There's absolutely something to be said for a good, old-fashioned brawler. Back before games were sweating such things as high-poly visuals, epic stories, and online whatzis, there was the brawler. The lean, pick-up-and-play genre used to be one of the staples of any gaming diet, and Capcom was one of the key developers that helped it thrive. Fast forward to today, and we have been presented with God Hand for the PlayStation 2. This original game from Japanese publisher Clover Studios, maker of the upcoming gem Okami and the Viewtiful Joe series, is essentially a new type of brawler that marries the accessibility of the old-school genre with modern staples such as character progression, customization, and a story to give it a bit of depth. The funky title first caught our eye at E3 with its quirky style, sense of humor, and old-school gameplay with a new twist. Plus there was a large monkey in a wrestling outfit in the trailer for the game, which featured a Broadway-style dance number. Obviously an exclusive had to be secured, and lo, we have. Does God Hand live up to our lofty and eccentric expectations? From what we've played so far, it surely does.
So how does one make all the craziness we've seen in our previous looks at the game into a coherent story? Well, one doesn't. Instead, one makes a big old epic tale that favors the bizarre. God Hand's backstory revolves around an ancient legend wherein humanity was saved from Satan by a powerful fighter. Said fighter was allegedly blessed with divine power in his arms and used his martial arts skills to defeat Satan. (This is just a flowery way to say that a dude appeared and beat the crap out of Satan. No matter how you slice it, though, we appreciate the visual.) In the wake of this victory, mankind dubbed the power "god hand," and a legend sprang up that anyone who obtained the power could become a god or a demon.
This brings us to Gene, God Hand's main character, who finds himself souped up by said power. How does a 23-year-old adventurer wind up with such awesome might? You can blame Olivia, a damsel in distress whose family was entrusted with protecting the power of the god hand. Unfortunately, a recent demon attack has done some pruning to Olivia's family tree and left the young girl running for her life. A chance encounter with Gene--and presumably not a whole lot of options--finds Olivia giving him the power and asking for some help. The fateful meeting finds the pair on the run, but Gene, being the chivalrous dude that he is, is looking to even the odds and help out the little lady.
The reasonably straightforward story is complemented by straightforward gameplay that has you beating the crap out of anything that moves and collecting all manner of items. You'll travel from area to area as Gene and Olivia get on their way. Before advancing, you'll have to deal with a certain number of enemies and watch a cutscene or two. Though this sounds pretty basic, there are a number of touches that help keep the game from being a button masher. On your journey of butt kicking you'll pick up a number of collectibles that will come in handy during battle. Besides the basics of life, like food, the pickups will include items that will tie in to the game's "roulette" wheel, which is where the really fun aspects of combat lie.
Besides having a standard array of combat moves, such as punches, kicks, and the ability to use anything lying around to beat people, Gene's big gun is the god hand, which lets him perform a number of different and outrageously powerful moves. To pull these off you'll need a full tension gauge and a stock of roulette orbs. The orbs let you cycle through the moves you have available to you via the god hand. As you progress through the game you can purchase more in shops and, best of all, customize Gene's moves to include the moves you want. This personalization is a cool addition that we were very into as we dug the flexibility it offered. The various moves you can pick up offer a range of attacks that cater to different play styles. Each move has an over-the-top touch that's ridiculous (in a good way). In addition, the level of interactivity in the environments highlights the insane moves as you take out roofs and furniture with aplomb, and there are a whole lot of flying bodies.
The visuals in the game are coming together nicely. The game sports a clean look complemented by an understated art style that's quite different than Clover's previous PS2 work. The game seems technically sound; Gene and the various characters he winds up encountering are an eclectic bunch that look good and move well. The downside is that the graphics look a bit dated and spare in spots, but the upside is that the work-in-progress game we played moves along at a pretty smooth frame rate, which bodes well for the final game.
The audio is a great component of God Hand's experience thanks to a groovy soundtrack that's heavy on the jangly guitars and surfer feel. Though it can be over the top in a number of places, God Hand's soundtrack is a good accompaniment to the action. At the same time, the sound effects are very satisfying, most notably when stomping people on the head or hitting them with pipes. The voice acting is pretty out there in a number of places, but ultimately, it sells the eccentric story and characters very well.
Based on what we played so far, God Hand is shaping up to be a fun brawler with some cool perks. The game looks solid and has a definite personality that comes through. The bizarre sense of humor and quirky story are a great combo that has you playing through to see what other bizarre things will come your way. The gameplay feels very good. Once you've gotten the hang of the combat system down--not to mention have gone ahead and customized up a storm--the game is very fun. The action may a bit too simple for some, but regardless, it seems as though there's a respectable amount of fun to be had here. Anyone looking for a fun brawler in which they can take out the frustrations of their day on a pack of hoodlums and demons should keep an eye out for God Hand when it ships later this year. Look for more on the game in the coming week.