Dragon Kickin’ Your Ass Into The Milky Way!
With the release of Shadows of the Damned this week, I thought it would be a good time to introduce our new Second Look feature by taking a look back at one of Shinji Mikamis previous works: God Hand. Directed by Shinji Mikami during his time with Clover Studios it would prove to be a very divisive game. Some praised it’s punishing difficulty, interesting combat mechanics and over the top comedic style, while others derided it’s poor controls, weak graphics, and shallow plot. Join me as we take a look back at God Hand and try to see what went right (and wrong) with this title and why it’s not as bad as some people would have you believe.
The title and box are pretty generic, what’s all this about?
God Hand tells a pretty simple story… ok a pretty convoluted story… You play as Gene, a martial artist everyman who happens to come upon some dudes harassing a girl named Olivia. Of course Gene being the gentleman he is jumps in the middle and saves the day, only to have his arm chopped off and thrown away. It seems these guys are looking for something called the “God Hand”. It turns out that years ago a demon tried to destroy the world but was stopped by a man wielding the God Hand. Once this was done a group was formed to protect the God Hand should the demon ever return, and Olivia is one of these people. Seeing Gene isn’t as handy as he was before she decides to give him the power of the God Hand and together they hunt down the demons searching to destroy it and bring back the demon king.
The main antagonists are a group of demons calling themselves the Four Devas… ok… whatever floats their boat.
The Four Devas are comprised of:
Elvis: A big fat mexican demon who enjoys eating the flesh of humans and smoking cuban cigars. It’s clear Elvis isn’t really the brains of the operation as he’s usually mocked by the rest of the group and Gene doesn’t take him seriously at all usually making fun of his weight when they meet. Elvis has a short temper and immense strength but completely fails to stop Gene and retrieve the God Hand.
Shannon: The sexy dominatrix demon of the group. Elvis has a thing for her but she doesn’t have the time of day for him. She’d much rather make Gene her new plaything, and thankfully since he has the God Hand she has good reason to try to capture him.
Azel: Basically the bizarro Gene, as he also has a God Hand but since he turned to evil it becomes known as the Devil Arm.
Belze: The leader of the Four Devas. Businesslike and cold he commands the other Devas and their army of thugs, robots, androids, midgets, and gorillas(?) to destroy the God Hand and resurrect the demon king.
So what doesn’t work and why does everyone quit after the first level?
Probably the most notable issue people will complain about immediately are the controls. The biggest offender being that you have no control of the camera whatsoever. The right stick is dedicated to dodges and rolling. This setup works in God of War because in that game the camera is zoomed out looking at the action from above and you can get a good view of the battlefield. In God Hand the camera is directly over Genes shoulder, so there is no way to see enemies that are behind you meaning any time you get ganged up on it becomes very difficult to maneuver around and fight them effectively.
Also the graphics are pretty poor, even for a PS2 game. The textures and character models are pretty plain and the environments are completely sparse, usually composed of a couple of empty rooms with a few random boxes or barrels lying around. Levels are broken into zones which are quite small as well so it becomes easy to get surrounded or overwhelmed by enemies if you aren’t careful.
The final issue most people have with the game is it’s punishing difficulty. God Hand is one of those games that is made intentionally difficult to appeal to a hardcore audience. It’s one of those games where Easy feels more like Normal and Normal like Hard. This was an intentional design choice by Mikami as he wanted to create a punishing brawler for the hardcore gamers, but it is an issue many had with the game. On top of the already punishing difficulty is the fact that the game gets harder as you go. That’s right, dynamic difficulty! As you land punches, dodge attacks, and defeat enemies without being hit your difficulty meter will fill up going from lvl1 to lvl2 then lvl3 and finally lvlDIE. Each new level makes enemies stronger and Gene weaker. Of course if you take damage or start to suck your level will fall, you can also decrease your difficulty level by groveling to your enemies, which is actually pretty hilarious to see.
That all sounds pretty bad, does anything work in this game?
Yes, actually very much so. The one thing that does work beyond anything else is the combat. Since God Hand is a brawler if the combat didn’t work at all, we probably wouldn’t be here talking about it now. Gene is a martial arts master, and brilliant to watch in combat. His attacks are powerful and fast, resembling the fighting style of Ken from Fist of the North Star. When enemies become staggered Gene can go into a pummel state where he punches or kicks at mach speeds ending in a hit so hard it sends enemies literally flying across the screen.
