Back in 1994 Shaq-Fu made quite a splash when it landed on 16-bit home and 8-bit portable consoles. On paper it seemed like a great plan: use Shaquille O'Neal’s star power to get a slice of the booming one-on-one fighting market. When the game made it to market, the 16-bit version wasn't that bad, but it didn't stack up to the likes of Street Fighter. One could even boldly state that scraping around with rotoscoped Shaq was far more satisfying than anything you could do in Rise of the Robots, released the very same year.
Yet in the age of the internet, ‘legends’ like this one are born of a mix exaggeration and nostalgia, giving Shaq-Fu a bit of a cult status for all the wrong reasons. So it's infamously refereed as one of the worst game ever made. Fast forward 20 years and a surprisingly successful 2014 Indiegogo campaign meant that Shaq was once again heading to consoles. And that day has finally come, but is Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn a true ‘Shaqshank Redemption’?
The game ditched the previous one-on-one fighting format and instead embraces the arcade side-scrolling beat ‘em up template so think Final Fight instead of Street Fighter. With that clear we now want you to imagine ‘Political Correctness’ standing in front of Shaq. Now visualise the basketball icon doing a spin-kick with his size 22 sneaker sending ‘PC’ flying straight out of the stratosphere. Oh yes indeed, this game is filled with what could be considered crass humour, with puns knowing no limits on who or what they rub the wrong way. If you’re not okay with this, then this game is not for you.
The plot kicks off with the life story of a Chinese orphan called Shaquille and his struggle with bullying that comes with being seven feet tall among his more average sized peers. Old man Ye-Ye takes pity of the huge orphan and brings him under his wing while teaching him the ancient ways of Wu Xing. Growing up to become a master of the aforementioned fighting style, Shaq and Ye-Ye one day arrive at their home village only to see it being bombarded. So begins a journey of six long levels filled with utter nonsense.
Controls are fixed so be prepared to accidentally mix up jump (‘X’) with ground pound (‘B’) a few times before you get those two right. The analog stick moves Shaq along the screen, ‘Y’ unleashes a flurry of punches and kicks that build up your kick meter, ‘A’ unleashes size 22 attacks that sometimes spin-kick your region specific stereotypical foes straight into the TV or Switch touchscreen in a welcome a homage to TMNT IV: Turtles in Time. These do need to charge up so you'll need to keep pounding that ‘Y’ button.
‘L’ and ‘R’ allows you to dash which lets Shaq stun a group of foes ready to receive some punishment. ’ZL’ and ‘ZR’ are either used to pick up weapons left on the ground by your foes or perform certain actions that can either kill or disable your foes. Last but certainly not least, flicking the right analog stick up and down lets Shaq roll back and forth, a useful evading technique best used for bosses and some of he regular ranged capable enemies. The first level will certainly put you through your paces.
Levels are long, taking from 20 to 30 minutes from start to end boss. The usual side-scrolling beat ‘em up tropes are present and accounted for – stuff to break on the ground, foreground and background to reveal power-ups, standard cannon-fodder enemy mobs, mid-level bosses, limited used melee weapons and so forth. But effort was made to introduce as much variety as possible. You will always find a few variant enemies on each level that will require different approaches to fight and on occasion you can turn Shaq into an even deadlier fighting machine such as using a steam-punk armour (dubbed ‘Big Diesel’) to make quick work of baddies. Just make sure you don’t explode while at it (keep releasing steam with the ‘A’ button). Boss fights too keep things fresh such as the unexpected level two boss fight suddenly switching into a dance-off rhythmic game.
The graphics employ simple, cartoonish models and they chug along nicely even when the screen gets busier. Backgrounds are varied, themed around the region your journey takes you and include several humorous touches for the keen-eyed gamers who take the time to notice them. Music is decent, even having a début new rap track sung by Shaq blasting in the game’s main menu. The voice acting is excellent with humorous quips being dropped often by characters and even Shaquille O’Neil himself in the several animated cutscenes that expose the plot.
It is a bit of a shame Shaquille is such a one of a kind guy because the game is screaming for a local two (or even four) player co-op mode but there is none to offer here. Despite trying to keep things fresh, once you complete the whole game in one of the three difficulty levels, there is little incentive to go back to it other than to complete the Shaq-o-pedia items, a tarnishing point that sadly keeps pestering current gen games of the genre. Don’t fret about the two-minute loading time though, it's normal and will happen every time you start up the game.
Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn is a solid side-scrolling brawler. We were unsure of what to expect from this whole 'Settle the score of ‘94' tagline, but were pleasantly surprised with the amount of fun it offers. While it lasts, it serves up a fun-filled ride with silly dialogue, politically incorrect humour and excessive amounts of ‘Shaqness’. You might even be entitled to get this game for free but those who must part with their money and are on the market for some mindless brawling, you could do far worse than this Shaq attack. It's official then: Shaq-Fu: A legend redeemed.