In the early 90s Fighting games were an incredibly popular genre. You had your Mortal Kombats, your Street Fighters, your Tekkens and all the other little niches in between. But something was missing. You didn’t know what it was, but you felt it deep down in your soul, a longing for something that you never knew you needed until it was there, placing a reassuring and cartridge textured hand on your shoulder as if to say “You don’t have to be alone anymore.” And that game, is Shaq Fu.
Giving us something that we’ve all sorely needed since video games were a couple of lazy pixels meandering across the screen, Shaq Fu presents us with a premise that we’ve seen a thousand times before (you know, Famous 90s Basketball player while taking time out from a charity Basketball game in Tokyo finds himself in a mysterious Kung Fu dojo only to be warped to another dimension to save the life of a child by fighting bizarre creatures in various otherworldly landscapes), but it’s the delivery of this premise that makes it one of the stand out titles of the…Ok, as funny as this is, I can’t keep up this pretense any more. You may find this hard to believe, but Shaq Fu isn’t a particularly well received game, either critically or by gaming audiences.
You’ve heard about those games, albums and movies that were unappreciated in their time, only to find their true audience years down the line? Well, Shaq Fu has somehow managed to actually be more disliked and reviled as the years have passed. Time has not been kind to ol’ Shaq Fu. I actually bought this game a few years back at a convention for £2, a real bargain I thought. I was fully aware of the reception the game had, and bought it as one of those “absolutely hilarious ironic purchases” like buying a Best of Des O’Connor album or a set of Terry Wogan tea towels (may he rest in peace). It’s only recently I decided to give the game an actual play, having sat on my shelf as a joke item for some time now, when looking for something to write about for the fine Respawning readers.
Firstly, I’m going to start with the positives: The cover. The cover of the game looks super intimidating, I mean, if you saw Shaq striking that pose in another dimension you’d turn tail and run no question. The title too is great, say what you will about the game but that name Shaq Fu just rolls off the tongue and is fun to say. See? Not even got to the game itself and already have two positive things to say!
If I had to find good things to say about the game itself however, I would firstly highlight the soundtrack to the game. Its got a lot of groove and there’s an eclectic use of sounds within the soundtrack, and the use of eastern sounding melodies is a nice touch too, considering the game starts in Tokyo and is about the martial art of Kung Fu (which does originate in China, but Shaq-arate just doesn’t have the same ring to it I guess). I also like the varying locations of the game and characters that you fight. Although the game does fall short, you can at least see that the developers maybe put some thought into giving the player variety and a differing experience with each fight.
Unfortunately, as positive points go that’s about as far as this game can take me. This game really isn’t that great, the main reason being due to the sluggish handling and speed in which the player can bring the Shaq-attack on opponents. You move pretty slowly in this game, whereas your opponent seems to have the speed and agility of, oh I don’t know, a high ranking NBA athlete (funny that). A kinder person may say that it just makes the game a challenging experience, whereas what it did on my playthrough of it was challenge my patience.
I did persevere with the game, which was essentially achieved through button mashing one move for the entire game. The game, due to Shaq’s speed, doesn’t reward the player for mastering combos, instead to get anywhere fast with this game you’ll need to time this one kick just right, Shaq’s fastest move, to get through the game. This is a real shame because attack combos and strategy are a real asset to the fighting game genre, and yet I found myself having to Can-Can through the game just to move onto the next fight. You may think just one criticism about the gameplay isn’t all that terrible, but when you’re dealing with the fighting genre it is all about the controls and the gameplay, so on that it is a biggie which really sets Shaq Fu back. People aren’t buying this game for the in depth lore, this isn’t Game of Thrones, it’s Shaq Fu. Gamers want to fight and with that being rendered sluggish and unenjoyable it sort of defeats the purpose of this game existing.
Is this, as many game journalists would have you believe, one of the worst games of all time. It’s bad, no questions, but I’ve certainly played worse and far more broken games than Shaq Fu. I’d say it’s disappointing, not in that I was pinning my hopes on this game actually being good, but because I was kind of hoping for one of those “so bad it’s good” experiences that you can laugh about with your friends. This game is just bad unfortunately. There is a sequel on the way believe it or not, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn (Seriously. Look it up) which developers Big Deez Productions have advised is on its way in the near future. I’m actually looking forward to it in all honesty, if they improve the actual gameplay of it and just embrace the absurdity of the premise then they could have a fun, absolutely barmy game on their hands. However, having now played the game that has sat on my shelf untouched for a few years now, if I ever have a visitor says “Ha, Shaq Fu! Let’s have a game, it’ll be a laugh.” I will respond thusly: “No. Fuck that.”
By James Burch