Lately I've found myself becoming bored with video games. Where once I was able to sit on the couch and kill an evening working through the latest title, I'm now hard-pressed to make it past the first loading screen. Desperate, I started digging through my collection in hopes of finding something to restore my lost faith, and lo, I found God Hand. Though I've had the game for some time, for one reason or another I'd never actually sat down and played it. Only now do I realize the folly of my ways because this is easily one of the best 3D beat 'em ups ever made.
Perhaps the main reason I had never given God Hand a chance was because of the generally negative reviews it had upon release. Bad camera, too much repetition, bland design… the complaints seemed endless. It's only after I got talking to a good friend of mine that I realized the reason there are so many complaints was because the reviewers appeared to never make it past the first stage. And who can blame them? This game is not easy and getting through any stage is no small feat. Even if you manage to get the hang of the fight system and start bashing heads your victory will be short-lived thanks to the variable difficulty system. Beat a few guys without taking a hit and the enemies level up, becoming faster, more aggressive and requiring far more skill to defeat. Keep kicking ass and the difficulty goes up again and again until you reach the completely insane Level Die, where only two hits can drain a maxed out life bar. Of course if things get too intense and you take a few hits the difficulty will drop back a level, guaranteeing the game is always on the threshold of what you can handle without being too cruel or too easy.
Combat is rich and varied with more than 100 different moves you can assign how you please. Whether you play fast and light, or slow and heavy is entirely up to you. It's a system that guarantees you play the game on your own terms and offers a level of depth not often found in the genre. Do well enough in combat and you'll power up your God Hand, making you faster, stronger, and temporarily invincible. Mastering the power of the God Hand and timing its use appropriately are critical if you hope to survive. Special “God Roulette” moves round out your arsenal dealing massive damage, but requiring power orbs to use. Again, like your basic attack, they're fully customizable, though your options are more limited. Missing from the combat system is any form of a block, instead requiring players dodge incoming attacks using the right analog stick. It takes a bit of practice, but it keeps combat moving smoothly instead of degenerating it to a glorified game of Whack-a-Mole.
One problem that's dogged brawlers since the move to 3D has been how to deal with the camera. God Hand solves this problem by sticking it to your back Resident Evil 4-style and simply removing any walls or obstacles that would be drawn in your way. At times this may make the game look like it suffers from massive clipping issues, but it's intentional and guarantees you and your target are always visible. The system isn't without its faults, however, as it makes movement outside of combat extremely awkward and limits your peripheral vision some. Thankfully the latter is mostly corrected with the use of radar, but you'll still find yourself getting blindsided from time to time.
On the presentation side of things, God Hand falls far short of modern expectations, yet keeps in line with genre standards. Yes, there are a lot of repeated textures and environments. Yes, you fight the same guy five times in one battle, but the same is true of every great brawler. Developing anything would just take valuable time away from gameplay design and for a title like this it just isn't necessary. Aurally the game is far more solid, with surfing guitar riffs offsetting the cries of your fallen foes.
God Hand isn't a game that takes itself seriously and it's clear the designers used this to their full advantage when they were crafting key plot points. From Luchador Gorillas to Super Sentai Midgets, the plot is a constant barrage of “WTFs?”, to the point that the sight of extremely effeminate transvestites seems almost familiar. Then again if you're a fan of Final Fight and Bare Knuckle 3 they very well may be. It's ridiculous, it's implausible, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
As I stated at the start of this review when I picked up God Hand I was bored. When I walked away a full 16 hours later, I was left with a sense of awe. It's a rare example of a game being distilled to near perfection, ignoring any superficial elements would detract from gameplay. For the purposes of this review I completed the main story on normal and had my ass royally kicked by the first two enemies when I tried it on hard. Seriously, it's a bitch. Though I'm sad that this was the last title Clover produced, they couldn't have gone out on a higher note. Maybe we'll be lucky and some day Capcom will revive the series. Until then I'm going back to play some more God Hand.
If you'd like to get a better sense of just what God Hand is really like, check out this video by Saur:
God Hand is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Language, Suggestive Themes, and Violence.