God Hand PS2 Review
Right, I’m gonna kick this off not by actually talking about the game, but the developer. God Hand is the last game ever produced by Clover Studios. Best known in the UK for producing the superb Viewtiful Joe games and the recent Okami, they’ve found themselves ‘re-absorbed’ by Capcom for failing to bring any money in, and upon hearing the news, video game fans all over the world stared into space, as solitary tears rolled down each one of their acne-covered faces.
Alright, so that’s a bit of an overstatement, but the closure of the studio was a great shame. The Viewtiful Joe games had a superb and unique visual style, not to mention a sense of humour and self-deprecation – something most games are far too afraid of these days. On top of that, they felt really fresh; name me another scrolling beat-’em-up with platforming elements and time-distortion, and I’ll… look, there just isn’t one, alright? And even if there was, the chances of it being as well-designed and fun to play as Viewtiful Joe are entirely slim. The fighting system it used felt incredibly simple at first, but over time began to reveal a considerable amount of depth.
After Viewtiful Joe, there was Okami, a game that ramped up the visual appeal, but the game design was made to suffer slightly for it – it was really, really easy. Of course, Okami did so many other things right that you didn’t mind it being so undemanding, and it’ll still go down as a game that people will talk about for years. But you could tell Clover’s attention had shifted slightly towards the aesthetic and narrative sides of development.
And now we’ve got God Hand. Put simply, it is Okami’s evil twin, but in the best possible way. It’s the yang to Okami’s yin. Okami looked amazing, while God Hand’s visuals could politely be described as ‘functional’. Okami had a huge world to explore, and a brilliant story to hang everything together. God Hand doesn’t really bother with huge environments, or stories. What it does bother with, however, are fights. Fast-paced, exciting, satisfying, and f**king difficult fights.
Right, let’s take a step back and discuss what the game’s about. And just so you know, I’ve only played the game on normal difficulty, because to play it on easy is to miss the point entirely (feel free to check the reviews on a few more well-known websites for evidence of that). You play as a guy called Gene, who’s the current owner of a God Hand – an arm containing the power of a god. Being a nice fellow, Gene’s doing his bit by running around and beating up all the nasty demons, monsters, thugs, perverts and gorillas that are littering the streets and harassing innocent folk. There’s some other guff about demons trying to destroy the world, but you won’t really care about that, and it’s fairly evident that you’re not meant to. God Hand doesn’t really try to tell you a story – all it wants to do is get you to fight people. And, to begin with, it has some trouble. You’ll hate the camera. You’ll feel like Gene is a bit slow when it comes to turning around. You’ll get worked up wondering how Clover thought they could get away with ripping off the Hawaii 5-0 theme quite so obviously. And you’ll die. A lot.
But if you give it time, you start to break through a wall of understanding. You start to get a feel for the controls, you start to dodge enemy attacks with an ever-increasing amount of grace (you can’t block – blocking is for sissies), you discover the joys of the initially slightly over-powered Barrel Roll Kick, and you’ll attempt the first level over and over again, getting a bit further on each attempt before dying and starting over again. And you will do the level over and over again quite happily for a while, as you start to realise how much god-damned fun this game really is.
This is where some of you will start raising one eyebrow (left or right, your call), and thinking “hold up, why is it such a good game if it expects us to to die fifteen times before we’re good enough to get to the next checkpoint? Isn’t that really frustrating and a hallmark of lazy game design?”. No. See, as difficult as it is, God Hand is also fair. If you think God Hand is a badly-made game for being as hard as it is, you’re quite simply wrong. If you see someone swinging at you, you dodge. Simple. If you got hit, it’s because you weren’t paying attention, or you weren’t quick enough. If someone managed to suddenly appear off-screen and swing at you, it’s still your fault. You’re always made aware of who’s entering the current area, and if you let them escape your sight for too long, tough crap. Keep your eyes open and remain mindful of your surroundings, and you’ll do fine. Sometimes you’ll get frustrated at the lack of power-ups – you’ll find yourself not wanting to run into the next fight because your health is low. Do you know what that is? Your fault. Despite the slight amount of randomisation to item drops (either from fallen enemies or crates scattered around the level), the game always provides you with enough to keep you going, whether it’s fruit to restore your health, or a picture of an attractive lady in a bikini to get your God Hand powered up. The trick is to make sure you manage the items properly. Don’t pick stuff up if you don’t really need it, and it’ll still be there when you do.
And now I’m rambling again. Point is, you won’t hate God Hand for being hard, because you’ll always understand why you could’ve avoided that last death, and you’ll take the lesson with you when you try again. Personally, I needed 152 lessons before I was good enough to finish the game, and I didn’t get the least bit sick of it in the process. Hell, as soon as I finished the single-player game, I went straight on to hard mode without batting an eyelid. Because God Hand isn’t about the closure of ‘finishing’ the game – it’s about constantly facing new challenges, simply for the joy of playing. In other words, it’s what more games should be about, because it’s something only games can do. But we’ll all continue to lap up our Final Fantasies and Metal Gear Solids, our endless glossy unskippable cut-scenes that keep us from actually playing the games, while games like God Hand get ignored and sit on the shelves for months, leading to the closure of studios as wonderful as Clover. It’s just not fair, man.
Look, here’s how it is – if you really like video games, you’ll love God Hand. Sure, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But for those of you who think games are getting too easy these days – and you know who you are – God Hand is the game you’ve been waiting for. It doesn’t look like much, but it has one of the most finely-tuned fighting engines we’ll see for a long time. Throw your copies of God of War or Devil May Cry 3 in the bin. Actually, that’s about the only criticism I can make about God Hand that really sticks – once you’ve mastered it, all other roaming beat-em-ups will feel downright sloppy in comparison.
Luckily for you lot, Clover have just announced that they’re re-forming under a new banner – ‘Seeds’. But that’s no reason not to show your support by picking up this absolute gem of a game. Get to it.
An incredible step forward for roaming beat-’em-ups. God of War 2’s gonna have trouble surpassing this one.