I had no idea what I was getting into when I found a copy of God Hand in a retro gaming store in 2013. I'd heard it was terrible and I had heard it was amazing. Either way, a friend and I were looking for something new and God Hand fit the bill. We spent that night oscillating between laughing our asses off and intensely focusing on mastering the game's mechanics. In the days since that first night, God Hand has quickly established itself as not only one of my favorite games of all time, but what I consider to be the quintessential video game experience.
God Hand isn't here to be a movie. It doesn't regale you with its 10 minute long cutscenes or try to show you every piece of its characters backstories. In fact, most of its story is utterly random. Sure there is an overall plot to the game, but it's pretty thin and the moment to moment makes zero sense. Whatever is happening in God Hand's story at any given moment is based on having fun and creating good gameplay rather than stringing together a coherent narrative. Case in point is this mini-boss encountered early in the game with zero context:
God Hand isn't here to hold your hand either, no pun intended. I've talked to many people who weren't able to make it past the first handful of levels. In fact, it's difficulty has become somewhat famous for being absolutely brutal at times. There is no blocking, which means there is really no way of mitigating your mistakes. If you fail to dodge an attack properly, you will take damage. However, it's completely fair. The game gives you every tool you need to beat it without so much as taking a single hit. If you do take a hit, it's nobody's fault but your own. Hell with the dodging system, there is a heavy emphasis on positioning, so just being in a position where you can get hit is a mistake that you've made. The controls take some getting used to and feel sluggish when you first start, but as you go on, you can start to see how every press of a button flows into the next, and the slim margin for error becomes even more apparent and appreciated. God Hand also has a dynamic difficulty system where the better you do, the more difficult it gets, so you can never rest on your laurels.
What God Hand is here to do is be a video game through and through, and it accomplishes that task with aplomb. It has an intense laser beam focus on creating satisfying, fun, and challenging gameplay that very few, if any, other games have. I'm getting ahead of myself a bit though. The gameplay that God Hand so eloquently creates is that of a 3D third-person brawler. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only game I've played that has successfully transferred the style of classics like Double Dragon and River City Ransom into the 3rd dimension. You'll spend your time with the game wailing on enemies with custom combos that you can create as you unlock more moves. These custom combos allow for an extreme degree of customization in your play style. Want to string together a bunch of low damage but fast moves and focus on combos and stunning enemies? Go for it. Want to use a lot of high damage but slow moves and play hit and run tactics? Knock yourself out. Want to focus on air juggles and space clearing moves to maintain constant control of the arena you are fighting in? You can do that too.
You also have a number of very powerful attacks called "roulette moves" at your disposal. You have to get roulette card pickups to be able to open up your roulette wheel and pick an attack to execute, and yes your roulette moves can be customized as well. The roulette moves are also completely over the top and supply the game with a lot of its ridiculous humor. You can kick a man in the nuts so hard he becomes temporarily incapacitated or you can launch him into orbit with a baseball bat.
You also have the God Hand of course. Hitting enemies will charge up your God Hand meter, which you can activate to become invincible and attack with much greater speed and damage for a short period of time. There are a number of context sensitive actions you can perform. If you manage to stun an enemy, you can pummel them by rapidly tapping the circle button. There are also weapons and objects that you can throw at enemies strewn throughout the map. As you can probably tell, God Hand has a lot of complex interwoven systems that make it a joy to play and learn, but also make watching a very skilled player a work of art in it's own right.
Every move feels great to use too. The slapstick noises that they make when they hit enemies combined with the staggering and reactions of enemies, including flying across the entire level if you use a powerful enough move, makes every press of a button a joy. God Hand also has a ridiculous attention to detail that many games like Metal Gear Solid are lauded for. There are so many different context-sensitive actions that can be performed on a number of enemies in a vast number of circumstances. There are sound effects for all kinds of stuff, like the sound of a bell ringing whenever someone gets punched in the balls or a twinkle as you knock someone out of Earth's atmosphere.
That's another thing I love about this game: its utterly ridiculous and always present sense of humor. One need only watch this cutscene to understand exactly what I'm talking about.
This is presented entirely without context too. You just walk into a cave and this plays and then you fight them. This is not a one-off situation either. God Hand is constantly throwing stuff like this at you and then moving on to do it again 5 minutes later. Even the flavor dialogue and fighting moves are funny and over the top.
God Hand oozes fun from every pore and it knows exactly what it is and what its here to do. That is why I consider God Hand to be the quintessential video game experience.