Character action games are a bit of a niche genre at the best of times. Trying to convince someone who only plays shooters, sports games and GTA to play something like Devil May Cry can feel like pulling teeth, so trying to convince someone that God Hand is one of the games you should play before you die? That’s going to take some doing. Still, if you have the means to do so, you should give it God Hand a try, because there’s truly nothing else like it out there.
One of the last games ever made by Clover Studio, the Capcom internal studio that would serve as a precursor to PlatinumGames, God Hand is probably one of the silliest games ever made. Considering that Clover’s previous games included Viewtiful Joe, which is a bonkers love letter to both cinema and Sentai media, you’d expect the rest of their output to be as ridiculous as possible, but God Hand is a whole other level of stupid. I love it.
Players control Gene, a warrior who has now become the guardian of the God Hand. That’s about as much of the plot as you need to know or care about, honestly, as the story just feels like an excuse to move from one farce to the next, whether that’s a small person tribute to the Power Rangers, a poison chihuahua, a wrestling gorilla, or a cigar smoking demon by the name of Elvis. A blind run of God Hand is a treasured thing, as there’s genuinely no way of knowing or predicting what’ll come your way next.
You know, aside from beating people up. That’s a running constant.
Aside from the brain-melting absurdity being flung your way every minute, God Hand’s true value comes from its excellent gameplay, which expertly blends skill and spectacle to create something truly magical. Players use the face buttons to attack, but dodging is mapped to the right analog stick, which can allow you to sidestep, backflip and spot-dodge as needed in order to avoid incoming damage. On top of that, God Hand gives players the opportunity to set their own attacks and combos from a list of over 100 moves (even if you need to unlock most of them).
The end result is a game that feels like a Punch Out beat ‘em up, as you memorise each enemy’s attacks, dodge them and then attack when they’re open, a feat easier said than done when you consider that God Hand is also brutally hard. Enemies can be relentless in their attacks, and Gene doesn’t have the biggest health pool in the world, making every fight a tense life and death struggle. Throw in the fact that the difficulty scales with how good or bad you’re performing, and you’ve got a game that turns even your smallest victories into fist-pumping bouts of elation.
God Hand undoubtedly isn’t a game for everyone, and that’s without getting into the fact that the only way to play it right now seems to be emulation (I’m not paying £60 for a PS2 copy, but I’d definitely pay £20-£30 for a HD port on modern platforms, Capcom). The difficulty is going to be tough to overcome for a lot of people, and certain elements of the humour and style certainly haven’t aged well since 2006. The fact that IGN gave this game a 3/10, but also named it as one of the best PS2 games ever, should give you some indication as to how divisive God Hand is.
It’s because of that wide-swinging reaction that you should try to play God Hand though, as your reaction to it is going to be as unique and intriguing as the game itself. Now that we’re in a gaming era of safe sequels and constant barrages of live service guff, sometimes it’s just nice to celebrate a game that didn’t take itself too seriously.
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