God Hand is a game I talk about on twitter quite a lot and has quickly become one of my absolute favourite games. However, the reception of God Hands Release in 2006 is rather mixed, most notably the 3/10 score from IGN. Some people like TheGamingBrit on Youtube however, call it a legendary title. How does it come that the opinions about this game are so split apart?
The game “God Hand” was a PS2 game produced by Studio Clover and published by Capcom, marking the last game from said Studio Clover before it was disbanded. Clover was known for games like Viewtiful Joe and Okami. 2006 the studio brought out its last game, “God Hand”directed by Shinji Mikami, before being disbanded in 2007.
God Hands release went down rather weirdly. Metacritic shows a score of “93” for Okami, the first Viewtiful Joe has a metascore of “90” with the second one having a “85”. However, God Hand is there with a score of “73” which is quite the drop. Most notably is the mentioned IGN Review, a review which has the image of being one of the worst reviews by IGN out there which has never been fixed.
Even more notably is the fact that they gave the Gameplay a 2.5 out of 10 rating, mainly criticizing the camera and controls. One of the most common criticism for God Hand in general however, does not appear in the IGN Review, which is the difficulty system. A lot of people found the game pretty unfair and frustrating, IGN mentions the frustration level, while the german TV-Show Game One brought up that it is “unfair and frustrating”.
After this rather long intro, let’s get finally to the point of this post. I think this game is everything else but unfair, instead I actually believe it is one of the most challenging yet still fair game out there with great control and mechanics with difficulty system being one of the most interesting I have encountered in a game so far.
The Difficulty System
The difficulty modes for God Hand are “Easy”, “Normal” and “Hard” from which only Easy and Normal are available and Hard gets unlocked after you beat the game on either Easy or Normal. However, these difficulty modes are not influencing the enemy behaviour a lot.
Instead, the difficulty modes mainly influence the difficulty levels.
This is an adaptive difficulty system, something the great magazines rarely even talked about. Depending on how well you’re doing, this difficulty level will either rise or drop. There are four Difficulty Levels: 1, 2, 3 and Die. Yes, apparently Clover Studio can’t count to 4 and instead went with “Level Die” as the highest difficulty level.
Let’s run down the main differences of each difficulty level:
- Level 1:
- Enemies rarely attack in groups and usually just go for a 1 vs 1 while everyone waits around you
- The Block Tolerance of the enemies is pretty big, it takes a long time till they put down their guard which is ideal for getting a Guard Break in
- Level 2:
- Enemies attack in groups now and don’t engage in 1 vs 1 combat mainly while the others around you are waiting
- Enemies gain the ability to counter-attack by evading a blow of yours with a direct follow-up attack.
- Level 3:
- Enemies gain a few more moves
- Enemies counter-attack more often
- More enemy spawns for certain locations
- Level Die:
- Enemies attack faster and more frequently
- Basic Enemies can not be launched by most moves anymore, launching is mostly only possible through counterhit or when the enemy is dizzy or stunned (through a guard break for example)
- More enemy spawns for certain locations
A thing that changes with each level is how hard and frequently enemies attack and the block tolerance. Former is rising with each level and the latter is sinking with each level. I will go through the Guard Mechanics later in this post.
Now, what do the Difficulty Modes do then? Easy limits the difficulty levels you can access, you won’t go above Difficulty Level 2. Normal gives you access to all Difficulty Levels, so a playthrough on Normal isn’t even that much different then a playthrough on Easy, at least for a beginner. Then there is Hard Mode in which you’re stuck on Level Die for the whole game. While this is the main difference, there are other things to consider:
This is a difficulty system that rewards skilled players by giving them the chance to get additional bonus rewards when performing well and makes it easier for players that are not that good. There is even a Roulette Move called “Grovel” that resets the difficulty to Level 1 in case you have too much trouble at the current area (this move does not exist on Difficulty Mode Hard) but also humiliates you in front of the enemy, we will talk about Roulette Moves later.
However, even on Level 1 this game is already quite challenging. This boils down to the way Mechanics work in God Hand and on how the game treats the player, so let’s move on.
When you first start the game, you’ll notice that you get thrown right into the action without a tutorial or the likes, so the first step here is not to go into the action directly but instead pause and choose “Techniques” and “Controls” in the pause menu to see what your character can do.
I’m not going to go through every single Technique now, instead, I’ll link you a Deconstruction of the Default Moveset with Pro’s and Con’s by Mike Kob. Spoiler, this name will appear more often later.
There are also fixed techniques for the character that are not customizable and are usually prompted through context or button combination (you initiate Dash by pressing up on the left analog stick twice).
