God Hand the Heavy-Handed

...or how I learned to stop caring and enjoy problematic games.

God Hand the Heavy-Handed
God Hand (2006). Image courtesy of IGDB. Game developed by Clover Studio, published by Capcom

I vanquish my foes in a flurry of fists. I send a thug flying. I am in awe as his body ascends to the heavens and is transformed into a sparkling star. My success is met with steeper challenges: the enemies become more ferocious as I weave through their blows and roundhouse kick their faces in. It's no matter. I grapple them, I uppercut their jaws, I even suplex them. I leave my enemies shaken and maddened, red-faced, steam coming out of their ears. I am gifted with the hand of God. I am victorious, reveling in the defeat of my enemies.

I've been wanting to write about God Hand for a while now. It's a Playstation 2 era, 3rd person arcade-y beat 'em up, the brainchild and final game developed by the infamous Clover Studios. It's one of my favorite games of all time and controversially think it's the best thing Shinji Mikami has ever been involved with.

I was originally going to write about God Hand as a sort of April Fool's article. The intro read as follows:

God Hand is a game for men. It is fueled by the inherent homo-eroticism of beating people up. If you are a trans woman, I recommend that you do not play God Hand, as the amount of testosterone that will seep from your screen will be damaging to your HRT journey. If you have had an orchiectomy, God Hand comes with the risk of your testicles growing right back. Alternatively, if you are a trans man, God Hand is a valid replacement for your weekly testosterone injection. I kid, of course. God Hand is for everyone, as long as you're okay with brutal challenges, button-mashing and problematic stereotypes. So, for "everyone" except game journalists, who so viciously butchered the game upon its original release.

There's a problem with God Hand I had to come to blows with. The intro I wrote states it somewhat, despite my attempt at comedy. It's often considered a challenging game for "real" gamers, not for "casuals". It's often used to decry why games journalism sucks (mostly aimed at IGN's abysmal review and low score when it was originally released). It's often quoted to call back to an era where game developers were allowed creative freedom. Creative freedom, in this instance, means to have the ability to make jokes out of gay men, cigar smoking Mexicans and bitchy women.

Truth is, the game has some decidedly risque homophobic, racist and sexist portrayals. Yet, it's brimming with so much levity and originality, never-replicated-since mechanics and full of so much gusto, that I am unable to despise it. There's a reason why I award God Hand a pass, its only castigation a slap on the wrist.

I adore God Hand, and you should too. One of my friends said it best when they claimed "God Hand is the only game where it is remotely palatable to violently slap a woman's ass".

My affinity for it despite its insensitive portrayals primarily comes down to a certain acceptance of edginess, the resignation to the fact that artists shouldn't and wouldn't shy away from controversial or problematic topics, willingly or not, sensibly and intellectually represented or executed for pure shock or comedic value. Above all, it's truly a wonderful gem of a game; fun, exciting and challenging, all the way to the credits.

God Hand (2006). Image courtesy of Screen Rant. Game developed by Clover Studio, published by Capcom.

If there's one thing I can concede to its reactionary fanbase, is that God Hand is not a game for the weak. It'll leave you with bruised, bloody and battered fingertips from the insane amount of button mashing. As levels progress, the enemies get significantly tougher, beefier and the protagonist Gene feels rather vulnerable at all times, despite his armbrace granting him the strength of a God. The challenge of the game is carefully balanced to complement the two main combat mechanics.

The DIY combo building is the meat and potatoes of this affair, and it's a gameplay facet I'm surprised we haven't seen more often. Rather than master an already designated list of combos, you mix-n-match purchasable punches and kicks to best suit the challenges ahead. Success and failure are meted out based on how effective and varied you can make your own moves. I found out very quickly if a combo I had constructed was good or not based on how badly I would get my ass whooped.

