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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Clover Studio
GENRE: Fighting
October 10, 2006

 Written by Byron Tsang  on November 24, 2006

Review: How about ?groin-grabbingly transcendent?? No?

Every so often you get a game where you're just not sure what to make of it. ?Killer7? was some sort of surreal trip from those crazies at Grasshopper Manufacture and the ?Cho Aniki? series was downright insane/homoerotic. Now comes another to join the ranks of the weird: ?God Hand?, a beat-em-up by Clover Studio, the makers of ?Viewtiful Joe? and ?Okami?. Hey, when Capcom's trademark ?This game contains scenes of explicit violence and gore? screen shows someone getting a kick to the crotch, complete with the sound of a bell, you know you've found yourself in an extraordinary place.

Have you ever tried to play the hero, only to end up in a distressing predicament? Then you'll have sympathy for Gene, a wandering man of fisticuffs and justice. Seeing a girl being harassed by some thugs, he spares no time to help her out. Sadly he gets thoroughly beat and to add insult to injury, loses an arm. But not all is lost, for the girl happens to be a guardian for the Godhand, an arm imbued with the power that defeated a demon king of long ago. The girl, Olivia, gives Gene the arm and now they're out to take down the rising demon presence that plagues the land.

Boy, doesn't that just sound clich?? Don't worry, it is. At the beginning of ?God Hand?, you won't even be given a reason to knock heads, aside from the fact that there are unsavory characters about. It's not until halfway before you're given some sort of back story on what's up. Now, even if this is just a beat-em-up, that's no excuse to have a tacked on story, right? It's not like these are the days of ?Final Fight? and other brawlers of old. Well, what Clover Studio decided to do was sidestep the whole ?story' aspect and make everything?bizarre.

You'll deal with sadomasochistic demons, helium-voiced Power Ranger rejects, and killer Chihuahuas. Only townspeople look normal but what colorful things they'll say when you talk to them. The camp's played up so much in this game you'd think the writers of the hammy ?Batman? series translated this. I honestly can't help but feel this is all intentional thanks to the awful dialogue; these are the same people who made ?Okami?, a fantastically written game. But whether or not ?God Hand? was meant to be camp doesn't matter; what matters is whether or not you'll accept it. I know there are those who abhor the exaggerated humor, so it's really up to your tolerance for the stuff. Humor's such a subjective thing. Nevertheless, even if ?God Hand? isn't played straight, it won't change the fact that the characters are all drawn from the stock and lack any defining feature. Gene has his moments, but he's still pretty flat. The antagonistic demons are the only ones that give more lasting impressions and in my case, it's due to their absurdity. If it weren't for the sheer ludicrousness of everything, I can't see how anyone could keep their interest up throughout. I guess there was just a small part of me wanting to know what crazy things I'd see next.

So the presentation is unusual, that's for sure. The gameplay? It depends almost completely on your own patience. At the start, you're given a few techniques which you can set in any order you want to make your own combo attack. You can assign individual techniques to the other button as well. Simple, no? Things get trickier later on, when enemies start blocking, dodging, etc and you're going to need stronger, better techniques to keep up. Techniques that can break their guard, allow you to juggle them, or just launch them away. You'll be able to get these techniques at the shop, along with power ups. There is, of course, a price. A vast amount of cash is required to buy them; cash that can be found either in the stages, the casino, fighting in an arena, or Chihuahua racing. You're only going to reap the benefits if you soldier on for a few stages, but the core gameplay, the combat, won't change drastically. So how's that?

For a third-person brawler, the movement is?odd. The left thumbstick moves you forwards and backwards, but instead of a strafing, you'll be rotated. Highly reminiscent of the ?Resident Evil? movement style. While it was bearable in that series, it doesn't seem to fit in a fast-paced game like ?God Hand?. Does it help that the camera is closely zoomed onto Gene, so you're more or less unable to see what's behind him? Not when you're facing multiple enemies at once; these thugs are not the kind that stands around while you take them on one at a time. It's a good thing they put in radar?yet for some reason they neglected to put in a ?guarding' move. Yes, your opponents can and will block; you can't. To make up for that, you can evade like the best of them using the right thumbstick. The up direction makes you weave, down makes you backflip, and left and right makes you strafe in the corresponding direction. It surprisingly works but it does take getting used to, as I've found myself strafing right into the attack of other enemies. Weaving seems to be the hardest to do, as you have to time your movements exactly.