Aside from the techniques you also need to have some defensive measures and movement controls.
This is quite a lot to take into. However, you should notice that there is no analog stick dedicated to moving the camera. In action games like Devil May Cry the right analog stick is usually mapped to move the camera around, however in God Hand the right analog stick is used for evasion moves.
The camera in God Hand is instead stuck behind the character and can not be moved independently. This is where a lot of the criticism of God Hands Gameplay come from, the camera movement is everything else but normal and coming into the game you’ll notice immediately just how odd the camera movement is.
However, the devs did put quite some work into the camera so it does not cause some unnecessary issues. In fact, there is a lock-on system build into the game, which is almost invisible. When having an encounter with enemies, the camera is always fixed onto a single target. You’ll especially notice this when you dash forward. You can change the target by moving the left analog stick to the left or right, keep in mind though that the change on target is only visible through the camera movement, there is no lock-on mark like in DMC.
If you have run past the enemy for some reason, you have the option to turn 180° with the L1 button, however it is recommended to open the Roulette Wheel via R1 instead, as it not only slows down the game for a brief moment, it also targets the next enemy which can be found aka it also turns you around.
However, that all does not change that the camera still feels really odd when getting into the game. It takes quite some time to get used to this camera, for me it was around 50% into the game where I got used to it, and that’s quite some time. That said, once you get used to it, you shouldn’t have too much problem with said camera system as it works surprisingly well.
Let’s get to the right analog stick and how you evade in this game. The Evade Mechanic is a little bit odd but is easy to get used to. Pressing Down will make you do a backflip, Pressing left or right will make you do a sidestep and pressing Up will make you duck. All these evasive maneuvers happen with Invincibility Frames aka frames in which an enemy attacks will not hit, except for the Up-Dodging (aka Ducking), which does not protect you from attacks directed against your whole body or your legs.
All these Dodge moves have another use though. You can cancel animations with them. People who play action games should be familiar with animation cancelling, for those who aren’t:
Animation Cancelling is something that is in a lot of fast-paced action games like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry and means that you can cancel out for example an attack animation with the simple press of a Button, in case of God Hand it is through moving the right analog stick.
In God Hand the Evasion can cancel out nearly all attacks at any moment, that means that you can sidestep, duck or backflip directly after you landed or even before you land a hit, where you are still in the Recovery/Start-up animation and allow for a faster follow-up. In the case of High Side Kick, ducking right after the attack connects can be followed up by another High Side Kick, which you can use to chain an endless rain of High Side Kicks into the enemy. However, on higher difficulty levels it is more likely that the enemy ducks himself and counters directly afterwards, in most cases you’re still in the recovery animation, which is why Animation Cancelling is really important in God Hand.
There are some moves that can’t be directly cancelled though. One of the first moves you have is the “Barrelroll Kick” which has a horribly long start-up animation that can not be cancelled and which is pretty much useless on higher difficulties. Not only that, but since the start-up is so damn long, it is almost impossible to time counter hits with this move.
Counter-hits, what is that now? It is rather simple: Counter-hits happen when you hit the enemy in their start-up animation for an attack or during the attack. This causes more damage and depending on your attack, cause also a different effect. For example the High Side kick usually does not launch enemies. However, if you land a counter hit with the High Side Kick you can launch even the bigger enemies.
And since we’re at it, let’s talk about Properties of your attacks. This post is already at 1700 words and we’re only halfway through your own mechanics. When you look through the techniques you’ll notice expressions like “Juggle enemy”, “Launch Enemy” etc. These effects are pretty important in terms of crowd control for example, but their effectiveness depend on the enemy type as well as the difficulty level and also the technique itself, not to mention counter-hits and enemy status.
God, that was a lot, and I think this is more than enough about the main Combat Mechanics of God Hand. If you’re tired of reading at this point, I can link you a tutorial on how to get good at God Hand, also by Mike Kob, which also explains the games mechanics very well and also includes something I have not yet touched upon: Crowd Control. I will talk about Crowd Control later as it is one of the in my opinion less well made components of God Hand.
Actually, I’ll just link the entire NG+ Let’s Play of Mike Kob on Hard Mode. It does a very good job at explaining the games mechanics in a very good detail throughout the entire game, not to mention it’s also incredible how Mike Kob makes this game look easy…
There is still something I would like to point out in terms of your own mechanics. Roulette and God Hand are tools that can help you very well in dangerous situations. Roulette moves can be used via Roulette Orbs, which you can see above your HP Bar. Those are moves, which hit your enemy with an almost 100% guarantee and in the case it doesn’t, you won’t lose any Roulette Orbs (this does not include ranged Roulette Moves). The Roulette Moves can have various effects, like an instant stun or just a lot of damage, others can decapitate enemies on low health and one of them kicks the enemy in the balls, with a background audience laughing at it.
