There is something wrong with the games industry when a studio responsible for two critically positive titles Ōkami and God Hand has to be shut down by its parent company (Capcom) due to lack of sales of said titles. I am talking about the almost legendary Clover Studio (who were also responsible for creating the Viewtiful Joe franchise), one of the better internal development house at Capcom (next to Production Studio 4). But this sort of things happen in an industry dominated by rehash sports title. Just look at what happened to ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Unlike the heads of Sony Computer Entertainment who seems to think that Team Ico is a core part of SCEI, Capcom decided it was best to dissolve the creative but commercially failed development studio.
Today I will be reviewing their final two games, both developed for the PS2 and recently released in Europe.
Ōkami is one of those games that hits you in the face when you first boot it up. The visuals, based on traditional Japanese suibokuga water coloured ink illustration style is as wonderful to look at, as the game was to play with. The fact that the cel-shaded technique looks so well during animation is even more impressive.
The comparisons to the Zelda series by professional reviewers might trouble some, and it is all true, from the plot style to puzzle and adventure mechanism. The director Hideki Kamiya is said to be a massive Zelda fan. But you will be glad to know that this isn't just another Zelda game. It has qualities that I am sure Eiji Aonuma from Nintendo EAD would not have thought about. At the same time the protagonist isn't as charming as the much beloved Link.
The plot is based on the ancient Japanese religion Shinto. Mixed among these is a bunch of good ol' fairy tales. The god Ōkami has always provided a protection in the ancient Nippon but one day the protection was ceased and the peace of the land was broken. You play as an ancient sun goddess known as Amaterasu who has stand guard in the village of Kamiki. As a white wolf god, Amaterause sets out on a journey to save the land from darkness.
Gameplay is done through a system called the 'Celestial Brush' and a combination of button mashing. The 'Celestial Brush' is a dynamic mechanism that mimics a paintbrush and is probably created as a tribute to the graphical style of the game. It is similar to the use gestures in stylus or mouse based games, but the painting is done with the PS2's analog stick instead. The brush is used on a canvas (brought up by pausing the game) where the player would paint on it to create commands. This can be used during puzzles and combats such as drawing a water lilly on a water's surface to make one sprout up.
Ōkami is a gorgeous game. Like it's influential cousin, it engages the player to think and in turn the player would fall in love with what is an epic and lush masterpiece. You owe it to yourself, and to those guys at Clover Studio, to play this.
God Hand is a fun game. Despite the many negative reviews circulating (like the 3/10 review from an IGN reviewer who hates hard games) the web, God Hand is a fun game. It is a fun old school beat 'em up game. It is like Double Dragon, but in 3D. But unlike Double Dragon, it is fun. I can't stress it enough. This is a fucking fun game.
Compared to the beautiful but complex Ōkami, God Hand dosn't look like a typical Clover Studio game. But that assumption is wrong. While Ōkami was a fluke in innovation, God Hand is a much more traditional Capcom style game, although it serves the old school much more than others. Like Viewtiful Joe and Devil May Cry, and other Shinji Mikami's games, the gameplay is old school button masher. It was as if Clover Studio knew what those men in suits were planning for them, then said "fuck it, let us spend all this Capcom money making this old school game that nobody but old school fans would buy". What it does have is plenty of humour and an in-depth fighting engine.
The plot is non-existent, but if you must know, it is about this rambler Gene, whose arm was cut off. His replacement arm happened to be the famed Godhand, which gives him power beyond the comprehension of mortal men. Though he moans a lot, he has a keen sense of justice and loves to dream of himself as having a kinder side.
The gameplay is similar to Devil May Cry series. You can move in any directions on the 3D plane. Buttons can be mapped to suit each player's individual preference. Special moves can be unlocked. The biggest problem with God Hand (apart from sub-par texture quality) is lack of proper camera control. Unlike Mikami's Resident Evil 4, the right analog stick is not used to control the camera (although the viewpoint is similar to RE4's), but used to execute dodge movements. This may take some getting used to.
Let me tell you this, God Hand is one of the most difficult games I have ever played, along side Devil May Cry 3. And with plenty of wacky humour, it is also one of the funniest. There are plenty of witty remarks to be caught, alongside the plenty of cultural reference to other beat 'em up products on other mediums, like Street Fighter and Kung Fu Hustle.
Unless you appreciate a good brawler game, you will probably won't like it, but for those who love a good old school arcade style beat 'em up, the former Clover Studio has created something of a heaven for you, the perfect swansong for a small studio known for making good games.
You will be pleased to know that Clover Studio lives on as Seeds hopefully as a fully independent separate company from Capcom.