Saturday, March 02, 2013

God Hand

I like the new Shins album.
Review By Genjuro Kibagami

I knew God Hand was special shortly into the game. After smacking around hordes of goons armed with sledgehammers, two by fours and spiked clubs, I found myself in the most unusual of situations. My character had entered a colorful hidden carnival in the middle of a dusty spaghetti western town. A stage could be seen in the distance showcasing dancing brawlers. A voice was then heard.

My character then assured the brothers that he “wasn't like that” before defending himself against their dazzling yet powerless array of prancing, twirling and battle cries of “WHIP IT!” These spoofs of Ai Choaniki's Samson and Adon were just the beginning as God Hand would offer plenty of other exaggerated, goofy, and quirky moments in addition to brutal brawling.

Our hero is Gene, a young martial artist who unwillingly becomes an unstoppable kung fu hero. One day Gene encounters a buxom young beauty being attacked by a group of thugs. The girl is saved thanks to Gene, but his arm is sliced off in the scuffle. Luckily the girl turns out to be Olivia, the last of an ancient clan protecting a powerful arm called the God Hand. Olivia entrusts Gene with the God Hand, but to Gene's dismay Olivia forces him to use his power responsibly and justly. Otherwise she threatens to reclaim the God Hand by hacking it off with an axe.

And so Gene is thrust into countless fights with a variety of methods to completely obliterate goons ranging from beefy tubs of lard to masculine looking women wielding dual axes to lanky seven foot brutes. Your base attacks are punch-kick combos utilized through normal button mashing fashion, but unlike your average beat ‘em up, God Hand has over one hundred moves that you can purchase (along with health upgrades and such) with money accumulated in each stage. Then you can mix and match them to create the best combos for you're style. Take Drunken Monkey techniques and evade and counter, use sweep kicks to knock your foes on the ground and stomp on their chests, or punch brutes into the air and juggle them before they hit the ground – the choice is all yours. Gene has even more at his disposal including an “Overdrive” mode initiated by filling a Technique Meter and extremely powerful super moves called Roulettes. By picking up cards found in barrels and crates littered throughout the stage, Gene can fill his Roulette Orbs and unleash such silly attacks as kicking a man in the nuts (Ball Buster), throwing an explosive baseball into a crowd of enemies (Wild Pitch), or pummeling an enemy with lightning fast punches in a Fist of the North Star spoof (100 Fists).

And you're going to need them all. Rather than pitting you against large numbers of weak enemies, God Hand throws relatively small groups of three to five thugs your way. However, these guys can knock off huge chunks of your health and often guard and counterattack. To break up large groups, you have many slow but powerful attacks that defy the laws of physics by shooting enemies across the screen. You'll also need to assign guard breaking moves to simple button combinations like ‘Down + Square' to easily bust through an enemy's defenses. But if you do find an enemy putting the hurt on you, Gene can dodge blows and dash to the side by using the right analog stick. Of course that won't always work since the enemies are quick. To make things even more intense, some felled opponents will randomly respawn instantly as their significantly harder demon form. Fortunately the game will reward you with a free technique or Roulette making the feature more cool than bothersome. All these factors together make for brawler that's more than mindless button mashing.

All the kicking ass is loads of fun, but part of what makes God Hand so appealing is its flat out goofy sense of humor. A normal situation like saving a defenseless woman from a group of whip toting baddies just becomes so much better when she admits to Gene that she actually began enjoying it. Or while on male opponents Gene can execute a pummel, an encounter in which the player must mash the circle button to have Gene punch into a dizzied opponent at awe-inspiring speed, he can do the same on women with one twist: he puts them over his knee and spanks them. Tense, serious story sequences about Olivia's insane fiancé that slaughtered her entire clan are broken up by our hero asking, “What base did he get to?” Then there's a long list of bizarre enemies: an obese cigar smoking demon named Elvis, an annoying screechy voiced rock star that looks just like Axl Rose, a masked wrestling gorilla that upon further examination has a zipper on its back, and a nymphomaniac female demon that just wants to seduce Gene. But it would a crime to not mention my personal favorite: AFRO FIST. Gene encounters this African American martial artist decked out in a bright yellow jumpsuit and shades. While sitting on a purple velvet sofa, he is accompanied by two busty ladies that gaze longingly at his gigantic ‘fro. It'll take years for the gaming industry to top the kitsch of AFRO FIST.

Not to worry though. God Hand has its seriously awesome fights too. One boss fight will have Gene slide under a gigantic dog demon, jump on top of it, and pound its face in a few dozen times while another requires careful dodging of an elderly samurai's katana. And it just wouldn't be right if there wasn't an epic fight between two martial artists in the pouring rain.

But if things like enemies yelling out Mike Tyson quotes (“You're not Alexander!”) or Olivia sticking a ‘Kick Me' sign on Gene's back for an entire level seem too immature to be funny for you, then the game's more nagging flaws will be far more apparent. The gameplay environments are ugly, sub-Dreamcast affairs where standing next to a wall often forces it to momentarily disappear. Levels also usually offer little more than a straight line of straight up enemy encounters. This is mainly annoying because the beginning levels of the game tease you with more open areas and interesting ideas like tracking down a bottle of antidote for a poisoned villager or battling thugs while also stomping out the fuse to a ‘human firework'. Later levels replace these with lame ideas like switches and enemies that drop keys.

The camera is always focused behind Gene, which can become a problem in multi enemy fights. It's a perfect view for one-on-one brawls, but you'll then be vulnerable to off screen assaults. There is a radar in the corner, but you rarely have the opportunity to look at it since you'll need to pay attention to the enemy you're fighting in case they throw up a guard. This is truly the biggest flaw with the game due to the fast paced and challenging nature of the title. It forces you to be overly cautious, and a movable camera or pre-set angles would have just faired better.

God Hand isn't for everyone. It's really difficult due to the large amount of damage a single enemy can inflict and the camera can be frustrating making it even harder. It is refreshing to play a next gen brawler with old school difficulty, but it just feels unfair when the bad camera lets that second enemy slam you against the ground. If the game's bizarre humor and enemies make you giggle, then it'll be enough to get you to plow through all seven hours quickly. If not, then you'll at least enjoy Gene's wealth of techniques and attacks at his disposal as well many thrilling fights usually accompanied by surf rock. God Hand is a unique beat ‘em up that's rough around the edges, but it's still very appealing at its debut budget title price of $30.

NAME: GOD HAND
SYSTEM: PlayStation 2

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