The namegiving God Hand is basically an overpowered Devil Trigger from Devil May Cry. When you activate it, for a short duration your attacks become unblockable and you become invincible.
Both are very effective measures to get rid of troubling enemies fast and believe me, if you’re about as good as me in this game, you’re going to need it, especially on Hard Mode. The game is also more or less being conscious of this, as especially bosses tend to have a huge healthbar.
But for people who want an even bigger challenge, the “KMS-Run” aka the “Kick Me Sign-Run” is something that exist. The Background of this challenge is simple, during Stage 1-2, Olivia gives you a “Kick Me!” Sign on your back. This sign gets removed when using either your God Hand or a Roulette Move, your goal is to finish the game with the Kick Me Sign still on your back. This challenge exists for people who think this game is too easy…. hahaha… ha….
God Hand is a game about beating up bad dudes, so let’s talk about them.
The enemy design is pretty consistent in a way. On Level 1, they kick and punch you, which you can easily dodge, and when you hit them, they start to block after a while which you can counter with a Guard Break, that causes a short stun in which the enemy.
Every enemy type can have some gimmick. One can throw knives which you can easily up-dodge, but since it’s a ranged attacked, it can catch you quite off guard when dealing with a group of enemies.
As said, the enemie design is very consistent throughout the entire game, you encounter the last real new standart enemy type in Stage 5, halfway through the game, afterwards every new enemy you encounter is a reskin of an already existing enemy, who sometimes have different moves plus occasionally an additional gimmick.
Both enemies have a different main combo, however, it actually is not that different, as all attacks from both combos are updodgeable. Nevertheless it’s a difference, a difference that starts to matter when you want to get a counter hit in.
The Basic Elite Thug has a 5 hit combo while the Mohawk Elite has a 6 hit combos, that go like this:
- Basic Elite: 1, 2, 3, 4 – 5
- Mohawk Elite: 1, 2, 3, 4 – 5 -6
The “-” are gaps in the combo which are ideal for getting a counter hit in. I would even say, that the Mohawk Elite is even easier to counter-hit as the gap between the 5th and 6th attack is really obvious and almost invites you to hit him.
The combo of the Basic Elite is something you will find in a lot of other enemy types as well, pay attention when playing the game.
I will not go through every enemy type, if you want details on every enemy in the game, including bosses, again, God Hand Let’s Play By Mike Kob. Seriously, watch it.
Talking about bosses, they’re also an interesting topic of the game. Most bosses have a very extended movesets but are in most cases based upon existing basic enemies as they often share at least one move and have about the same shape of body. The exceptions to that are Azel (whose moveset is similar to yours) and all the demon bosses.
There are Mini Bosses throughout the stages, which for some would count as basic enemies, but I think of the them as Mini-Bosses because their presence is so “strong” that every enemy becomes rather passive around them, or there are no other enemies in the first place.
Demons are relentless as hell, really fast, teleport around a lot and are generally really annoying. It is usually recommended to use God Hand or Roulette to get rid of them fast, however I recommend learning how to defeat them without using these. They’re not even that big of a challenge once you learn that their relentlessness is a big weakpoint. For the first two demon types (purple and green), they tend to directly attack when they teleport near you, so your first course of action has to be up-dodging as all melee attacks from them are updodgeable (unless the button prompt “Counter” appears for the purple one… then counter).
After Dodging, immediately attack and try to get a guard break in. Now, let’s use this opportunity to talk about Guard Breaks dynamic in God Hand as it is one of the main pillars of the combat system.
Almost every enemy blocks your attacks after a while. The Block can be broken with attacks which have the “Guard Break” property. When you attack too often into a guard, the enemy will parry the attack and cause a short stun on you which you can evade-cancel (in other words… DODGE when that happens!!). A basic thug tolerates quite some hits till parrying and leaves his guard up for quite the time, which makes guard breaking easy.
However, for a demon and all bosses in the game who can block, this tolerance is really low, I’m talking about that they parry after already 1 and 2 hits and generally lower their guard again after a brief time. This leads to the interesting situation that the Guard Break as a reactionary move to the enemy block is becomes unreliable.