But what about the Godhand? Where does that come into play? Through the roulette wheel, that's where. If you have enough roulette orbs, pressing R1 will let you pick a move that causes major damage through outrageous means, like whacking someone into the stars via baseball bat. Some are specifically designed to cause hurt on a single person, while others are for the crowds. You'll want to mix up the varying types of roulette moves you have, in order to have something for all situations. The second and more basic ability of the Godhand is merely activating it, which allows Gene to run around faster, tougher, and smack down bad guys with extreme prejudice. And I mean it. Even without using the powers of the Godhand, Gene can pick up assorted material to throw or use as melee weapons. How about kicking someone through some wooden supports, allowing the roof above to collapse on him? Not enough? Land enough hits on the enemy so you can perform various painful moves like suplexes and ass-spanking. Yeah, ass-spanking.

However, as much as I want to like this game (given its description, who wouldn't?), there are negatives keeping ?God Hand? from reaching the upper echelon of gaming. For starters, the combat just doesn't feel particularly quick. You'll let loose several blows, the enemy will likely guard, and then you'll break the guard and hammer him into submission. It's simple, it's repetitive, but since this is a brawler, I can't harsh on this point that much. An annoyance is that taking a single guy down can take quite a while if you're only using techniques and most of the time, you'll only be able to target a single enemy. Not good if you're facing five of them. There's no real targeting so you're usually hitting just the person in front of you, so often you'll find yourself using projectile weapons on guys you weren't meaning to attack. This may not seem like a big deal, but as you progress further into the game, you're going to need everything you can get to survive. Recall those trailers of ?God Hand? that proclaimed it ?hard, but fair?? In a way, it's very true. With each successful hit you land on the enemy, you raise a difficulty gauge. The meter goes from level one to three, with the additional level of ?die'. What does this do? The higher the level, the more difficult the game gets. We're talking a lot of bigger baddies rushing at you in waves. It can get absolutely brutal at times, especially on the ?die' level, with a mere three hits bringing a fully healed Gene to his knees. But taking damage lowers your difficult gauge, so as long as you suck at ?God Hand?, you may just have an easier time than someone who's better. It makes a lot of sense on terms of challenge but the execution ended up feeling far too tedious for its own good. The saving grace would have to be the aforementioned roulette moves and creating your own combos; it's just a shame that you won't get to use them all too much. Roulette moves need to be conserved for the bosses and your combos will most likely have to be kept short since enemies have a habit of attacking you while your back is turned. And if all else fails, no worries; you've got infinite continues.

Although I do dislike how the combat plays out, the spectacle's not too bad. Enemies are very responsive to the variety of moves you'll put on them: a quick jab to the face snaps their heads back, a kick to the shin causes a momentary limp, and sending guys flying away is always a blast. Ah, if only the rest of the graphics could hold up to the fluidity of their movement because fluidity is really all they have. Gene's the best-looking of the bunch but again, it's due to the excellent motion. While the enemies are all very?kinky, many fall under the ?palette swap' category. The townspeople fare worse, all of them drab (the writers even poke fun at this trend). The backgrounds themselves are all dusty towns, brown caverns, or grey facilities. The buildings you can go inside are nothing of note but I mention them because of the blatant clipping issues you'll undoubtedly come across. Get too close to a wall and you'll see right through it. This will happen so much you'll begin to think it was part of the game. Still, ?God Hand? isn't a visual hell. Everything looks decent; it's just this dip in quality is a bit jarring from Clover Studio.

There are cinematics done in a cartoonish in manner yet the realistic style they chose to use makes it all seem awkward. Increasing the awkwardness would have to be the voices. Let's establish the fact that the game is camp. The dialogue would have to be sure evidence of it because there is no way it could be said without tongue-in-cheek. Like the whole game, everything is over the top. I don't know if it's in the ?so bad it's good' territory or not, but I found it amusing. That's ?amusing', not ?pure hilarity'. Keep in mind that the Japanese version had the exact same voicework, so there never was a Japanese dub. The soundtrack, made up of a mish-mash of genres (with the inclusion of surf rock, of all things), somehow settles perfectly into a game like this, though there are no real standout tracks either. The sound effects, on the other hand, are awesome, sliding right into slapstick ground.

Bottom Line
I'll be candid: there's something about ?God Hand? that just feels unfinished to me. Whereas previous Clover Studio games were almost polished to a fault, this one seems too rough to be complete. Perhaps it really may be unfinished, as this is the final game from Clover. Make no mistake; it's still an admirable beat-em-up, following the traditions of its genre with a masochistic twist. It even tries to break out of the repetitive clobbering with a few mini-games scattered throughout, as well as taking the absurd to new heights. But no matter how the eccentric the approach, its actual combat can only be enjoyed briefly before banality sinks in. If it's fresh gameplay you're craving, look elsewhere. Otherwise ?God Hand? is strange brawler that deserves at least a rental, if only to witness the ridiculousness. Hell of a way to end the ride.

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