You can send God Hand's very first enemy flying 30 yards into the distance, smashing him through a support that sends a whole roof crashing down. If you're not cackling with glee at this point, you might be after running up and mashing buttons to stomp the rest of the life out of him. This is God Hand, the most frenetic and over-the-top beat 'em-up on PS2. It's a game about the sheer, idiotic joy of beating the crap out of things, and the best homage to '80s arcade ideals this side of 360's Geometry Wars.
God Hand's story is so thin that it's played for laughs, and it's better for it. Gene, the young man grafted with the God Hand (an arm, really) is constantly hen-pecked by his beautiful traveling companion, Olivia, in cinematics right out of a vintage sitcom. At one point the story threatens to get serious, but Gene saves the situation with an inappropriate insinuation that Olivia's been turning tricks. You'll find yourself saying "They didn't just do that!" quite a bit... because they just did.
Cute story aside, God Hand's true greatness comes from its rollicking gameplay. It has very odd, innovative controls, but they're responsive and work well. Gene's attacks are completely customizable, drawn from a library of over 100 moves that you find in treasure chests or buy in shops. The combat system is uncommonly deep, with numerous special move properties and an extensive dodging system. Building the perfect combo is an art in itself.
But those are just details. The really important thing here is that it's just plain satisfying to beat the tar out of bad guys. Unlike most brawlers - even popular arcade classics like X-Men and The Simpsons - the gameplay is fun in itself, not just novel. It's also amazingly long, at over 12 hours in length. Once in a while it does get repetitive, but the next level (or a visit to the fun, relaxing casino) should recharge your lust for carnage.
One major reason it can sell the violence so well is the stupendous character animation. Every attack and recoil is smooth and weighty, and the sound effects hold up their end well. Other aspects of the graphics are not as impressive, but that's okay: they're good enough. There are no such qualms about the audio, which combines perfectly cast, B-level voice acting with one of the most eclectic, catchy soundtracks on the PS2.
Even so, God Hand is not for everyone. Many will dismiss its satire as meaningless vulgarity, and fail to appreciate the intricate and satisfying ass-kicking. But for those able to dig it, God Hand is an excellent old-school game in a bizarre, new-school shell. If Double Dragon's still out there somewhere, it's probably smiling.