If I told you that the team responsible for Resident Evil 4, including Mr. Resident Evil himself, Shinji Mikami worked on God Hand, I’m sure you’d be shocked.
Despite it’s impressive pedigree, God Hand has gotten a poor rap in the critical community. It’s sub-par reviews have vastly been cited due to it’s “extreme difficulty”, which I think is a very unfair criticism considering it was created with a specific gamer in mind. To clue you in on how much of a niche game God Hand really is, Producer Atsushi Inaba frankly stated that “God Hand is aimed at hardcore gamers”.
Does it have problems? Of course it does, it just doesn’t detract so much from the game that it ceases to be fun; in fact, God Hand is a blast.
If you’re looking for a cohesive story, don’t bother. God Hand makes about as much sense as most hardcore niche anime shows. You play Gene, a man who has just had his hand severed and coincidentally (or at least it seems like a coincidence) had it replaced with the strongest weapon in the world: the God Hand.
Enter an evil organization that wants to steal it from you, and you have a plot (or lack of plot, however you want to look at it). Shinji Mikami’s aim here isn’t to “wow” you with a spectacular story, however, it’s to make you laugh, and shock you into disbelief. While you may feel that you have no motivation in your quest for glory, the oddball characters, dialogue, and rivalries will keep you wanting more.
At it’s core, God Hand is a brawler, make no mistake. The fighting system is extremely intricate, boasting over 100 moves and abilities from drunken fist to Eddie Gordo’s “break-dance fighting” capoeira style. You have your basic moves based off realistic fighting styles, and you have your “extreme moves”, where most of the game’s uniqueness lies. When you use an extreme move, a roluette wheel will pop up and allow you to choose your move in a short period of time.
The thrilling aspect of the roulette mechanic is that it slows down time to a crawl to allow you to use your move, but enemies can still knock you out of it! Regular grabs and attacks can also be “out there”. To name a few examples, enemies can be punched into the sky (disappearing with a glint) and female enemies can be spanked across the room.
On occasion there will be various QTE sequences, but they fit perfectly into the game, and aren’t bothersome in any way. All of them are woven into normal moves, and never during cutscenes; for instance the stomp attack is utilized when repeatedly pressing circle when an enemy is on the ground.
One of the most unique features in God Hand is the “scaled difficulty bar”. Right there in front of you on your HUD, this bar taunts you repeatedly. The more punches you land, and the less damage you take, the higher this bar goes up, thus up-scaling the difficulty in the process.
Once it maxes out, “DIE” appears on the bar and you essentially are screwed unless you’re really good at evading. The best part about this scaling difficulty is that you get rewarded with more points depending on how high the bar was during each level.
The first few stages you’ll get used to it, but in a matter of time you’ll keep it hovering just below “DIE”, and reap the benefits. God Hand also has a devil trigger-like mechanic, where you accrue energy in your “god bar” in order to rip the protective bracelet off of your god hand and unleash it’s power. You become invincible for a short amount of time, and do more damage; knowing when to use this power is key in terms of your survival.
Despite it’s very fun gameplay, God Hand will still have many “controller throwing moments”. Sometimes you’ll have little to no health, no powerups or pickups in sight, and you’ll barely kill the last enemy in an area. Well guess what? That enemy happened to have a demon living inside of him that’s over twice as powerful as the enemy you defeated!
This happens a handful of times throughout the game, and tests your patience. Get used to the dodge technique really early on if you want to have enough health for one of these surprises. There are also a few boss fights where the enemy will inflict a rather large amount of damage. It feels a bit cheap, but if you master the dodge system, it’s possible to not take any damage.
The soundtrack is just as odballish as the game. Comprised of various 70s, 80s, and orchestral tunes (with some amazing “wipeout” sounding surfer songs thrown in), you’ll never know what to expect. In-game, the voice acting is superb; Gene hilariously comments while fighting, and everything from a normal punch to a grand slam swing fits the game.
When it comes to cut-scene voice acting you’re getting a mixed bag. Sometimes the dialogue will be appropriately cheesy, but sometimes it will just feel outright strange. Don’t be alarmed though, that’s what God Hand sets out to do: shock you! If you are offended by homosexual African-American circus twins, you need not apply. I warned you!
In God Hand, the locales you visit will range from sci-fi to western to fantasy. You start off in an “Old West” ghost town, and eventually make it to a giant zaibatsu-esque Demon Tower. God Hand encourages a small amount of exploration, but this part ends up being a bit shallow. You can find many powerups like health, or item cards, but you may find exploring to be a bit tiresome due to the drab look of a few of the areas.
Visually, God Hand is a bit average for a PS2 game, which is surprising since it came near the end of it’s life-cycle. To make up for it, the vast majority of the character models are extremely interesting, and you’re bound to find at least 10 enemies or characters that you really like.
In-between levels, you can also choose to visit the local Casino, where you can pass the time playing poker, blackjack, chihuahua racing, slots, and cage fighting. With the money you earn you can buy new moves, so while it benefits you to do these activities, they’re not required.
Reviewers often forget what the main purpose of playing games is: for fun. If reviews were based on fun factor alone, God Hand would be in the top 5 of all time list. Unfortunately, it has it’s problems, which could have been fixed with a bit more development time, but if you’re a hardcore gamer, as Mikami intended, you will love this game; no questions asked.