Oh, Capcom. You never fail us: whenever we've managed to convince people that the likes of Goichi Killer 7 Suda's are gaming's last real innovators, you knock out the twentieth sequel to Megaman... Whenever we're going on about how Okami shows a beauty and depth unmatched by nearly all American games, Street Fighter Super Collection: All Schoolgirl And Monster Edition comes along ruins the whole thing.
And now, hot on the heels of the phenomenal Resident Evil 4 comes Shinji Mikami's latest: a game where you spank dominatrixes to death with your magical glowing hand and kick midgets in the plums. Then again, if that sounds like your sort of thing, then God Hand might well be the greatest game you'll ever play.The plot is... actually, don't worry about the plot too much. Let's summarise: you're an impossibly arrogant fop in a leather jacket. You hang around with a young girl whose hobbies include putting 'Kick me' signs on your back and posing for the increasingly mucky photographs you earn as the game progresses. And, of course, you're incredibly good at beating people up.
STRIKE A FIGHT
Fighting's simple to grasp, but subtle to master. You start with a four-punch combo and a handful of kicks and chops that can be assigned to the different buttons on the D-pad. As you progress, you buy different moves - including guard-breakers and juggles - that you can shuffle into your existing set to suit your playing style or the enemies you're fighting. If you're up against spiky-hatted ladies, for instance, you'll want a quick combo followed by a good juggle launcher. If you're fighting an overweight clown, you can't knock him into the air, so you'll want a decent sweep. Either way, once your opponent's off-balance, you've got a limited time window to follow up with a grab and hammer the button to knee them in the face, pummel them in the kidneys or (if they're a lady) spank them on the ass so hard that they hurtle into the nearest wall. Follow up by dashing them and you'll have just enough time to stamp on their face a million times while they're on the floor. Brilliant.
Of course they aren't going to take this lying down, which is where the evasion moves come in - flicking the right-analogue performs backflips, strafe-dodges or ducks. Backflipping's the safest and easiest to time, but leaves you too far away to counter - and later enemies are most dangerous at range anyway. Unlike the similar Devil May Cry - where long-range shooting's always the safe option - the entire game's set up to favour aggressive, close-range combat, and it works beautifully.
And then there's your magic hand. This comes in two flavours: first, building up your God Hand bar (by beating enemies, dodging attacks or - obviously - looking at bongo mags) lets you unleash God Hand mode, which makes you invincible and speeds up your attacks. Secondly, collecting cards from around each level lets you use God Reel attacks, which range from a punch to the chutneys ('Kintama' translates as 'Golden Balls', Japano-chums) to a screen-clearing smart bomb.
SPAYING THE PRICE
If this all sounds a bit textbook Japanese fighting game - albeit extremely fast-paced and well-balanced - well, it is. But you've also got to reckon with the game's insane sense of fun. In one boss fight, you take on five midget acrobats dressed as Power Rangers, each with a playing card-based catchphrase ("Have your dog neutered... or SPAYED!") In another bit you fight a giant gorilla in a lucha libre mask... and that's before you take on the boss-lady who gives you a lapdance and turns you into a chihuahua. God Hand's that special crazy that only Japanese games pull off.