Visual Memory #2 – ‘God Hand’

Welcome to the latest Visual Memory, the monthly column exploring classic video games on extinct systems. This month, Christopher Bell thinks it’s time to re-assess a stone cold turkey…

In a market saturated by cookie-cutter first person shooters and awful movie tie-ins, it’s great to see a games company try something different. And while God Hand is remembered as the game that killed Clover Studios (the people behind the rather beautiful Okami), it did at least turn heads. Poisonous chihuahuas, a demonic Elvis, the ability to spank your female opponents…  I couldn’t make any of this up if I tried!

God Hand came about after director Shinji Mikami (who designed Resident Evil) and producer Atsushi Inaba (Okami) decided that recent action games had come to focus too heavily on weapon-based combat.  Their solution was God Hand – a 3D beat-em-up combining the hard-core action of the classic Streets of Rage trilogy with an explorable Wild West setting. Like its side-scrolling predecessors, the game was meant to be deadly serious but, after test audiences responded well to a few low-brow gags in the first publicity trailer, things took a turn for the strange.

The game is famous – some would say infamous – for its off-the-wall humour, which includes facing off against the aforementioned chihuahuas, a trio of dwarves in Power Ranger outfits, and a pair of flamboyantly gay Luchadores in gold and silver spandex.

So what’s it all about? You play as Gene, a young martial artist equipped with one of the God Hands – a pair of holy, hand-shaped relics which were once used to imprison a mighty demon. The demon’s minions are sworn to recover both the Hands and release their master upon the Earth. Only you, with your divine powers and kick ass moves, have the power to stop them.

Joking aside, the game worked hard to establish its fist-fighting credentials and incorporated over 100 individual martial arts moves – all based on real techniques – which could be combined into a customised move list, allowing for a variety of fighting styles and strategies.

Mikami was also careful to evoke the spirit of the earlier games that had inspired him. The soundtrack harks back to video game music of the 1980s and 90s, and the game’s graphical style is unadorned and realistic, despite the surreal characters who populate it.

Sadly, while its critical reception was generally positive, God Hand never met with commercial success and a string of blatant technical flaws meant it would never be remembered as a true classic; the camera clipped the scenery too often, the characters moved with the finesse of a Sherman Tank in treacle and the realism of the environments basically translated to an awful lot of brown.

More bad news followed.  After disappointing sales in Japan, parent company Capcom disbanded Clover Studios just a few days after the game’s release in North America.

But there is a silver lining. Mikami and many Clover alumni went on to set up a new studio, Platinum Games, where they created the celebrated Bayonetta, a game which directly references several of Gene’s special moves. Their brand of slapstick weirdness also proved to be a big influence on other game designers like Suda 51 (No More Heroes, and the much anticipated Lollipop Chainsaw).

God Hand is an under-appreciated title and, if you can look past its problems, you’ll find a fun, rewarding adventure with a sense of knock-about humour that is rarely seen on western shores. If you’ve ever laughed at Monty Python, The Three Stooges or crazy Japanese game shows, this is the perfect title for you. It’s been available on PSN for months now at a shade under $10, so there’s nothing stopping you.

After all, this may be the game that ruined its studio, but you get the impression they loved every minute of it.

Title: God Hand (2006)

Developer: Clover Studios

Publisher: Capcom

Formats: PlayStation 2 (PlayStation 3 through PSN)

Visual Memory will return on Thursday 19th April to celebrate the game that launched a thousand cosplayers – Darkstalkers!


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