Neither God nor Devil
Action games are my lifeblood. They’re hands down my favorite genre in video games, and I can’t tell you how happy I am at this current resurgence of the genre with games like 2018’s God of War and Devil May Cry 5 leading the charge.
As an action game fan though, there’s one game that I’ve always wanted to gush about that has always seemed like a bit of a taboo, and I feel like it’s time we cleared the air.
So… hi, my name is Mitchell Saltzman, I work at IGN, and I’d like to say that God Hand, a game that IGN dubbed “awful” 13 years ago, is, in my opinion, not just good, it’s actually AMAZING.
God Hand is made up of bold design choices that all add up to something really weird and understandably controversial, but also something undeniably unique, even by today’s standards.
Developed by the minds behind Okami and Viewtiful Joe at Clover Studios and directed by Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil and Evil Within fame, it is, at its core, an action beat-em-up. But while most action games have total freedom of movement and an emphasis on mobility, God Hand instead restricted that movement, locking the camera behind its character and forcing the player to only see what their character is seeing.
And sure, this means that the main character Gene’s movement when he’s not running straight ahead feels sluggish and enemies could get cheap shots on you from off camera. But, there are other ways that God Hand benefited from this bold decision.
For one, locking the camera meant that the right stick was freed up, which allowed God Hand to utilize a unique control scheme that mapped all of Gene’s dodges and evades to directions on the right stick. Most notably, you could bob and weave by flicking the right stick forward, which lets Gene stay right up in the face of a tough enemy and effortlessly avoid attacks while still in close combat range. In some ways, it’s very similar to a hand-to-hand version of Sekiro’s combat: both require you to be extremely aggressive, get up in your opponents face, and maintain a balance between offense and defense.
This alone is a ton of fun because it’s a system that essentially makes you an untouchable god in a 1-on-1 situation. But it’s smartly balanced by the adaptive difficulty feature, which, just by itself, is an extremely unique mechanic. For example, if you rely on those quick dodges too much, the game will react by leveling up enemies, making it much more unforgiving once their attacks do inevitably land. And yeah, it may seem like this punishes players for being good, but really, it’s a way to balance what would otherwise be an overpowered bob and weave technique without taking the fun out of it.
You’re basically a shonen anime character. You can effortlessly dodge rapid-fire punches, blast enemies into walls at high speeds with just a simple strike, and dragon kick dudes into f**king space.
God Hand is also, at its core, a blast of a power trip. You’re basically a shonen anime character. You can effortlessly dodge rapid-fire punches, blast enemies into walls at high speeds with just a simple strike, and dragon kick dudes into f**king space.
That’s awesome! And unlike many games that focus on big bombastic attacks, these animations and techniques don’t get old, because the roulette wheel mechanic that governs the usage of them is balanced in such a way that it makes them a rare situational resource to get you out of a tough spot rather than an always-available get-out-of-jail-free card.
Finally, there’s the heart of God Hand: the customizable techniques. In God Hand, you’re able to completely customize Gene’s moveset, from every attack in his four-hit combo, to his more situational abilities like his guard break, launcher, and punisher.
Like so many other aspects of God Hand, there’s absolutely nothing like this in any other game I’ve ever seen. And it’s a shame because it does so much to alleviate the repetition that so many other beat-em-ups suffer from. Over the course of the game, you’ll frequently have to alter your moveset, trying to find the best combination of power, speed, and utility to survive a given situation. Or, maybe you’ll develop your own unorthodox playstyle that only works for you. That’s the beauty of God Hand’s combat: it’s ability to be entirely customized for you and no one else.
Look, God Hand is far from perfect. I get it. Even for its time, its environments are bland, its story is largely nonsense, its voice acting is spotty at best, and its sense of humor in cutscenes is juvenile, to say the least. It’s easy to see why God Hand isn’t for everyone, but, whether you love it or you hate it, God Hand does things that no other game has done before or after, and for that it’s worth remembering.For me personally, it’ll always have a spot reserved for it on my virtual top shelf of upper echelon action games – maybe it can earn one on yours, someday, too.
Mitchell Saltzman is an Associate Gameplay Producer at IGN. Talk to him about action games, anime, pro wrestling, UFC, or just see how his day is going on Twitter @JurassicRabbit