Release Date: October 10, 2006
ESRB Rating: Mature
God Hand is a game that does not care what you think of it. It is the sort of game you might see strolling down the road in clown makeup and a feathered boa, ignoring the stares of passersby. This is because God Hand knows that anyone willing to get acquainted with it will immediately become a lifelong admirer, and everyone else who judges it on its bizarre sense of style will be missing out.
Which is not to say the game is not flawed. It is, hugely, in many significant areas. The graphics are bad, even for the PS2, with the vast majority of sets consisting of boxes of various sizes. The storyline is nonsense and the cut-scenes have a sense of high school theater around them with awkward pauses and ridiculous dialogue, and while much of this is intentionally affected, I doubt it’s as much as the game might want you to think.
But God Hand understands one thing that many reviewers missed at the time: it was a game, not a film or a song or a painting. In a time when video games were approaching a level of aesthetics and complexity that the debate of their qualification of art was beginning to actually become relevant, God Hand boldly stepped forward and said, “I am not Art. I am a Game. Let’s have some fun.” Because of this focus, you can have fun with it. A lot of fun, actually.
The core gameplay mechanic of God Hand is this: enemies come at you, and you beat them up. This simplicity of vision carries through to the mechanics. You have three attack buttons, one of which performs a combo when pressed repeatedly. The left stick moves, and you can double tap in a direction to run. You can map different attacks (which are found in levels or bought at the store you can access between levels) to the three buttons, and also alternate attacks that you can use by holding down on the left stick. You can use the right stick to dodge to the left, right, or backwards, or even duck under punches and some attacks. When your attacks dizzy or knock down an enemy, you can press the circle button to pummel, stomp, suplex, or, in some cases, spank them, where you press the button as frantically as possible to deal as much damage as you can.
So at the core, you have a well-realized 3D version of classic beat ‘em up game like Final Fight, that provides the same sort of fun those games do. On top of that, they add several other mechanics that make the experience even more fun. There is the titular God Hand, which slowly builds up energy as you beat people up, and can be unleashed with the press of a button to give you a brief period of super-speed and invincibility. Then there is a series of special moves you can access on the God Roulette, which vary from a nut shot to a devastating series of 100 punches to a home run swing, and do massive damage, but require use of one to three Roulette Orbs, which are found in crates and sometimes dropped by enemies.
The really great feature, though, is the dynamic difficulty level. God Hand is, at the base, a very challenging game, but never an unfair one. There are no situations where you will find yourself thinking the only way to win a fight will be if the AI does something different. Success is always incumbent on the player’s skill. And beyond that, the player’s skill is always challenged, because as you get better at the game, the difficulty goes up, even in the middle of a stage, from level one to three and even to a level called simply “DIE.” As this level goes up, the AI gets smarter, and faster, and even a bit more vicious. If you can handle it, then your level continues to go up, but if you get hit a few times and start to get beat up, it will drop back down. So the game is constantly pushing you to your limit, and the result is a consistently challenging experience that constantly pushes you outside of your comfort zone.
I have rarely played a game that can simultaneously provide such a deep and simple experience as God Hand. If you passed it up when it came out, it is definitely worth your while to track it down. It remains one of the most rewarding play experiences I’ve ever gotten out of a game.