for upgrading and buying more moves for his combo builder. If you struggle at earning money this way, Gene could always take his chances at the Black Jack tables or play some slots at the Casino intermission area.
Gene’s moveset is customizable with the various scrolls containing different moves he can equip for certain inputs. Every attack has its own animation, which comes with its own speed. Furthermore every move has its own attack rating, and sometimes added effects like launching or guard breaking.
Pimp slaps, haymakers, donkey-kicks, leg sweeps, and beyond; there is almost nothing Gene can’t do. Carefully assembling a chain is how players can express themselves in the combat. The combinations are endless and if you take the time, you can create some chains that can completely break the game.
Aside from pummeling punks and spanking tramps, Gene does have a suite of super moves in the form of his Roulette Attacks. Each of these have their own use in combat. Some being close or long range, and others are for specific purposes like the Ball Buster or Groveling which lowers Gene’s level to something easier.
There is always a purpose for each of the Roulette move, and there are a limited amount that can be equipped. God Hand respects the player enough to formulate a strategy and decide how to freely customize Gene.
Since God Hand is from same house that gave us Devil May Cry, it is not surprising that Gene has his own take on the “Devil Trigger”. Unlike Dante’s transformation, when Gene activates his God Hand, functions more like a safety net than a means to increase style.
When using the God Hand, Gene’s health slowly regenerates and deals more damage. He moves faster, basic attacks can break guard, and a rocking surfing tune kicks in. It takes a while to recharge and is best saved for emergencies.
The absurdity of the action and intense speed the game moves can be a bit much at times, often leading to some actual sore muscles after extended play. This is on top of a challenging game with lengthy encounters, making trips to the casino feel like a well-earned breather.
God Hand‘s visuals are a mixed bag. Characters look excellent and have very detailed animations. The environments on the other hand are very simple and sparse. Textures are typically rough and the colors are often drab.
Everyone looks like a sweaty punk or thug from Fist of the North Star. Faces are detailed and have facial expressions that tell you everything you need to know about the character. God Hand uses the lack of subtlety for comedic effect.
Character models look so good they end up clashing with the environments that look like something out of an N64 game. Details in the setting are typically blocky, and look comically oversized when compared to everything else.
It all adds to the insane charm of the experience. God Hand is not coy about the fact that it is a video game, and some of its weird visual flair is seemingly intentional.
The music is unlike anything ever made for a video game. There is a huge variety of compositions that range many styles; rockabilly, 1960’s surfing, and even track that evokes the vibe of retro super sentai heroes.
You haven’t heard anything until you have witnessed the closing credits original song. This piece of music is the ultimate reward for beating the game, and it is totally worth it. Not only is it hilarious, but it is legitimately an amazing song that flawlessly gets you excited for fighting.
Even the professional voice actors are well aware of the kind of game they are apart of and really ham it up. The performer who does the voice of the rotund Elvis is especially amazing at bringing to life this weird Asian monk, with a heavy Mexican accent who is dressed like a mariachi singer at a white wedding.
God Hand is more than just going through levels. The Barely Regal does have the aforementioned Black Jack and a few other distractions. There are chihuahua races to bet on, and specially designed arena challenges- more than 50 of them.
Trying to conquer the colosseum is almost a game in itself. The entire God Hand package is enormous and generous; a holdover from another time when game developers wanted their shipped product to have value.
When God Hand first came out in 2006, Capcom released it at an unusually low price of $29.99. Physical copies have since appreciated in value in a big way, often fetching prices higher than $100.
God Hand‘s cult status has barely kept it alive. Unfortunately, it has remained elusive and exclusive on PlayStation 2. The only other way to play it is on PlayStation 3 via a PSN digital download, which goes for $9.99 these days.
To this day, fans have been hoping for Gene to make his comeback. Whether it’s as a slot in the next Marvel Vs Capcom, or a sequel; maybe gamers are finally ready for God Hand to make its triumphant return.
God Hand was reviewed on PlayStation 2 using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.