Killing joke

God Hand is a developer’s last laugh
By MITCH KRPATA  |  October 23, 2006
1.5 1.5 Stars

MISFIRE?: What does horrid controls, appalling clipping, and one of the century’s worst game cameras tell you?

The announcement, two weeks ago, that Clover Studio was closing up shop came as a surprise to those of us who had played and loved Okami. Clover, which was also the development house behind Viewtiful Joe, had the rare ability to bring innovation and artistry to time-tested gameplay mechanics. After you’ve seen God Hand, though, the news makes a little more sense. God Hand plays like a contractually obligated album from a band desperate to jump to a new label. It’s a spectacular misfire.

God Hand aspires to be a beat-’em-up in the Double Dragon mode crossed with Three Stooges–style high jinks. Maybe each of the disparate elements that are thrown together seemed like a good idea at the time. Most foes resemble 1970s punks, sporting spiky haircuts and wearing tight clothes. The setting looks like a spaghetti Western. And the non-stop fistfights are staged to the strains of a laid-back surf-rock soundtrack. Even the main character’s name, Gene, seems like a gag. It might be the least bad-ass name for a video-game hero since Mario.

Gene has come into possession of the God Hand, an enchanted limb that grants him the power to beat the snot out of miscreants — which is a good thing, since they’re all desperate to claim the God Hand for themselves. The structure recalls Capcom’s own Devil May Cry. Each level is short and features just a few battle scenarios; in between levels, you can add new fighting techniques to the arsenal. God Hand offers several interesting wrinkles to the formula. You can design your own four-move combos (derived from dozens of individual moves) and map them to the square button. Gene also has several “roulette powers,” special moves that can be triggered periodically in combat. Landing blows, dodging attacks, and taunting enemies all charge up the God Hand, which can be unleashed to devastating effect.

But none of it plays as good as it sounds. Punching people into outer space and kicking them repeatedly in the coinbag isn’t as satisfying as it should be when you’re grappling with horrid controls and one of the worst game cameras the 21st century has had to offer. For one thing, Gene can’t block, which means that your only defensive option is to dodge — and that doesn’t work when you’re facing more than one opponent. You also can’t lock onto a particular enemy, and the camera is finicky about picking one character to focus on. Often the only way to get your bearings is to run away from the scrum and turn around.

Even the cleverer bits get old fast. Taunting enemies pumps up the God Hand meter and makes them so mad that their faces turn red. Hilarious the first time, good for a chuckle the next, and then . . . Similarly, it’s hilarious — and a little scary — when a blue demon bursts from the body of a fallen foe, but not after you’ve seen it a dozen times.

With bland textures and truly appalling clipping problems, the game looks like one of the budget PC titles you see in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Casino mini-games are hardly worth the price of admission. It feels like a rush job on every level.

Whatever great things the Clover folks have done in the past, this one is too inept to allow them to hide behind the “I’m just kidding!” defense. Yes, God Hand is supposed to be funny. But who is the joke on?

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