I am sure that those of you who decided to purchase a PS2 spent many, many hours playing different titles of its enormous library. Like all systems that have a huge variety of games, some of them are excellent, some are very good, a few just ok and quite a bunch plain horrid. Well, there is a category that we seldom overlook, and that’s the one containing the hidden gems. Tonight I want to rescue a title that didn’t sell well, but remains one of my favourite PS2 games. Ladies and gentleman meet (or revisit) God Hand.
While you may or may not have heard of God Hand I bet you have probably played or heard of Viewtiful Joe and Okami. What do these games have in common with God Hand? Not only were they all published by Capcom, but they were developed by the same studio: CloverStudio. Unfortunately, after God Hand; Capcom decided to shut it down firing the whole team, who would later create a new studio named Seeds, which would later become Platinum Games. That name would probably ring a bell to some because they are responsible for games like Bayonetta and one of the few Wii games that are actually worth playing: MadWorld.
There you have the background story of the game, but what is it about? The story is utterly nonsensical. While there is a story revolving around an artificial hand with super powers in it, the world where the story is set, the characters, and everything surrounding the game is extremely odd. And when I say odd, I really mean it. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not! That’s what makes the game even better! The creators really emphasized the game’s hilariousness and made well use of that, while not tampering with the plot. How many times does that happen in games? Not too many I’m afraid.
A game with this type of humor could not leave mini-games aside; a memo game to return cannonballs to an attacking ship, a race of Poison Chihuahua dogs and even a Space Invaders kind of shooting gallery are part of God Hand as well. Many of these games were accompanied by an 8 bit music atmosphere, which takes us to the next part of this review: the music.
The soundtrack of the game is, to put it in one word, creative. The bosses tunes are something that fit the game perfectly with a mixture of the 50s, techno and jazz. During the game, tracks go with the beating you are giving, or receiving, with some rock and pop tunes and other mixtures that seem too wild to even describe in words, although I don’t know if that’s a good thing. The sound effects and the actors performing the voices of the characters are top notch, which is something essential in my opinion due to the weirdness of the script.
The graphics won’t take your breath away, but are in no way bad. If you compare God Hand to Viewtiful Joe or the impressive Okami, you will think that the game simply fails to deliver on that aspect, but I consider this a good thing. Some games just try to do many things, and they just can’t, they fail horribly. God Hand is a brawler, all its focus is put in brawling, there is no platforming, there are no puzzles, just good all fashioned brawling, and that’s how it should be. The backgrounds simply set a scene for the action, a good one, but are not to be stared in wonder at all during the game.
You play as Gene, a very opinionated drifter with good intentions. After a fight with demons trying to defend the female character of the game, Olivia, he loses an arm and thus is given a God Hand. The God Hand is part of a set of two hands that were obtained by an ancient warrior who defeated a race of ancient demons. The hands were kept by a tribe through generations until a man went to steal them.
God Hand is a third person beat ‘em up, undoubtedly a risk the developers took, since it is very hard to make a brawler in 3D with a camera set directly behind the character (and come out with something good). However, the game plays smoothly, the movements are easy to perform, attacks hit the desired target without any problems and if checking your surroundings for weird looking foes might be a little hard at first, you always have a radar on the top right that will let you know where your enemies are at all times.
I have mentioned that the game story is hilarious, that the title itself is very fun to play, but don’t get the wrong idea. The game is by no means easy. In fact, finishing it in the Normal mode can be quite difficult, to the point of frustration even. God Hand has an adaptive difficulty, which basically translates into this: if you are good, the game will be merciless; enemies’ attacks (even the most common enemies) will drain a lot of life from you while your own punches, kicks and magic will be less effective on them. If you are not that good, then the game will be a little softer and will try to balance certain aspects, but don’t expect too much kindness either. The level of difficulty is show on a bar that goes from level one being the easiest, to level DIE which is just as hard as it sound. Despite its difficulty, God Hand is fair, the game won’t throw you anything you cannot handle and it is solely up to you to be skilled enough to outperform your enemies. The better you are, the more gold you will receive at the end of each stage and that gold is your currency to boost your magic meter, your life bar and even to acquire different abilities that you can trigger directly from your God Hand, that’s your right arm, by the way. Money can be also multiplied by going to the casino at the end of each stage and betting on games like black Jack, poker, Chihuahua Racing, etc. Though most of the times, you will be losing more than you win, just like in real life.
The controls are reduced to three buttons (all fully customizable, thank you), kicks, punches, basically any attack can be added. The L buttons can be used to taunt, turn around and the Rs activate the Roulette Wheel which in a nutshell is a new menu full of power ups and the God Hand, which will make you invincible and extremely powerful for a short amount of time. God Hand also has a button that can be activated depending on the context, for example, if an enemy is dazed and confused (Led Zeppelin pun fully intended) just by pressing the circle, Gene will stomp fallen enemies, stinger heavy opponents, pummel adversaries by hitting the circle repeatedly and also throw boxes, barrels and other items at will. You may notice that I never mentioned a button to block incoming attacks, and that’s not an omission. There isn’t a button to block. If you are good enough, and lucky at times, you might be able to dodge all or most of the attacks. That’s, in fact, the only chance you‘ve got of beating the game.
So, if the game is that fun why was it not a commercial success, you might be asking, well, there are many things that reduced the number of copies sold. One of them, though not the most significant one, was the lame scores that obtained from some websites like IGN. I bet the “specialized journalist” that made the review didn’t even get to the second screen, but still decided to give the game a 3. If you have played the game, and even if you didn’t like it, you know that it doesn’t even remotely deserves a 3. Hell, not even The Ooze for the Genesis deserves a 3… well, maybe that one does. [Ed: The Ooze deserves a 10!]
Another factor was the difficulty. The generation that played Battletoads and enjoyed it, was no longer ruling the videogame market. Most new gamers are used to tutorials that explain even how to connect the controller and games where you can’t lose, so they didn’t expect nor cared for a game that was so unforgiving. If the game would have been released say, after Demon Souls, well, I think it would have sold many more copies than it did.
Luckily, there is still something of a cult for this game and the studio so maybe we will see a remake or even a sequel to it in the future. For those who didn’t play it when it was first released or just want to re-play it, the PS Store has a digital copy for 10 dollars, a price more than cheap to pay for this gem.
Verdict:- Players looking for a constant challenge will simply adore God Hand, for not only it is consistent but also rewarding and fair. It's also super amusing.
It represents the best of both worlds in that its very old school in play-style, but also new enough that it's only two generations old for the younger gamer to be more happy to jump on and not feel misplaced.
Do yourself a favor, grab a copy, emulate or whatever but don’t miss this game.
Second Opinion:- The thing you always find on t'interwebz is talk of the hidden gem. This should accurately surface, Transbot thinks!
God Hand is ultimately a more than solid and decidedly barmy beat 'em up from the team who has graced the humans globe with many a choice title. With its leaning of diviniy it also stands as something your Almighty Overlord can happily relate, no less.
Haters gon' hate, but Transbot recommends you all give this one a shot, as with the knowledge of a proverbial two thumbs up, it makes most if not all of da senses. Just do it!
Transbot Scores:- 7.5 out of 10