God Hand is one of those games that you'll be torn apart for not liking. It's from Clover Studio you see, the team that also brought us the wonderful Okami. Seeing as Clover is no more, disliking God Hand would be similar to ripping into a popular guy at his funeral: it would make you feel more than a little ashamed. As much as you don't want to bad mouth a dead man, those annoying remarks he made and the occasional bullying really wore you down, so much so that it was hard to see him as a guy that regularly did charity work and single-handedly built 100 orphanages out of nothing but sweat and dirt. He might have been a top bloke, but he did his best to disguise it.
That rather long-winded intro is basically me trying to say that God Hand is a great beat 'em up that tries its hardest to make you dislike it. And some people will dislike it; there's no shame in that. God Hand is a tough, tough game that punishes you for every slight lapse in concentration; at times it seems completely unfair and will test your patience to the limit. There's every chance that you'll have never played a game like God Hand before and every chance you won't want to play anything like it ever again.
If you do like it though, there's an awful lot to enjoy. For one, God Hand is completely insane. With gay wrestlers, poisonous Chihuahuas, slapstick-esque attacks and voice acting right out of the Big Book of Cheese, the whole experience could be likened to a martial arts movie made by the producers of Rainbow. One of the overriding reasons to keep on playing is to see what happens next - you can try to second guess the plot, but you'll never succeed.
The titular 'God Hand' is in fact the arm that Gene, the main character, uses to dish out severe beatings. During standard play you kick, punch and dance around your opponents, whether they come at you alone or in groups, but the magic happens when you call upon your God Hand. The game details how this hand came to be so I won't ruin that for you, but its power is worth discussing. Playing cards can be collected during your travels and these provide you with special Roulette attacks, accessed from an in-game menu. These vary wildly, but include ridiculous stomps and hilarious repeated kneeing to the crotch.
By filling your God Hand meter you can activate the hand's special abilities, effectively increasing your attack speed. This lets you unleash a whirlwind of attacks onto enemies within touching distance and comes in mightily handy against more powerful opponents. Standard combat features the usual selection of kicks and punches, but the right stick will soon become your best friend. Dodging is the name of the game, with carefully timed rolls or sidesteps being vital if you're going to get anywhere in God Hand.
Things aren't made any easier by the often infuriating way your character moves around. The camera is fixed right behind him at all times and the inability to move in any direction other than forwards and back makes it feel like you're in control of a unicyclist. In this sense it's typical Capcom, with the controls themselves being the first barrier that needs to be overcome before you can start enjoying yourself. A 180 degree turn button and frequent use of the right stick ease tensions slightly, but you'll frequently curse deaths brought about by the often inadequate controls.
Traditionally beat 'em ups aren't terribly long, but God Hand should take at least ten hours to work through. Cleverly it also adapts to your play, becoming harder if it judges that you're having an easy time against the current crop of enemies. You'll hear "Level Up!" and this means that you're enemies have just become harder to beat - not a personal increase in skills as you might think. Save points are regular, so you needn't worry too much about having to replay large chunks of a level, but the levels themselves rarely excite as much as the combat does. They're nicely varied, but don't really offer anything out of the ordinary - which is surprising, given that the enemies are anything but standard fodder.
Combat is without doubt the star of the show and you earn new moves and abilities as you progress through the story. In fact, you'll have so many moves by the end that it'll be worth playing through again just to experiment with your gigantic move set. Other than the main story there's a casino to gamble in and a fighting mini-game, meaning you'll rarely be struggling for something to do. If you're hard enough, on your second run through you could even tackle the game's 'Hard' difficulty setting. Just don't expect to have much of a joypad left when you're finished.
It would be fair to say that God Hand has a crude visual style, but it's a game full to the brim with character. Enemies exhibit a great deal of emotion in their faces as you pummel them to the ground and animations are excellent all-round. Tie this together with some superb music and a laughter track (yes, the kind you'd hear in a sitcom), and you have one of the most bizarre, yet truly wonderfully presented games every to grace the PlayStation 2.
If there's ever been a game to split opinion, God Hand is it; so If you're reading this thinking that you could do without another punishing beat 'em up, definitely give Capcom's latest a miss. If the idea of being repeatedly pummelled by a gay wrestling duo sounds like your cup of tea though, you're in luck and God Hand might just be your dream video game. It's far from perfect and more annoying than accidentally ramming your already-bleeding knuckles against a table edge that's been smeared with salt and vinegar, but it's the kind of pain that probably turns people into fetishists. It might be wrong, but on this occasion it feels oh so right.