With that I mean, that the process of the average players mind is too slow to guard break fast enough.The average player will not realize the enemy block, and will most likely still hit the normal attacks when the enemy puts up his guard which will lead to a parry , and even then, the time in which the player realizes that he needs to guard break is so long that the enemy most likely puts down his guard again, which results in a failed Guard Break which the enemy can punishe (as always though you can evade that punishment).
So what can you do? Guard Breaking is unreliable as a “reaction” (for the average player) for bosses especially as their block tolerance is really damn low. Instead, Guard Breaking becomes a game of anticipation. You have to predict when the enemy starts to block your attacks. A common way of doing this is: Attack -> Attack -> Guard Break (do NOT put in a Guard Break in your standard combo) against enemies, that works around… 20-30% of the time from my experience. However, if a Guard Break fails it will cause an enemy attack follow up or in case of the demon, with the enemy teleporting away. The follow up attack is nothing to be feared when you can react fast enough, and with a bit training for each enemy, you should get the timings down pretty quickly.
This is the very basic rundown of the Guard Break and what’s surrounding it. Keep in mind, that the Counterattack does not necessarily happens and the enemy might just back off while some Counterattacks are so slow, you can just attack directly with a Combo Attack again and get an easy counterhit in (works especially well with enemies who have a hammer, club or the likes), but I hope you get the point.
It’s also a good idea to preemptively evade when doing a guard break aka, you cancel the recovery animation of the guard break with a dodge right after it connects, believe me, you’ll be thankful during some bosses that you can evade-cancel.
Those were around 530 words about Guard Breaking now, let’s get back on track.
Evade, Attack, Guard Break. For almost all bosses and basically almost all enemies, those are all the tools you need and this actually goes for the whole game. These 3 things are everything you need to finish the game without taking a single bit of damage.
Most bosses are duels that all rely on these mechanics to be fair and fun, and it works. You can evade very attack an enemy throws at you, and can counter pretty fast, once you get used to the enemy attack patterns and behaviours, which depend on their distance towards you, your actions and their HP. Beating a boss is a learning progress in the game, where you have to learn your own mechanics and the enemy mechanics to win and this is what makes God Hand’s Combat so damn great.
As for fairness, the enemies attacks have quite the build up time, something you may not see at first, is that most attacks have build up of around 10 frames ,with the game running at 30fps which is around 300 milliseconds, which the Youtube Channel Turbo Button points out very well:
This does not go for every attack of course, but it’s pretty much the average comfort zone of the enemy attacks. What I’m saying is: This game is almost completely fair but at the same time very complex and challenging.
With that, I think I can close out on the enemy mechanics. This is of course only a rough breakdown, for details, Here is the God Hand Let’s Play from Mike Kob again… Seriously, watch it, it’s great, also great sense of humor, but also such a detailed guide for the game. WATCH IT.
The Flaws of God Hand
The last chapter in this immense blogpost has unfortunately to be a bit more negative. I’ve been talking 3600 words now about the complexity and the greatness of God Hands combat system. I love God Hand, I really do, but nevertheless I have to point out that there are some, not even very minor, flaws in the game.
The Difficulty gap between Level 3 and Level Die.
When you look at the difficulty levels, you may not see it directly, but when playing it, it should get pretty obvious: The difference between Level 3 and Level Die is pretty big, as you can not really approach enemies the same way as before. With the enemies getting faster, the reaction time can get pretty damn narrow. That spined together with basic enemies not getting launched anymore by most moves with the “Launch Enemy” property for effective crowd control, makes the difficulty gap between 3 and Die very big, too big in my opinion.
This leads to the situation, that on normal mode, I’m mostly fine with enemies on Level 3 which leads to the Difficulty Level rising to Level Die in which I’m getting my ass handed over. This is also a flaw of the Difficulty System in itself, one that can work the other way around as well: You have a boss and are confident that you can defeat him on Level 3, but the game resets the Difficulty Level to 2, because you die, which can lead to the situation that you defeat the enemy eventually on Level 2 even though you were confident you could do it on Level 3, which can get pretty frustrating.
This is luckily compensated through the Arena, for which the Difficulty of the fights are locked and appropriate for the challenge (all main bosses are on Level Die in the Arena), funnily enough it also fixes one of the biggest problem fights in the game, which has something to do with what I’m talking about now…
Crowd Control on Level Die
People tend to say that God Hand is “not designed for crowd control”, which is not true. You definetely can crowd control in this game, however, I do not like how crowd control works in this game, especially on Level Die.
