When Clover Studio was ultimately closed by Capcom, they left us with two games; Okami and God Hand. The former gained quite a bit of attention, at least from the gamer press and enthusiasts, and it is not hard to see why. The game sported lush, unique visuals, safe Zelda style gameplay, and a universe steeped in Japanese mythology (which seems to be all the rage these days with the kids). While I can’t say anything of the sales numbers, it certainly left an impression with the community’s most critical.
This wasn’t at all the situation with God Hand. Here was a title with with crummy visuals, a strange sense of humor and style, “tank like controls” and seemingly outdated beat ’em up gameplay. How could this game have been made by the same people behind the lush and elegant Okami? The answer is simple. God Hand doesn’t really do anything to attract the player to its cause. Its a crude, harsh game that taunts you for playing on easy and doesn’t give a shit about millions of polygons. It is made not simply by Clover (who likely knew of their closure during development), but by Clover members led by an angry Shinji Mikami, who himself was leaving Capcom. God Hand is a big “fuck you” to gaming, to those who don’t understand the simple task it is trying to accomplish, and to those who have become soft in a new generation of players.
Second, many gamers are simply judging a book by its cover. As soon as they see the generic baddies and flurries of punches, they assume they’ve seen it before. They seem to instantly forget that this is the same Clover that made Okami, the same Clover that made Viewtiful Joe (another beat ’em up that they probably all liked), and the same Mikami that not long ago gave us a Game of the Year. God Hand isn’t the kindest kid on the block, but it is one of the most challenging, rewarding and thrilling experiences the PS2 saw in 2006.
You have to step into God Hand with the right knowledge and understanding of how the combat works. If you quickly assume that it is a repetitive, static game similar to its ancestors, you are going to die. If you don’t realize that its options for evasion lie in dodges rather than blocks, you are going to be die. If you can’t grasp the fact that its “tank like controls” are simply a slower version of Resident Evil 4’s (complete with context sensitive suplexes and counters), its not going to be easy to figure out what you can and cannot do. But if you can, things change quite drastically. You will be able to see how wonderfully deep and elegant the combat engine is.
Your move set consists of a few single attacks mapped to each button, and one long combo attached to square, and all of them can be fully customized with any of the 150 or so moves you’ve unlocked. Creating the right combo for a given situation is the single most important factor in how difficult the God Hand becomes. If you can judge damage, distance, guard breaks and stun opportunities, your opponents won’t have a chance. If on the other hand you rarely tweak your techniques, and simply go for what looks strongest, enemies aren’t going to give you a break.
You also need to know your dodges. Our hero Gene may not know how to block, but he can quickly duck, weave and flip with a flick of the right stick. These dodges are safe and effective, requiring only that you can see the move coming. They won’t work all the time, as it is still possible to be struck with an off camera blow, but if you don’t use them at all, don’t expect to last that long.
There are more factors to consider during battle. You need to know when to spend your Roulette Orbs for a powerful move, as well as which move will work best. You need to know when to use your God Hand to deliver a short burst of free damage. You need to find the most efficient ways to land suplexes and pummels (which hurt like hell and keep you from being hit). You can try to use the walls and highly destructive environment to deliver extra damage, and must make the best use of what you are given, since you never know whether a group of crates will turn up healing items or a flurry of gold. Speaking of gold, you might want to spend it wisely on both stat upgrades and moves.
That is, unless you’re good enough to enter the fighting arena and earn some free money. Or just be risky and gamble at the casino.
Think God Hand is a simplistic beat ’em up? In reality it is a fierce evolution of the genre, a game that forces you to account for a large number of variables and to keep track of everything in your environment (even if you can’t see it). All of this while your foes are trying to land very powerful blows. It is a classic genre brought into the modern world by offering a natural evolution that no one else had simply bothered to deal with before. This, however, is coupled with a decidedly old perspective on difficulty. God Hand certainly rewards those who play with skill, but even then there’s no telling when it will throw a bad hand your way. Sometimes it will lead to inevitable death, and others to a hard earned victory. Whatever happens, it doesn’t want you to lose; it just wants you to man up and give it your best no matter what the situation. Do that, and you will find a way to succeed, to feel like a king. To feel like a gamer.
After that, who knows? Maybe you’ll enjoy the game’s burlesque world of booze, broads, surf rock and Rick James jokes. Hopefully you will laugh at the ridiculous pirate ship minigame, or at the fact that Capcom is clever enough to give the racing chihuahuas names like “massive damage”. The point is, there must be people other than me who yearn for a game that’s deeper than Double Dragon and also features pimp slaps. God Hand is that game and more.
If you want to swing for the fences, screw gods and calligraphy; consider this your boomstick.