Helping Hand begins with your character getting into a car accident and smashing almost every bone in their body. In the game, you can only communicate with your left hand. It’s more interesting than actually being in a full-body cast, but not by much.
The main conceit of Helping Hand is pretty brilliant: You’re in a full-body cast, so you can only communicate by contorting your one good hand into a variety of shapes using the number keys and spacebar. These include pointing, an OK sign, a thumbs-down, a middle finger, and my personal favourite, heavy metal devil horns.
It’s a unique idea, but Helping Hand mostly squanders it on glacially paced dialogue and jokes where the punchline is basically “a person was mean to you for no reason — how wacky!”
The game starts you out in a hospital, but depending on how you react to various characters, you can end up everywhere from prison to the Oval Office to outer space.
Some of the transitions to these new environments are extremely unexpected and funny. The moments in between that constitute the bulk of the game, however, are not. People talk and talk and talk at you, and while you can move your hand whenever you want, they won’t react to your gestures except at key junctures.
The game’s cast of characters includes the hospital nurse who’s a jerk to you, the truck driver who’s a jerk to you, the cult leader who’s a jerk to you, and, well, you get the idea. So jerks drone on at you, and occasionally you get to go along with their plans, confuse them with a nonsensical response, or flip them off.
I often found the second option most fun, especially when it involved using metal horns. Most of the time, people would just accuse me of having a brain injury or being a weirdo, but every once in a while, somebody would respond by saying, “Haha, hell yeah,” to my character’s enthusiasm about being a barely breathing human jigsaw puzzle, and that legitimately cracked me up.
Unfortunately, while Helping Hand branches in many different directions, the majority of moment-to-moment choices don’t alter the dialogue all that much, and that dialogue isn’t particularly funny or compelling. It’s amusing to flip off a procession of random strangers you have no reason to care about for a little while, but eventually I got tired of waiting for something to happen.
It’s also easy to blindly make a choice that kills you before you reach that point. For example, it took me nearly 20 minutes to make my way out of the achingly slow hospital segment at the start, but then I flipped off a cult leader and he killed me, forcing me to start the whole thing over. On my second playthrough, I made it to a court scenario and then to prison, where I died by unknowingly pissing off the leaders of two gangs.
Helping Hand does not telegraph the dire consequences of your choices very well, even when you aren’t running around flipping everybody off.
There are a couple of brilliant jokes in the middle of Helping Hand’s tedium. One twist in particular had me laughing out loud. But mostly, it’s a one-note gimmick stretched across a multi-hour experience. Thumbs down.