Let’s count up the ways of crowd controlling in God Hand:
- God Hand
- Dragon Punch (Shoryuken)
- Air Launch Kick
- Weapons you can pick up
6 things, 3 of them are not available at all times and 3 are contextsensitive. On Level Die, try to always seperate enemies from each other when they’re waiting for you, with the help of picking up a box for example and throwing it at one of them so they come at you one-by-one.
However, you often must face groups of enemies who all gang up on you and when you have no Roulette, God Hand or Weapon available, you have to rely on the Shoryuken, Air Launch Kick and Pummeling but there is one big problem: These three moves are contextsensitive.
To perform the Shoryuken and the Air Launch Kick, the enemy has to be above your head. Both Shoryuken and Air Launch Kick have a huge arc, which sometimes even hit enemies behind you, so it is ideal for crowd control, however the context-sensitivity is biting itself with God Hands targeting system here.
What I mean with that is, the context-sensitive moves only seem to work with the enemy the camera is targeting. I experienced multiple times launching several enemies at the same time except for the one right in front of me, which lead to me trying to Shoryuken or Air Launch Kick and it didn’t work. Tie this in with how hard it is to keep enemies seperated on Level Die and things can get really damn frustrating. The frustration tolerence by me tends to stop here and the Controller already had the one or another flight lesson…
This problem exist in especially one bossfight:
You meet this boss 2 times in the game, the first time you fight each of them one by one. Each of them have quite the big moveset, each with their own evil attacks which can be pretty hard to dodge. Now imagine having to deal with all of them at once… the second time you meet them you have to deal with two of them at the same time with the 3rd one jumping in occasionally or when one of the two is taken down.
Those are all bosses who are already challenging on their own, getting them in a position where you can Air Launch them seems almost impossible. When I entered this fight on Hard Mode it was basically just me running around and hope that breaking the props in the arena would give me enough Roulette Orbs or God Hand charge that I could narrow down this fight to a 1 vs 1 before I run out. And when you have to “hope” for something good to happen, as otherwise you can not beat the enemy, in a game like this.. I feel like something did terribly go wrong when designing this bossfight.
Funnily enough, the Arena Version of the bossfight completely fixes that problem in a very creative and challenging way. You have 3 markers in the arena, when you touch one of them, one of the bosses will spawn and fight you. This is like the best way they could have taken on this bossfight, as the player gets rewarderd for taking care of his situational awareness, otherwise he would be punished (pretty damn harshly) and people like Mike Kob could just run through all 3 markers at once, because otherwise it probably would be too boring for him.
Then there is Pummeling, which you can perform when an enemy is dizzy, however, not every enemy can be pummeled.
The most pummeling happens during bossfights which can be quite useful during multiple bosses… except for two bossfights in which you can’t pummel at all… one of them being the 3 Evil Stooges…
Uff…. that was a lot of text again. There are some other minor issues, but those are not really big problems and can be avoided easily. Mike Kob (of course) points out that one enemy type at Stage 5 has a broken hitbox in one of his attacks:
Luckily this is not a big issue, since this is only one enemy type that has this attack and he does not appear all too often in the game. Also, if you keep pressuring him succesfully, the attack won’t even matter at all. This kind of goes for all God Hand enemies, but some are easier to pressure than others, this enemy belongs to the former kind.
Holy shit, we reached 5000 words… IT’s time to end this one. The last part was a bit negative, but overall, God Hands combat is superb. It’s fair (most of the times), fun, very challenging and it feels incredibly awesome when you beat a good and challenging boss. The Combat System also compensate for the issues outside of that, which are the rather underwhelming visuals, even for its time and the very basic level design, not to mention that the game starts to become rather repetitive after a while. The Story is also no masterpiece but it doesn’t take itself all too seriously and has some campy and fun characters.
This does not even mention, that the reward for completing the game is one of the most fun Credits I’ve seen in a game so far:
I’m currently playing this Game on Hard Mode, which the next blogpost concerning this game will be about… it will be a “Protocol of Pain” where I will be talking about my experiences with most bosses on Level Die as well as giving some tips in defeating them.
I hope you endured this entire post up to this point, and in case you did… I’m happy you did! This marks the end of this write-up!
See ya, Bye-Bye then~
PS: Watch the God Hand Let’s Play by Mike Kob. Seriously, Do It.
And while we’re at it, It should also be mention, that the Credit for this God Hand Let’s Play goes to both Mike Kob and his buddy Alps as both have worked together on this Let’s Play. Alps Youtube Channel also has some great Tutorials on his channel, for example a Basic Tutorial for Beginners in the game:
His tutorials are definetely worth a look at, so definetely pay his Youtube Channel a visit!