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Retrospective: God Hand

Balls now thoroughly busted.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

It makes sense to start a retrospective of God Hand with the E3 trailer, since that was half the fun.


In the summer of 2006, when this trailer was released, it effortlessly raised eyebrows across the entire games press. We had no idea what to make of it, except that we probably should be making something from it because it was from Clover, developers of Viewtiful Joe and Okami. Both the dance in the trailer and the phrase, "It's a ball-bustingly hard game / But a fair game" became memes among my friends straight away, and I kept thinking back to that bit where the protagonist kicks a guy into the sun.

Then God Hand surprised everyone by actually coming out. More eyebrows were raised first by reviewers, then gamers. Then IGN gave the game 3.0 out of 10, causing even more eyebrows to pop up across the industry like stray dirt blown upwards by a landmine. Even now eyebrows bounce when anyone who played God Hand remembers the thing.

This is how we gamers react when a game doesn't take itself seriously. We have absolutely no idea what's going on. We become a gaggle of pillheads at a rave, half of us leaping around and dribbling in excitement while the other half search for a quiet corner to wait for it all to end. It's embarrassing.

It's taken me the three years since this game came out to notice what on earth the characters are actually wearing. If you bring this picture up in its original size you can see 18 belts.

God Hand was, and is, more than just a 'funny' game. It's important to make the distinction between a game not taking itself seriously and a game that tries to be jokey and adopt a laissez-faire tone to show that it's a casual cavalcade of laughs. Not taking yourself seriously isn't about having a sense of humour or being relaxed, it's about not giving a shit. It's about having a sense of humour and not caring if people find you funny. It's about being relaxed and not caring if people think you're a waster. And in the case of our industry, it's about putting the enjoyment of the developers on a par with the enjoyment of the players.

Where God Hand gets its cult status is in both having this attitude and actually being a good game. As a third person fighter God Hand is tight in a way I'm sure plenty of developers lack the innate talent to achieve, and the ridiculous difficulties available once you've finished the game reveal the robustness of the mechanics. Better than this, God Hand manages the trick of never once letting you slip into unthinking routine, endeavoring and succeeding to be ceaselessly engaging. Even when taking on the weakest enemy the moment you stop paying attention is the moment you get panned, and that's something even God of War or some of the finest scrolling fighters don't manage.

So yes, God Hand is important because of its rich contempt and sardonicism - oh wait! These guys are hilarious! It's funny because they're gay!

The point is, the fighting is transparently excellent and the few journalists who failed to see that because they were incapable of seeing through the jokes should be pilloried and give up their jobs, whether they reviewed this game or not. I'm serious. If you genuinely can't see through comedy and (admittedly confusing and potentially non-existent) Japanese irony when it comes to judging a game then you're an acne pimple on the face of this hobby; you're one of the anxiety issues slowing this teenage industry as it wades towards adulthood.