My adrenaline levels elevate when the combos are demolishing my mohawk-donning leather-clad adversaries, but God Hand does not reward victory. Oh no: it punishes you if you're doing too well. There's no difficulty selection in God Hand. At the bottom left of your screen, you will find a difficulty level bar, which increases with successful combos, taunts and dodges, and decreases when receiving slaps, grabs and all forms of damage. The more stylin' your combos get, the more brutal and aggressive your enemies become. It doesn't just involve higher damage output and faster reflex testing: enemies can pull off wild new moves unavailable on lower levels.

The combat is rounded out by these flashy and spectacular special attacks dispensed out of a roulette wheel. Anything from groin kicks, Hokuto no Ken style thousand-fist punches and curb-smashing heads until the ground beneath quakes and cracks. There's even a quite comedic special move you can execute which involves prostrating yourself and begging for mercy to reduce the difficulty level.

Astute readers have probably noticed I haven't even touched upon the story. While there is a plot in God Hand, I feel as though it takes a backseat to all the zany cartoon action. It's not one of those immersive, character-driven narratives, but more a game that draws you in based on gameplay and aesthetics. The writing is superficial at best, and it doesn't have to be any more serious. It's a game that's meant to be taken in with a lot of levity. Maybe that's why the developers thought inserting some heavy-handed sexist tropes, homophobic portrayals and a racist caricature of a villain would grant it more buoyancy.

God Hand (2006).Image courtesy of Backloggd. Game developed by Clover Studio, published by Capcom

One of the very first boss encounters in the game sees you challenging two flamboyant and effeminate gay eunuchs. With their buttocks constantly protruding to the side, they use the power of their glutes to attack you with ass-blows and are not just attracted to the lean and muscular Gene, but rather sexually aggressive and forward towards him. One of the main villains of the game is a cigar-smoking Latino who speaks in "le funny Mexican accent" with lots of "coños" and "pendejos" thrown haphazardly about.

Then there's Gene's constant interactions with the deuteragonist, Olivia. Their relationship is the perfect summation and alteration of the bratty sub and overbearing dom dynamic. Gene is a macho man who is initially subservient to Olivia under threat of violence and death. Through the power of poor writing, he becomes her savior, as her role later gets relegated to the typical damsel in distress. Olivia faces the full brunt of the misogynistic attitudes the game is mired in, with Gene's initial dismissal of her and blatant name-calling.

The game reinforces typical and problematic stereotypes through their characters. Gay men as effeminate, sexually aggressive sexpests, Latinos as lazy idiots and women as annoying and demanding bitches. It should've left quite a bitter taste in my mouth, being gay and trans myself.

This is where I show my cards. While definitely problematic, these character moments don't really add or subtract to my enjoyment of the game. I wasn't particularly offended or thrown off. In a way, I can excuse God Hand as a product of its time, where gay jokes still filled the schoolgrounds and #MeToo was still a decade away. The tightness of its combat mechanics and the general levity with which it presents itself are enough for me. At the end of the day, I think it's perfectly fine to like problematic media, especially if you allow yourself to enjoy it critically and without falling into the void that is hateful reactionary belief.

God Hand (2006). Image courtesy of GamesRadar. Game developed by Clover Studio, published by Capcom

While I'm still inside this confession booth, allow me to unload more burdens from my chest. God Hand is not the only problematic media I like. I've written about games with such preposterous use of stereotypes and racist cliches before. I simply skipped right over the dicey bits.

In my essay about the jank/polish dichotomy in gaming I wrote about one of my favorite RPGs, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. I praised the writing, dialogue and worldbuilding as the shining qualities amidst a sea of jank...and completely skipped over the racist caricatures of Chinese people the game depicts in its final act. I had every intention of mentioning this, and it even made an appearance on one of my first drafts, but I felt like it didn't add anything to the piece and actually took away from the arguments I was making.

The Kindred player character steps foot unto Chinatown, only to be met with exaggerated and stereotypical Asian accents, men donning changpaos as everyday clothing, their faces adorned with thin, long mustaches and beards. It really delivers a sizable blow to the immersion and previously well developed and characterized personalities on display.

