Shaq-Fu is a 2D fighting game released for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Sega Game Gear, and Game Boy in North America and the Amiga in Europe in 1994. While the premise was indeed odd (a professional NBA player gets top billing in a Street Fighter-esque brawler) the timing could not have been better for such a game. Shaquille O'Neal, at the time an upstart rookie with the Orlando Magic, was at the zenith of his popularity both on and off the court, and the 2D gaming generation was, and still is, regarded as the golden age for fighting games. An interesting philosophy was at work here; take two popular things (bonus points if one of them is a highly-marketable celebrity) slap them together in a game, and watch the Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat-addled masses slaver over it. Not a bad approach from a marketing standpoint. And then, well, this happened:
Let's face it, fighting games usually toss in a "storyline" as a half-assed afterthought. Shaq-Fu doesn't break rank in this respect; rather, it almost seems to challenge the notion by doing the story thing quarter-assed at best. More like eighth or sixteenth-assed, actually. The story finds Shaq en route to a charity basketball game in Japan, where he encounters an old man (think Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid) in a kung fu dojo.
"Greetings, big warrior. You are the one from the stars, I presume? I thought I'd never live to see the day!"
"I'm an all star, if that's what you mean?" Shaq, always the modest motherfucker. "We have a game tonight...would you like to come? It's going to be quite a battle even though it's for charity."
"Oh no, young warrior. I'm too old to be fighting. But I wish you well...you must hurry now if you are the save the little boy Nezu."
Okay, so Mr. Copywrite Infringement In At Least Thirty Countries is volunteering our burly hero for a rescue mission, apropos of nothing. Lesson #1: Never tell anyone you're open to charity work. Shaq is rightfully confused as the old man shoves him through an ornately curtained doorway, imploring "No time to explain! Go through this portal!" If I had a dollar for every time I heard that. Granted, I was usually tripping balls.
So (not-so) long story short, Shaq is transported into the "second world" where he is to rescue the aforementioned boy Nezu from the evil (and presumably pedophiliac) mummy named Sett-Ra. Why pedophiliac, you ask? Why can't an ancient evil mummy just enjoy spending time with children without everyone assuming he's a pervert? Well no one's saying he can't, see. You people and your jumping to conclusions. It's just that this game's storyline is not the most stimulating thing so I had to cook up a plot twist to amuse myself. And it's about to get worse...
Hoo boy. I suppose in the interest of objectivity I must confess something from the start. I was never big into the fighting game genre, save for late drunken nights at the arcade, during which button mashing is king. But as always, in the interest of authenticity I played this game (the SNES version, via emulator) prior to writing about it. I initially blamed my tendency to slam aimlessly on the A and B buttons on my relative naivete to the fighting genre. Subsequently I also blamed the gross unresponsiveness of my on-screen character on this same tendency. After about thirty minutes of slogging my way through fights in Story Mode, I gave up and consulted some online FAQs to point me in the general direction of my ineptitude and what I could do about it to increase the game's fun factor.
In doing so I got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that my lack of enjoyment of the game had little if anything to do with my lack of fighting game prowess. The bad news is...well...this game apparently just plain sucks in the gameplay department. The special moves...oh the special moves. Admittedly, in the rare instances I could be arsed to play a fighting game it was typically under extenuating circumstances. Drink until it's fun. Just like a blind date.
Shaq-Fu, however...this game will drive one to drink in all the wrong ways. After many practiced attempts at pulling off a special move, only to watch Shaq throw a feeble girly punch before launching said special move just as his opponent handed his ass to him in a neat little package, I learned from the FAQs that this happens a whole frigging lot. In normal fighting games, a special move ending with the Punch or Kick button will typically end with, you know, the special freaking move. Not Shaq-Fu. I guess Shaq is a big fan of the old "that was a practice" schtick when playing board games with his siblings growing up, because he "practices" a whole lot here. And, God love the man, it makes me want to wring his fool beefy neck. Either that or pistol whip the nimrods who loosed this abomination of a game on the unsuspecting gaming public, as I'm sure Mr. O'Neal would prefer. He can't be terribly amused to have his name attached to this train wreck, no matter how uncomfortable his retirement may be these days.
I've established in past reviews that except in extreme circumstances I do not tend to factor graphics too heavily into my final review of games. A pretty-looking bad game is still a bad game, and likewise for good games. In the case of Shaq-Fu, however, decent but pedestrian graphics seem to make a stab at cloaking the game's all-too-obvious sins and fail miserably. The cutscenes, overhead map, and gameplay sequences all look fine for a game of this era, but they are far from capable of distracting from the disjointed storyline and flawed gameplay. Additionally, the aforementioned lackluster gameplay is, to add insult to injury, not at all enthralling to watch. You'd be just as amused waiting for a pimple on your forehead to burst and splatter an interesting Rorschach blot on your bathroom mirror. Incidentally that would probably be considerably more attractive-looking than this game.
As for the music, nothing terrible, but nothing terribly memorable either. For the most part the soundtrack is stereotypical "Japanese-sounding" affair. Be grateful that samples from Shaq's rap albums didn't make the cut.
I don't know...I'm assuming not all fighting game aficionados are masochistic. If you manage to beat it once you've probably experienced all the fun it has to offer, so one might come to the conclusion that fighting games are short and sweet for the express purpose of being rental games. Though I didn't play through to the end myself (thank God for YouTube) I learned through other players' accounts of their own playthroughs that the controls really do suck.
The game's ending is none too rewarding, either. Shaq finally arrives at his charity basketball game, as does Beast, a character whom up to this point remained only casually explained in the plot. Shaq makes a crack about Beast's skills on the court before the screen fades to the The End screen. Actually I'm gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that the makers of this game had realized by this point that it was stupid and decided to just yuk it up rather than beat themselves up over the terrible thing they'd just done. Defense mechanisms; they're very important.
Shaq-Fu turns up quite often on lists of "worst video games of all time," and while there are certainly worse fighting games out there (Kabuki Warriors, anyone?) I can see why it got a few backs up. It is a watered-down contribution to a genre that demands freshness and uniqueness for its games to stand out. It seems Delphine Software took this to mean "slap a current famous face on a neatly-wrapped turd." And while there is nothing at all timeless about the game itself, its legacy certainly is. As recently as 2008 there was an online community of people looking to acquire copies of Shaq-Fu with the intent of destroying them. I guess anything that brings people together so passionately can't be all bad.
Thanks to RoboQuote, who kindly pointed out to me that no one had yet been self-loathing enough to node this thing.