Former basketball player and 90s icon Shaquille O’Neal stars in his own fighting game, wherein he travels from Tokyo to another dimension, to save a young boy from a mummy named Sett Ra. This is another one of those games that just sounds like a stupid joke. Yet unlike Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, you’ll have wished this was one. Let’s just get this out of the way, this is not a good game, Electronic Arts and Delphine Software International took things to the next stage of poor with Shaq Fu. The game is infamous in retro circles, but I wasn’t prepared for how poor it was going to be playing it again. In fact it only seems to have gotten worse with time.
The game starts on an extremely silly tone, and just gets worse. Not only is the premise completely idiotic, but what’s worse is Shaq just seems to go along with it without even asking any questions. From here it makes even less sense, as Shaq essentially runs around accusing everyone, despite having never met them before, ignoring the fact he’s in another dimension and is shouting at Goblins, Mummies, and shape-shifters. Oh and he’s a basketball player not a fighter! It’s just ridiculous, and ends with one of the most moronic twists in gaming history. Whilst many get away with similarly silly stories by not taking themselves seriously, Shaq Fu seems to miss the opportunity to consciously act as a parody, and instead takes itself more seriously than most.
This brings me onto the characters. They are just completely lifeless and limp. So much so that you’ll probably not even bother ever selecting them, especially as you’re forced into using Shaq throughout story mode. I’ve only just turned the game off and can’t even remember most of its roster of B-movie rejects (of which there are fewer on SNES). Which is another reason why it’s so shocking how blatantly unaware the game is of itself, considering all the bad tropes it’s emulating. So if the characters and story mode are poor, at least the gameplay is ok right? No, wrong again.
Actually, the gameplay is the worst part of this game. You can have more fun with a blank screen, pretending you’re playing Street Fighter II, than playing this excuse for a fighter. The controls are so laboured and delayed. Just watching it will give you some idea, but it has to be experienced to be believed. Playing as Shaq I couldn’t work out how to do any special moves, despite the loading screen seeming to mock me by telling me easy it was. Even after I’d worked it out, I still couldn’t pull them off properly. Despite their apparent simplicity, you spend most of your time jumping about failing, or just trying to get close enough to make a hit. Put simply this is not an easy game to pick up and play. Which is a staple of any good fighter.
Most annoying is the jumping. In most fighters the jumping attack is something that adds variety and strategy, but here it’s as pointless as the special moves. Jumping takes the whole screen, meaning you near enough have to be on opposite sides of the screen to make it work. Another frustrating aspect is the dizziness. Unlike Street Fighter II, dizziness occurs while you’re laying flat on the floor, meaning neither player can hit the other. Otherwise known as a waste of time. Which kind of sums up this game. It’s shocking how many negatives a fighter can have. There shouldn’t be this much to get wrong!
In terms of presentation, the graphics actually aren’t that bad once you’re into a battle. Well that is until the round starts. Once the battle begins the laboured controls are embodied in the laboured character movements, making them appear as though they are moving in slow motion. Furthermore, Shaq is meant to be cool as hell, and in this case a badass fighter. So why does he move about like he’s Lester the unlikely, and look constipated in the Doom-esque altering character icons by the life-bar. All in all it’s lazy and not fun for your eyes, and if you think the sound is just as bad, you’d be wrong. It’s worse.
The soundtrack is just poor, primarily utilising short looped tracks that grate on the ears. Moreover, whilst the SNES version simply annoys, SEGA owners will feel like their ears are bleeding thanks to the tinny audio that the game outputs. The SEGA version even goes as far as to use one continuously looped track over and over, even on top of other tracks. This isn’t even the only criticism I have with the soundtrack. The sound effects are just as lazy and repetitive. In fact Shaq and the crew barely make any sounds whatsoever, having one or two set grunts that endlessly repeat like the soundtrack. You’ll long for the brief moments of peace within the loading screens, but given the lack of sound effects, muting the TV is the best idea. In fact go one further and just turn it off! You’ll thank both your mind and body.
I have to wonder who this game appeals to? Because it sure as hell doesn’t appeal to basketball or fighting game fans. There is also absolutely no replay value here. The game seems to get worse with time. You’ll barely want to finish your first fight, let alone put the cartridge back in the machine. All in all it takes itself way too seriously, destroys the essence of fighting games, and wraps it up nicely in a cacophony of torture for your eyes, ears and hands. I sure as hell hope Shaq Fu: Reborn doesn’t take its inspiration from this simmering turd.