Let's cut right to the chase here, God Hand is the gaming equivalent of a low budget B movie. But despite how such a statement may sound, that's in no way meant as an insult. With the 'best' B movies once you get beyond the obviously shoddy productions values, flaky script and questionable acting there is often a lot of fun to be had by those willing to see past such things and buy into the silliness of it all. The same attitude can be applied to judging God Hand, it's unashamedly lacking in so many areas that on the face of it you wonder quite how it made it to completion considering the calibre of the people involved in its development, but actually sit down, get in the spirit of the thing, embrace its flaws and give it a chance and before long you realise you're really quite enjoying it almost despite yourself.
Coming as it does from Clover, the now defunct Capcom studio that's been responsible for games like Viewtiful Joe and the upcoming Okami, and with Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame on board as director God Hand's development pedigree alone marks it out as worthy of interest. So it's surprising, jarringly so in fact, to see such expectations of quality quashed almost deliberately in the first ten minutes of play. Taking its gaming cues directly from the much loved side scrolling 2D beat-em-ups of yesteryear (think Final Fight and Streets Of Rage) and pushing them right to the limits of homage with only the move to full 3D stopping it from falling wildly into plagiarism, God Hand is very much a traditional button bashing brawler that sees you fighting your way through wave after wave of identikit bad guys with that time honoured gaming staple, the end of stage boss battle, thrown in to spice things up a bit. Such outdated game design isn't helped by a graphics engine that paints the simplistic environments using a distinctly low polygon PSone style brush. Stages are small and linier to a fault and while the character models are a little better the number of repeated identical enemies is something that has to be seen to be believed.
And yet, despite all of the negative things there are to say about God Hand's design and presentation, once you start to actually play, it doesn't take long for it to start to worm its way into your affections. Seeing as the whole game is about beating up bad guy after bad guy the part of God Hand that really does need to work is the combat and thankfully it appears all the time and care that didn't go into the rest of the game found its way into that instead. While at heart God Hand will always be a bit of a button basher there is a depth and subtlety to the constant fighting that becomes quickly apparent. At the centre of the combat system is the player definable combo chain which allows you to mix and match from your available moves list to create your ideal combo. With new moves earned or purchased throughout the game you can have a lot of fun working out the perfect combo. Also key to the experience is the dodge move that has been helpfully assigned to the right analogue stick, a quick tap of which sees you move swiftly to one side allowing you a remarkable amount of freedom to dance round your opponent evading their attacks while launching your own. As you fight you build up power into the titular God Hand and when the gauge is full you can unleash it against anyone in the vicinity in one of two ways. Either as a sustained burst of power and speed that improves your standard abilities ten fold or via one of the special roulette wheel moves that are available to you with the press of a shoulder button. At some points during combat, often when your enemy is dazed or grounded, on screen prompts tell you that certain context sensitive moves are available and a quick button press or two sees you perform all manor of throws, stomps or other fancy death dealing moves which more often than not can be far funnier than you'd expect, the 'Death Poke' being a personal favourite.
As you go through the game enemies drop a variety of strange and useful things from massively oversized fruit (health) to new combat moves and money. In between levels you can spend any money you've collected on new moves as I've mentioned, however in a strange and completely unexplained twist you can also spend some time running around a huge casino, gambling your winnings away on blackjack, poker and slot machines. Quite why is never explained but in keeping with the ever increasing air of weirdness it's best just to accept it and enjoy it. Talking of the games inherent weirdness, another of God Hands saving graces is its sense of fun, the whole game is infused with a delightfully knowing tongue in cheek sense of humour. The whole experience never takes itself seriously and embraces absurdity at every turn. The plot, even for a video game, never makes any real sense but the game knows that and never once tries to pretend otherwise. There can't be many games out there that ask the hero to do things like help cure a man bitten by a purple and green spotted poisoned chinchilla, fight a gorilla wrestler or include a fat Hispanic demon called Elvis as one of the big bosses.
One thing that God Hand is without a shadow of doubt is hard! Very hard at points in fact. It does try to tune its difficulty level to the standard of the player which is a nice idea but nothing can get away from the fact that on normal difficulty it can be a real challenge at times. The strange decision to not allow the health bar to refill between levels doesn't help with this and often you can find yourself almost wanting to die at the start of a new level just so you can start it again with full health rather than battle furiously through the first part of it only to inevitably die at some point and have to do it all again. Since you're blessed with unlimited continues there is no real feeling of needing to preserve each life which makes the non-replenishing health bar seem even more of an unwanted frustration.
Little things like those which actually affect the gameplay have far more of a negative impact on God Hand than the more instantly glaring problems I described earlier and as such stop it from scoring as high as it could so easily have done. Going back to the analogy I used at the start of this review, the best B movies will never be given the broad critical acclaim offered to their more mainstream rivals but instead will be treasured by the select few who take the time to experience them and are willing to see past their obvious flaws. By the same token God Hand will be shunned by a lot of people who'll cite the poor graphics, alarmingly retro game design and what appears on the surface simplistic combat. But for the select few who 'get it' and have a soft spot for such things or are willing to take a chance God Hand will be loved unashamedly and held up as an example of what can be made of an aging genre when refined to its purest form by skilled developers.