Let’s get this out of the way first. The camera takes getting used to, the humor is so over-the-top that some players may not like it, and the box doesn’t say a whole lot about its gameplay. While touted as “hard but fair”, the game can be much harder than fair reminding me of The Last Battle for the Genesis. With that said, the chaotic action found in the beat ’em up from Clover Studios and Capcom could have been inspired by the ultra bloody manga/anime serial Fist of the North Star but it’s told with a bloodless nod to the Three Stooges. It’s Parodius, but with fists and footwork. While that might not be for everybody, beat ’em up fans may not care when they send people flying all over the place in God Hand.
God Hand kicked my PS2 into orbit.
Fist of the North Stooge
Anime and manga fans of Fist of the North Star will find a lot to like in God Hand as it pays a lot of lip service to the series in its setting, but that’s where the similarities end. For an “M” rated, violent foray into fatality inducing fisticuffs, there isn’t a drop of red ichor to be found anywhere. If you have no idea what Fist of the North Star is, don’t worry. Think of God Hand as the Spaceballs to the beat ’em up genre as it pokes fun at itself and games in general as a lighthearted post-apocalyptic beat ’em up. It may also be the only game where you’ll find Power Ranger midgets that want to kill you.
As for the story, it keeps things short and sweet in order to keep the player focused on the fighting. In the distant past, a powerful demonic lord named Angra was thrown down by a man with the power of god within his arms. The man became known as the God Hand and the power contained within those arms were passed down in secret, protected by a clan who kept the Godhands. Whoever possessed them could become a god or a demon.
Enter Gene, a dusty traveler with a good heart who loses his arm to punks after defending a girl from a fate worse than death. The girl that he saves, Olivia, happens to be the safekeeper of one of the fabled God Hands and trusting the man that had helped her, replaces Gene’s missing arm. Armed with godlike fighting power, Gene and Olivia head out on their journey of doing good only to find that everyone wants what he now has.
“My Style is Impetuous!”
The story is just a placeholder for the action and doesn’t really take itself seriously aside from a few moments where it has to. If you’re looking for a brawler that is actually going to give you an epiphany, don’t look here. God Hand is a running gag reel from beginning to end complete with an audience track. If this type of humor isn’t what you want to play by, you’re going to hate it after spending several hours with the game. But it does offer a deep beat ’em up engine that can make button mashers look like superstars which is where the real fun is found.
Every level is broken up into several areas that Gene can explore. They’re not all that large, although they’re stuffed with bad guys. There are a lot of breakable items that can be smashed open for goodies and opportunities to rescue the occasional helpless person. The levels are also filled with a variety of challenges and traps, not all of which are the same, along with the occasional mini-game. For the most part, the levels in the game felt like they were part of a fighting fun park.
The fighting controls make dishing out the damage a simple affair which is good considering how challenging the fights can be. Movement is handled with the left stick, and dodging is handled with the right allowing the God Hand to slide out of trouble or dodge like the Man with Seven Wounds. The game camera, though, is pretty awful. It’s always pointed in the direction that Gene is looking at and can feel pretty clumsy in trying to get it to look at enemies that may get behind him or lurk just outside his peripheral vision. Fortunately, Gene usually homes in on whoever is closest to him with his fists making some of the aiming effort easier to handle once you swing him around.
Gene starts out with a stable of basic moves that will grow as he finds or buys more during the game giving you more options for creating your own fighting style combinations by changing up the button pad assignments. Button mashers can celebrate with the square button as you can string several moves in whatever devastating combo you want to build and execute them with ease. With over 114 techniques that can be found in the game, there’s a lot of potential to the combos that players can come up with with the square button alone not to mention combining that with attacks from the other buttons. You can even switch up your move assignments in the middle of battle, changing them to adapt whatever you might be fighting. It would have been nice if there was an option to save different combo profiles, though, but the customization system works out pretty well even without it.
As the God Hand, Gene can unleash its power to temporarily make himself invincible, enhancing the power of his moves and giving him lightning speed thanks to a tension gauge that he can build by pounding foes and taunting their egos. He also has what are called “Roulette” moves that can unleash truly devastating attacks by consuming roulette orbs that are collected. Some moves take only one orb while exceptionally powerful techniques can take two or three to pull off. When you have enough orbs and start the “roulette”, time slows down all around Gene allowing the player to scroll through the list of moves that they can use. It’s a one way spin, but players can always cancel out of it if they miss what they want. And time doesn’t come to complete stop, it only slows down, so it’s entirely possible to get hit while scrolling through the choices.
Many of the moves seem to be straight out of an anime martial arts masterpiece and Clover’s artists have managed to make them look as good onscreen as they can be insane, with some literally sending bad guys into the stratosphere. While fighting, Gene will also be able counter, suplex, pummel, curb stomp, or punch balls when the a kind of “hot spot” opportunity comes up. For whatever reason, though, Gene can’t grab his foes outside of those context sensitive moments. But in a nod to the beat ’em ups of yesteryear, he can grab a ton of items in the game to use as weapons. Crates, pots, and even umbrellas can be used as throwable weapons while others can be used to smash the bones of whoever is in your way. The weapons that you can use don’t last forever, but they can give you an edge when you need them.
