"You can wax on, wax off, all you like. I'm still kicking your ass." - Gene
God Hand is a beat-'em-up game that draws on such classics as Final Fight, Double Dragon, and River City Ransom. It was developed by Clover Studio, the same team responsible for Okami and Viewtiful Joe. The game is about a young man named Gene as he beats the everliving hell out of every bad guy he can find in an unnamed Wild West town. Along the way, he'll fight a giant Mexican named Elvis, a pair of gay burlesque performers, a luchador gorilla with a mysterious secret, and the "Mad Midget 5", before finally confronting Axel The Devilhand and restoring peace to the world.
The game features over 100 different regular and super moves from a staggering number of fighting styles, including capoeira, Muay Thai, Drunken Style Kung Fu, and karate. Gene is limited to the use of only a handful, but they may be switched out with any others in between levels, allowing the player to customize his fighting style from the ground up.
The difficulty system isn't necessarily new, but it's definitely not been applied to a fighting game before: rather than setting the difficulty at the beginning of the game, it goes up or down based directly on the player's performance, from Level 1 (the easiest) to Level DIE (the hardest). At Level 1, enemies won't attack unless Gene is in their line of sight and visible on the screen, but in Level DIE, enemies won't hold back and a fully-upgraded Gene can be killed in about six hits.
In addition to the story mode, there are special challenges at the local area, a practice zone where you can try out purchased moves and combos, a casino with slots, video poker, and blackjack, and a special set of chihuahua races, featuring such intrepid contenders as "Burrito Libre", "Sexy Maid", "Salty Dog", and "Dirty Sanchez". All winnings can be used to purchase new regular and super moves as well as upgrades to health and power from the local "Barely Regal" store.
Hands down, this is one of my favorite games on my PS2. It's got style in spades, a challenging combat system that doesn't resort to cheating or sheer inhumanity, and possibly the single best ending boss and theme to a video game I've ever seen, ever.
This game starts in with the awesome right from the get-go: the US box art is a fist punching through a mohawked punk's head. This is merely the tip of the awesome iceberg, though. The game hearkens to every awesome brawler you played as a kid, right down to the palette-swapped enemies with weird proportions and funny costumes. You can pick up and throw barrels, regain health by picking up fruit left out in the street, and use iron bats and 4x4s against your foes. It'd be easy to argue that all of this is from lazy programming, but the extremely tight combat system says otherwise.
The combat system is pretty simple: Gene starts with a simple 4-hit combo, performed by mashing Square, and can interrupt the combo by pressing X or Triangle, both of which have a single move. Pressing in particular directions while hitting X or Triangle will perform a different move. The twist is that at any time, including during boss fights, Gene can freely swap out any of the attacks in any of his combos for any others he has unlocked, allowing the player to create his own particular combat style.
The camera and controls bear some mentioning, as like the rest of the game, it's a somewhat unique approach. Rather than a side-on view, like every other fighting game uses, the camera is set in a standard third-person view, behind and slightly above Gene. The controls are similar to Resident Evil or Silent Hill: Pressing forward or backward on the left stick moves in that direction, while pressing right or left turns Gene. The right stick allows Gene to roll or dodge, boxer-style, from attacks. A 360° radar in one corner allows you to keep track of enemies outside your field of view. It does take a bit of practice to get used to, but by the third or fourth stage most anyone should have it down pat.
God Roulette moves are performed by simply hitting a button and choosing the move you want from the spinning list, at the expense of a power orb or two. The God Roulette moves are fantastically awesome, and a good portion of them are tongue-in-cheek references to other famous fighters. Bruce Lee's "One Inch Punch" is here, as well as Kenshiro's "100 Fists" attack.
The story is at times nonsensical and hilarious, and really doesn't provide much more than a reason to beat up hundreds of bad guys. Gene is one of the very few God Hands, and with his companion Olivia, they travel from place to place, dispensing Wild West justice by beating up anyone doing bad stuff. It's not meant to be taken seriously by any stretch, and the characters resort to hammerspace, "Kick Me" signs, midget jokes, sentai jokes, gay burlesque performances, and ridiculous puns. The surreality reaches new heights when Gene, after beating up Ravel and Debussy in a carnival, walks up to a bus stop. A bus stops for a moment then rolls away, revealing Gorilla Mask, the monkey luchador, sitting on the bench. Gene walks up, asks, "Wait, you're not a human, are you?!" and when the gorilla shakes his head, they FIGHT! And then it gets weird.
The main sticking point is probably the learning curve of the game. The unique camera perspective and controls, more often seen in action-adventure and survival horror games, take a bit of adjustment to get used to. There isn't really anything in the way of an in-game tutorial, which is partly made up for by the beginning stages' lower average difficulty and the practice arena in towns. Some of the boss fights can be difficult, though smart combo structure and powerup use can alleviate this. Atsushi Inaba, the main creative force for the game along with Shinji Mikami, is on record stating that the game is aimed at "hardcore gamers"; take that term how you will, but it's a fact that the game does require some extra time investment before you start to really see a payoff. (Though, that payoff is pretty great: for me, it was when I realized I'd been messing dudes up left and right on Level 3 for the last ten minutes without even pausing to slow down.)
God Hand is a fantastic game, and one I usually try to show to people when they ask what sorts of games I have in my collection. The boss fight alone is worth the price of admission: yes, you DO fight Azel The Devilhand, and yes, it is every bit as awesome as you think it is. However, the stiffer learning curve means it's not exactly a friendly game for most people to pick up. If you've got the time, or are wondering where all the brawler games of your childhood went, I'd say give it a shot. Chances are, it's in a used game bin in your local game store.