The original Shaq Fu was a pretty dire embarrassment, a relic from the age of 1994 basketball mania that saw Space Jam inexplicably become a smash hit and multiple NBA stars get their own games. The game was a fairly lazy copy of a traditional fighting game but with Shaq as the player character. No it wasn’t great but it also wasn’t the worst game ever made, despite its legacy.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn announced itself with a crowd funding campaign all the way back in 2014 and it has finally made it through development to a full release this month. The developers have set out to redeem the original game and have stated they won’t ‘Fu it up’ this time around but did they manage it? Or perhaps more importantly, did they need to do it at all?
The major change that Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn makes is the departure from the fighting game genre and the entrance into the, frankly underused, beat ‘em up genre. Now Shaq gets to side scroll his way through a variety of levels defeating wave after wave of evil minions with his Kung Fu skills. A welcome change in my books as this genre is always good for a laugh and very well complimented by tongue in cheek humour. How that humour feels is a bit of a contentious point and we’ll come back to it later.
I want to talk about the gameplay as this is first and foremost what Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is all about. As a side scrolling beat ‘em up Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn makes for a competent and generally enjoyable experience with a pace that keeps you playing and enough variety of moves to be satisfying for hours. Enemies have just the right mix of threat vs weakness to let you feel like a powerhouse in a challenging fight. The animations used for finishing moves and the shifting camera work are the best features of this game as they let you really appreciate the superb Kung Fu kicks and wrestling slams that Shaq can pull off.
My favourite moments are when Shaq smacks an enemy with a street sign, or other such implement, into the background of the level. The first time I did this I sent an enemy goon skimming across the lake in the distance and it looked fantastic. Smacking them towards the screen instead will leave a satisfying shatter mark that brings back that 90’s feel. The power ups that Shaq can get are also surprisingly fun even though they limit you to just mashing the attack button. The first is a suit of armour that lets Shaq pummel enemies into submission but the second, and my favourite, is a cactus talisman that transforms Shaq into the Shaqtus who can shoot spines at his enemies. These sections are spread out well throughout the game and feel great when you get to mow down hordes of henchmen.
However, there are two glaring issues that this game faces. Firstly, the beat em’ up genre has and always will be superior with co-op functionality. I presume budget constraints are the reason behind the lack of co-op in Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn but in any case this game is dying for a two player mode. It’s the kind of staple of the genre that feels downright strange when left out and perhaps in the future we may see a new crowd funding campaign to get that addition.
The other big issue with Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is the humour. In the first level, and the demo I played at EGX Rezzed, I really enjoyed the self aware and occasionally self depreciating jokes and quips that the game would make. But as I played through the entirety of the game the jokes started to wear on me, particularly in how outdated and irrelevant a lot of it was. In addition there are a few uncomfortable and tone deaf jibes that the game could do without. I generally don’t feel right being offended on someone else’s behalf but there are funnier jokes to be made than a brown skinned woman feeding tacos to her gigantic arse.
I’m going to talk about the bosses now so SPOILERS ahead! Having boss battles with ‘not Mel Gibson’ on an island of fascists wearing kilts just felt strangely late to the table. When ‘not Donald Trump’ enters the fray and it’s the reality TV star rather than the president it makes you question how long ago the development finished and how long they struggled to get it released. It is worthy to mention that the devs stated development was near completion in 2016 and maybe having the final boss be ‘not Madonna’ would have been more relevant back then.
The visible strain that Big Deez productions seems to have been under whilst getting this game released is a little unsettling. If you read the Shaq-o-pedia you can see the jokes that the devs left for the players to explain why all the female enemies are basically the same reskins of a demon lady rather than an actual woman. The words “hasty re-edits” are actually used to describe some of the content in the game, in the game. At a certain point the self referential humour stops being funny and starts to just get sad. Shaq is not Deadpool I’m afraid.