The difficulty of the game also scales with how well, or how badly, the player does. The more thugs you mow down without getting hurt, the harder it gets. If you eat knuckles, the difficulty adjustment decreases until it hits the default. The system works out pretty well, but it can get you into trouble if you suddenly find yourself surrounded by several powerful foes that have no problem in attacking you without waiting for their friends. There are bonuses for defeating foes at higher levels, though, awarded finishing the level making it something to aim for.
As if that wasn’t enough, enemies may randomly spawn a demon when they die. These aren’t easy to beat and can really ruin your run through an area. Sometimes Gene will be able to cruise through a level without encountering one of these deadly creatures, and sometimes they’ll spawn right when you least expect it towards the end just as you reach that last doorway to the next area. Defeating them gives the player some nice rewards, though, such as new technique, but they can also be a source of extreme frustration. Regular enemies will also occasionally drop goodies such as healing items, but these are also random events that may not go your way when you really need them.
In between areas, players will also get a chance to visit a store to buy new techniques, gamble their hard earned gold at the casino for prizes, or fight in an arena. They can also save what progress they’ve made up to that point. The game doesn’t refill your life bar, though, so if you get to this point and are pretty messed up, you’re going to stay this way when you continue on. When you die, though, the game’s “fairness” comes around allowing you to continue from an internal checkpoint with full health. Sometimes it’s better to die and then start up again for this refresher, but the game also tracks how many times you’ve continued which hits the bonus that you might get at the end of the level. With gold somewhat hard to come by unless you want to spend time gambling, it’s something that players will want to try and avoid as much as they can which is easier said than done.
“Ah, Finally. A Boss Fight!”
The world of God Hand, much like the story, is just one, huge arena for Gene to kick ass up and down its dusty paths. Don’t expect too much out of the graphics, though, as they’re pretty much there just to provide a venue for the violence that Gene will visit on everyone that comes after him. They’re not awful to look at, but don’t expect them to set any new benchmarks, either. It’s also not the most technically polished, as the camera swings into some of the buildings and literally clips through the walls.
Clover’s characters in God Hand might bring a tear to Capcom’s beat ’em up fans as Gene runs into everything from whip toting femme fatales, obese ninja assassins, and sword students that come out doors that appear from thin air to turn Gene into juicy sushi. The boss battles, in particular, look good and are brutally challenging. From grandstanding guitar mercenaries to a pimp and his ladies, Clover will throw some of the craziest bosses at the player in true Capcom boss building fashion. Gene and company also look just as good as the foes that come for them and stand out from the somewhat simplistic backdrops that they usually find themselves in.
The all English voice acting is pretty good as long as you can remember that it’s delivering the corny dialog that makes up the slapstick narrative. Much of the dialog is pretty cheesy, and that’s probably by design along with most everything else. Much of the humor also has a distinct flavor to it that anime fans will be most familiar with and that is probably what will turn quite a few players off of the game. If anything, God Hand plays off a lot like an old anime serial from the eighties or early nineties, complete with outrageous characters and an even crazier plot which some players may not appreciate.
The sounds in the game are pretty good in delivering every punch to your speakers and every laugh from the audience track whenever something really good or really bad happens to Gene, but the music is what helps to give the gameplay a personality of its own. Masafumi Takada and company have put together a colorfully diverse mix of styles from the Hawaii Five-O flavored theme song to the bubbly girly synth announcing the succubus that wants to make Gene her love toy, embracing extremes that range from loose, slapstick pop that matches the frenetic gameplay and inspired setting to the epic chorus accompanying the final fight. It even has its own ending track complete with the kind of offbeat lyrics that Weird Al Yankovic probably dreams about.
Smashing Open Doors
God Hand has a lot going for it, but can be a harsh experience for players not expecting its difficulty. While you can continue as many times as you want, it doesn’t mean that it will make things easier. You can choose between Easy and Normal, but the difficulty in either of these default choices still makes things challenging and players are going to die plenty of times. The boss battles, in particular, are brutal, old-school affairs that nostalgic players may take to. But casual players used to carrying a heap of healing items or wearing suits of armor into battle in other titles may not like how harsh God Hand can be. Healing items and roulette orbs are often few and far between which can easily make things much harder than they are. Their random appearances made several fights hinge on the chance whether a crate held a bunch of bananas or leave him with nothing.
God Hand‘s homage to the beat ’em up genre also shares a lot of their old school charm which also narrows its appeal. It tries to mix up the groups of bad guys that come for you to keep things feeling fresh, although it’s not always successful and it can get repetitive in having to beat everyone down in your way. Some of the difficulty is also due not to what the game throws at you, but due to the dodgy camera as bad guys can come from behind Gene’s third person view and hit you before you even know where they are. Although you don’t have to beat down everyone that you encounter in the game, especially if you’ve found that key to the next area or just have to make it out alive, there are occasions where you’ll be forced to deal with everyone before moving ahead.
“The Godhand Helps Me Work Off My Stress!”
Playing God Hand was an experience that filled with a lot of frustration, but it was still a lot more fun. It’s definitely beat ’em up fanservice catering to the genre’s fans while poking fun at itself. Despite its issues, it’s still loaded with enough crazy action and music spread across several hours worth of play, but its brutal difficulty and narrow appeal is not something that is trying to make fans out of everyone. Still, if you’re the kind of gamer that misses the days of Streets of Rage or you find yourself reading police reports in the daily paper for mention of the Mad Gear Gang, or are just looking for a challenging beat ’em up title without breaking the bank, you may want to spank, suplex, and head slice your way through Clover’s God Hand. It’s a crazy ride.
– World 1-1