I feel as if there's a moral inconsistency, as a devout anti-racist who believes in authentic representations of race and culture, with not just liking but loving Bloodlines and God Hand. With the acceptance of edginess, comes the acceptance that not all game developers align on a moral stance. Some have and will continue to make travesties of vulnerable identities, via ignorance or willful hatred.

One can indeed enjoy problematic media, given how much of it is out there, ready for our consumption, but it always come with excuses: excusing the racism, sexism and homophobia to better enjoy the product. I can state I am critical of these sketchy facets, but it still comes off as me shutting down certain parts of my moral being to excuse unacceptable behavior. End of the day, I struggle a lot with the idea of making the personal a moral issue, because ultimately whether you can excuse your enjoyment of a game plagued by less-than-sensitive representations comes down to preference. I can excuse God Hand, but maybe you can't.

In Defense of God Hand
God Hand (2006). Image courtesy of IGN Nordic. Game developed by Clover Studio, published by Capcom

As much as I like espousing my own political beliefs, and attribute to gaming the cultural merits other art forms so readily receive, it's hard for me to draw a line in the sand. I enjoy when games examine culture and politics under the unique interactive lens gaming offers us, and representation in gaming is an important debate in regards to making videogames a more inclusive and accepting space for people from all walks of life. The core of my politics in my day to day life is focused on improving the material reality of people. Ergo, representation in gaming is pretty down in the docket as to what matters the most in the world of politics, which, again, isn't to say I deride it or decry its importance.

This is probably why I can excuse God Hand and its stereotypical caricatures. Because if you can move past that, you will truly find a hidden gem of a game. I cannot overstate how fucking fun God Hand is. It's a game brimming with originality, challenge and levity. If you can't move past the two homosexual war veterans, then problematic media maybe just isn't for you, and you might be shunning yourself away from a brilliant game. You are closing yourself off to the experience of battling a luchador-mask wearing gorilla, a team of mini-sized power-ranger knockoffs and the opportunity of beating up an ancient Demon God with your bare fucking fists.

Not that it bothers me much. To re-state the argument I made in my Condemning Criminal Origins article: if you enjoy (or in this case, cannot enjoy) the game, all the more power to ya. The real challenge comes in not allowing yourself to align with reactionary thought. To be simultaneously tight enough with criticism, enough to reflect the ingraining of misogynistic rhetoric, but loose enough to go with the flow and not take anything in media and art so seriously. The sensibilities are changing, and there's less and less stereotypes in modern gaming. That's progress, in its own slow-winded pace.

The game's quality doesn't increase with the inclusion of gay-bashing or women-beating, but instead, it forms a great experience despite of that. It keeps me coming back for more, almost as if the hand of God was hovering above.

God Hand Wallpapers - Wallpaper Cave
God Hand (2006). Image courtesy of Wallpaper Cave. Game developed by Clover Studio, published by Capcom

The Dessert Cart

Red Dead Redemption epic trip to Mexico is still a masterpiece in sandbox  storytelling | GamesRadar+

Just wanted to make a little announcement here. I am going on vacation May 1st to 11th (There's a hint of my destination in the image above). In the interest of rest and relaxation I am planning to release one Big article at the end of May, and nothing else. Sorry to leave for a whole month, but I don't think I will have much time to write during my trip. See you all then, and stay gaming.

In the meantime, I wanna give a shout-out to a fabulous writer who I met during my brief sojourn on Substack. Miguel writes about anime, videogames, art and politics. He wrote an enchanting take on the college/university encampments popping up all over the U.S.A. in protest of the ongoing genocide in Gaza, linked below. I support Palestine and all the work these students are doing to demand economic and academic divestment from the ongoing Zionist occupation.

Issue #325: Student Encampments and U.S. Spectacle
Playoff basketball continues to be among the top three most important elements of my life right now. Despite two other high profile sport-ish events, Evo Japan (a fighting game tournament) and PT Thunder Junction (a Magic: the Gathering tournament),