Thursday, February 16, 2012

The best thing Sony have done for the PS3.

If ever there was a time to forgive Sony for all the errors they made with the PS3, and there are indeed many, it is now. Please, don't mistake my disdain for mere fanboy baiting. That the PS3 has any level of success at all is seemingly despite Sony's most determined efforts to make the console a failure of Costnerian proportions. From the initial TERRIFYING price point, through the constant battles against system and game updates which make anyone who has had to endure more than one of them wake up in the middle of the night screaming, to the somewhat baffling choices of downloadable PS1 games (Disney stuff, Disney stuff, and ... um ... Disney stuff), right through to the removal of PS2 backwards compatibility, some of Sony's decisions have not so much baffled as they have defied anything approaching conventional logic and rationale in any way whatsoever. There are a lot of people out there who adore the PS3, but they are either people who only own a PS3 or are otherwise some kind of fucking idiot. That it gets so much of what it means to be a modern games console wrong is bordering on the offensive.

However, every so often, and this may just be serendipity on the part of Sony, or perhaps even an act of wanton sabotage by employees who have left the confines of their own country in the last 10 years and have seen how the rest of the world does things, they hit a happy button and do something right. Like they have done with their decision to start throwing emulated PS2 games onto the PSN. (Which they have rather stupidly renamed SEN, for Sony Entertainment Network. Not that there is anything wrong with the name, except that it points quite clearly to games being a smaller focus of the PlayStation than you have been led to believe they would be up to this point.)

Now, they could just have picked out any random million-selling games to launch with. Perhaps one of the Final Fantasy games, maybe? Or how about the massively over-valued RIIIIIDGE RACER, which they STILL seem to think anyone gives a shit about? Strangely, neither of these were chosen. Instead, they went with a couple of cult favourite titles that were slightly more obscure.

The Maximo titles from Capcom are all well and good, being solid if unspectacular hack-n-slashy affairs that did reasonably well upon original release. Although, why the hero is some guy called Maximo instead of just using Arthur from Ghouls and Ghosts has always escaped me. BUT, I digress! As I said, these are not the usual type of thing one would expect to see gracing the first release window of a new venture. And if these two are unusual choices, the third one is from so far out of the blue that it is in fact ultraviolet.

Upon initial release, God Hand was one of those titles that absolutely divided the critics. There were those that got it, that understood the mechanics, that gave it the chance, and that loved it unconditionally. And then there were those who don't have a fucking clue and shouldn't be allowed to play videogames at all, let alone review the bastard things for a living. Because God Hand is that most rare, most special, and most divine of things in the gaming industry; a game aimed squarely at the "hardcore" crowd, one not afraid to be almost sickeningly difficult, right up to the point of blatantly unfair. If there were any focus groups utilised during production, they were probably made up entirely of drunken psychopaths.

Playing God Hand is like being beaten to within an inch of your life with a glove puppet that squeaks out swear words in pain every time it hits you. You will feel pain, you will be frustrated, but you will also not be able to stop laughing. It is as if the anime classic Fist of the North Star was directed by Benny Hill, and you are being asked to play it on fast-forward. Little of it makes sense, and yet it is all perfectly consistent within its own game world. When an enemy dies and then suddenly gets resurrected as a FUCKING DEMON, there is no explanation offered. It is just one of those little ways that the game wants to KICK YOUR ASS and revel in its superiority over you. If you dare to get good at the game, it just cranks up the difficulty. When the in-game level meter puts itself on a difficulty level that is not numbered but is instead called "DIE", this is a game telling you something and making sure that you get the point.

It is graphically average. The music would, out of context, be awful. The controls are quite clunky and overbearing at first. Even the camera seems to be working against you. But, there comes a tipping point, a moment where it all just falls into place and you are suddenly able to not only hold your own in a fight, but even able to plan what you are doing next in order to get higher scores. On top of this is the single most beautiful and perfect combat system ever devised, where you are free to personalise to the most unimaginable degree exactly what moves you will use to beat the virtual snot out of the various lowlifes and weirdos you will come up against. Fit it to your own playstyle; pile on powerful attacks, moves that juggle for additional style points, or just concentrate on roundhouse kicking people into outer space. The choice really is yours, in a way that has criminally never been copied since.

And now, this masterpiece is available to buy new, instead of having to track down a copy from some nutter on eBay. Yes, I know this means having to deal with the pain in the posterior that is the PlayStation store, a store so resolutely inflexible that one has to leave it to enter credit card details in order to actually buy something. And, this also inevitably incurs a download, which given the PSN servers propensity for overload may well mean you don't get to play it until next month sometime. But, even with all this weight added on, even taking this frustration into account ... it's worth it. Oh my GOD, it's worth it:

Do yourself a favour, reader. If this one managed to pass you by, and it is quite likely that it did, then you owe it to yourself to lay out the relatively TINY £7.99 to play it. There are no space marines, no guns, and no shadowy terrorist plots. Instead, there are gorillas, midgets dressed as Power Rangers, and gay wrestlers all just waiting for you to kick them 35 times in 5 seconds. There is a boss called, and I shit you for not one second, Fat Elvis. FAT ELVIS! How can you not instantly fall in love with the idea of a game that does something as joyously stupid as that?

Clover Studios are no longer with us, but their legacy will live forever. Whilst Okami was the epitome of long-winded and pretentiousness, despite its undeniable beauty, and probably deserved most of the critical plaudits and love it received, its polar opposite also deserves a similar level of recognition. Sometimes, games can JUST be about being entertaining. God Hand is that, in a way that nothing else has ever quite managed to match, and most likely never will. If you don't buy this, then you may doom us all to a grey and brown future where games just have all the FUN taken out of them, and instead just keep on piling on ever bigger explosions in real-world locations, because apparently this is what you kids want these days. Don't let this happen!

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