B-Movies have always been relegated to the bottom of the barrel; underappreciated artifacts of the double-feature era that (often unintentionally) revealed the film-making process through gaffs, mistakes, and sloppy special effects due to their shoestring budgets. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have led the charge in reviving the genre of over-the-top exploitation/grindhouse films. In fact, they'll be bringing back the double-feature with 2007's combo film Planet Terror/Death Proof.
Why do I make these points? God Hand is the video game equivalent of this now-treasured rarity. It's also Clover Studio's swan song; their back-end to the AAA Okami released only a month earlier. It shares more in common than just that – it's a budget title that features dusty, lifeless towns, bad acting, egregious combat sequences, and that all important camp factor which has long since defined the genre of the B-level commodity.
Sure it's ugly and unpolished, but instead of being a strike against the game (as it would with most titles), God Hand reduces the video game to its ludological essentials – the mechanics! And those , dear reader, are fantastic!
Combat is a land of milk and honey in God Hand. Gene, who has undergone the serendipitous restoration of his severed limb, is contracted by his keeper Olivia to right the wrongs of his world and take down a vicious gang of oddball demons loyal to the dark lord Angra. It's a fairly standard plot, but the game's unique sense of humor (to put it lightly) and intentionally horrible acting keeps you engaged the entire way through.
The God Hand affords Gene super strength and the ability to pull off some immense Roulette (read: special) attacks that pull upon the game's zaniness for inspiration. A sampling of his powers: a swift boot to the crotch, a succession of kicks to the face, the swing of an ethereal bat which sends enemies into the stratosphere. Sometimes I wondered if I was playing as Gene or one of the Three Stooges. There's a Looney Tunes mentality to the entire game that makes it feel unlike any beat-em-up you've played before.
And truly, that's a genre that's been consistently lacking since the 16-bit days. Suffice it to say, God Hand more than makes up for it by expanding upon the formula in a number of ways besides. 1The most important is the ability to construct your own combo. There are 114 total techniques that you can buy/find throughout the game, each with its own damage and time rating. You can mix and match them as you please (they're assignable to a square-button succession of moves and also to the triangle/x) and a good part of your success in combat depends on how well you manage the techniques available to you. If they don't flow well or a certain move leaves you vulnerable to attack, the enemies are going to take advantage of that opening.
The other key innovation is mapping Gene's dodge to the right analog stick. This means that the game suffers from a few camera problems, but mechanically, it works quite well and the developers have included a 180-degree turn option mapped to the L1 button.
Finally, there's the DIE meter which consists of four levels of combat. Causing damage and avoiding it will build your DIE meter slowly, but a single blow can cause it to drop quickly. Each time it levels up, though, so the enemies get tougher in accordance with how well you perform. It may seem unfair, but the perks are worth it – you'll get a greater money bonus at the end of the stage depending on how many times you achieved a certain level.
These three elements combined give God Hand a lot of depth, right up there with other greats of the generation Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden (and, to a lesser extent, another Capcom game – Shadow of Rome).
God Hand also shares the same level of difficulty as those two series, though it cuts Hard mode off from the beginning player just in case they're feeling suicidal. It's alright, because Normal poses the kind of challenge that's going to scare off most gamers in the first place with some intense boss battles and arena-like scenarios that will tax your reflexes.
You'll be experiencing plenty of them, since the game is quite long for a beat-em-up. Roughly nine stages stand between you and conquering this beast of a brawler, each one split up into a fair number of mini-sections with sub-bosses sprawled throughout. Sometimes you'll even encounter them at random, as brutish demons occasionally rise from fallen enemies and they can take you down in a flash if you're not prepared. Luckily, you get a chance to save in-between each section. The cash enemies drop can also be used to gamble or purchase various items and techniques during these intermissions. To round it all off, the game has a robust fighting arena next to the casino that poses even more of a challenge by setting Gene up against enemies under certain conditions (low health, no special movies, time limits, traps, etc.).
God Hand wouldn't be the first time producer Shinji Mikami got his hands on camp. There's another series he's worked on that you might have heard of inspired by his love of zombie movies – Resident Evil, anyone? His pedigree speaks for itself and, for that matter, so does Clover's. Glaring graphical issues and camera work aside, you can't ignore a game so lovingly crafted and full of such off-beat humor as God Hand. Whether you picked up the stellar Okami or not, give it's B-game cousin a shot if you're a fan of challenging games with great mechanics. Oh yeah, the music rules, too!