In addition to the brilliant visuals of the combat, it is also extremely deep and customizable. Every button can be assigned a different attack, with the square button being assigned a full combo string that you can assign each individual attack to. This is where the real brilliance of God Hand comes into play. Trying out different attack types and seeing which ones work with others, creating your own combos and fighting style is endlessly satisfying. Do you go for a powerful but slow boxing style, a quick fast-hitting karate style, or even a drunken style that’s hilarious to behold.
Gene has one final trick up his sleeve in combat thanks to the God Hand. He can activate the hand and go into super-powered fast speed mode where all his attacks are unblockable and undodgeable for a short time. He is also given the power of the Roulette wheel which are super powered special attacks that are activated by finding demon stones. These attacks include the simple “Ball Buster” which is a kick to the groin leaving any enemy staggered, or the hilarious Dragon Kick which will send enemies flying straight into the milky way! These attacks are limited in how many times you can use them, and stronger attacks take more than one stone to use, but they are devastating when employed and always interesting to watch, most of them are great for a laugh.
Which brings us to the other reason why you should play this game. The atmosphere in it is second to none. The poor visuals and voice acting are almost intentional to lend credence to the ridiculousness of the story. You’ll be suplexing guys in gorilla costumes, DDTing wannabe rock stars, and spanking sexy dominatrixes so hard they fly across the room. Gene is always quick with a hilarious comment about his enemies and they don’t make any bones about being absolutely ridiculous.
Ok, but would it even be worth playing in 2011?
That’s an interesting question. While it’s true the game design was frustrating in 2006 when it came out, time may actually make this one even harder to swallow today. However, for players with the patience to stick with it and learn the combat intricacies there is definitely a worthwhile game here to check out.
Much like other super-difficult action games such as Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, the real beauty of the game isn’t in it’s story or characters or anything like that, but when you finally understand the combat and can use it at will to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!
Gamers looking for an extreme challenge will be pleased with this one, as will gamers who enjoy goofball off the wall comedy games such as No More Heroes and the just released Shadows of the Damned.
Wasn’t there some kind of controversy about this game?
Probably the most lasting legacy that God Hand will have is the controversy it created at ign.com upon it’s release. Originally reviewed by Chris Roper who gave the game an abysmal 3.0 rating, citing the poor graphics, shoddy voice acting, and sloppy controls as a reason to avoid the game entirely. While he seemed to understand the game was intentionally over the top and ridiculous he felt the joke wore thing very early on and wasn’t strong enough to carry the entire game. Most readers of the site passed the game off entirely as not worth their time and the game suffered by not getting a fair review from one of the largest review sites out there.
The controversy was sparked when IGN later released their top 100 PS2 games of all time with God Hand coming in at #100. Many gamers were confused as to how a game that originally received a 3 out of 10 could possibly rank anywhere on a top games list. After much debate and heated arguments it was revealed that the original IGN review that was written was based solely on Chris’ time playing the first level and nothing further. This explains why the review never goes into further detail on characters found later in the game or how the combat system opens up for players to really explore. It is noteworthy that the original 3.0 review still stands on IGN.com, though they did have the decency to add a “Second Opinion” section that goes a little easier on the game. How they can stand by the original review in any capacity knowing it is essentially based off a demo of the game is beyond this writers knowledge, it has become one of the driving points behind the thought that IGN has very little journalistic integrity, so take that as you will.
So what have we learned?
In the end God Hand stands as a shining example of a game that is much more than the sum of its parts. There is no denying that the controls, especially in today’s market, can be completely frustrating. I’m sure having a 3D game that doesn’t give the user direct camera control in some capacity is probably one of Mikes Broken Commandments. The graphics are poor by todays standards as they were even back in 2006, the plot is mostly incomprehensible, but the games over the top action and wackier story elements surpass all of this. Can you really complain that a games voice acting is poor when you’re punching a gorilla into the stratosphere or suplexing demons into the ground so hard they explode?
If you answered yes, then God Hand is definitely not for you, the rest of us have the uncanny ability to take the sticks out of our asses, look past the poor qualities of this game and have a good time with it. Much like a summer blockbuster action movie isn’t going to be winning any academy awards, it doesn’t make it any less fun to experience. The brawling in God Hand is top-notch, with extreme customizability and incredible depth to it. If you are interested in seeing a 3D evolution of classic brawlers that works, or you want to see the roots of current over the top action games like Bayonetta or Shadows of the Damned, then God Hand is certainly worth checking out. I promise you it’s not as bad as others would have you believe and is one title that, while not perfect, is worth a second look.
If anything it’s at least got a bitching end credits song!