Shaq Fu Review

   
   

Let's take a look back at the early 90s - the video game industry was booming and Nintendo and Sega were living it up, with developers creating hundreds of great games in the hope that kids would persuade their parents to go out and buy them. We had Super Mario World, we had Sonic the Hedgehog , we had Contra 3 and Street Fighter II - it was a good time to be a gamer.

Then someone, somewhere, said, "hey I know - instead of making a good game, let's just throw in some product placement and a big celebrity endorsement, and the game will sell despite being a complete load of balls!". At first this wasn't actually so bad - does anyone remember Cool Spot and Zool? These were essentially just interactive adverts for 7-Up and Chuppa Chupps respectively, but they were fairly decent platform games.

And then came along Shaq Fu.

Shaq Fu is a fighting game starring Shaquille O'Neal, a basketball player in the NBA who, back in 1994, was seriously hot stuff in America. In an attempt to reach a wider audience (and no doubt to make even more money) he made some terrible films, released an embarrassing rap album, and then had a game made about him. How bad was it? You have no idea.

To say that Shaq Fu is bad is like calling genocide 'a little naughty'. I'm not kidding, this game frequently appears on lists of the worst games ever, and there is even an entire website dedicated to finding and purchasing every single copy of the game and then destroying them. With a reputation like this, I knew I had to get the game for myself, so I popped over to eBay and bought a copy for 99 pence.

'So Tom, how bad is it?', I hear you ask. Well, let's put it this way - it's worse than Dark Castle.

The game gets bad from the moment you turn it on. Want to know what happens? Ok then:

After this barrage of audio fail, you press start and are greeted with the worst intro sequence to any game ever. I've decided to put the whole thing into one image, but before I show you it, I'm giving you a little challenge - I want you to guess the plot of Shaq Fu. Seriously, I want you to try and think of a storyline that manages to explain how Shaquille O'Neal, a world-famous basketball player, has ended up in a beat 'em up full of monsters, mummies, and magical cat women.

...

Are you done? Ok then. Whatever you managed to come up with, I guarantee it's better than this:

Just... wow. Notice how as far into the story as panel six, Shaq has no idea what the old man is talking about and tells him he's going sightseeing, then no more than two whole panels later he's willingly entering the second world through what could very well be the old man's secret sex dungeon. You also win bonus points if you spotted the shameful Pepsi adverts in the first two panels, and how the dialogue goes from present tense to past tense and then to present tense again between panels one, two and eight. Equally amusing is how the intro is set in Japan, presumably to explain why Shaq comes across a traditional Kung Fu dojo. This would all be well and good, if it wasn't for the fact Kung Fu originates from China. Research fail!

Enough about the story. As with any game, the only thing that should really matter is the gameplay, and with games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat already on the market, surely the developers had figured out how to make an entertaining fighting game, right?

WRONG.

This is, hands-down, the worst fighting game I have played in my life, and I've played Ultraman. Every single thing that could possibly be wrong about the gameplay manages to be spectacularly wrong, from the controls, the way you execute special moves, the health bar, everything.

What is the most important aspect of any fighting game? Some might say it's having a large cast of varied characters. Others might argue it's having a wide variety of interesting moves. These are both valid points, but they are wrong. The most important aspect of any fighting game is being able to deliver moves with split-second accuracy. If a player throws a projectile at you, you need to be able to instantly throw one back to counter it. If a player tries to jump towards you, you need to be able to respond immediately by either blocking or delivering a vertical attack. This is not just a suggested requirement, it is absolutely essential to the success of a beat 'em up.

So, does Shaq Fu allow the player to instantly deliver moves and respond with split-second timing? No. It is in fact like playing a normal beat 'em up over the telephone, or like having a real fight under water. Every single time you press a button, Shaq will stand there like a moron for a full second, and then do the move. This doesn't just hinder the game, it ruins it, sending it from 'mediocre fighting game' into the depths of 'unplayable pile of scrote'. It also doesn't help that if you press lots of buttons in quick succession, the game will usually fail to register at least one of them.

Worse still are the special moves - for those of you unaware of the mechanics of your basic beat 'em up, you typically have a number of powerful moves that can be used by pressing a combination of buttons in a particular order, such as pressing down, towards, and then punch. Obviously in any normal fighting game - say, Street Fighter II - if the final button you press to do a special move is a punch button, your character won't actually throw a punch, because the game registers you're doing a special move and makes the character do that instead. Not so, however, in Shaq Fu - if you input the buttons for a special move that ends with a punch button, Shaq will first throw the punch AND THEN DO THE SPECIAL MOVE . How on earth are you supposed to successfully use these moves if Shaq first stands around doing nothing for a few seconds, then swats ineffectually at the air, and then and only then decides to do the attack you wanted? How can you possibly be expected to time something like that accurately? THIS GAME BLOWS MY MIND.

As you might expect, Shaq Fu manages to merge terrible gameplay with sloppy presentation. While the graphics and character animations are just about acceptable, the decision to include an overworld map is baffling. Essentially, you run around the sparse environment you see above, going from fight to fight in order to progress the plot. This would be fine, except the order in which you fight enemies makes no difference to anything, and the plot is literally 'fight people in order to find a lost child'. If this sounds like a terrible premise for a fighting game then congratulations! You've just made a very astute observation.

Speaking of bad storylines, you might be wondering how the plot of Shaq Fu is communicated to the player. The answer is simple - it's all explained through the worst dialogue I've ever seen in a game. Here is a typical example:

Given that you spend the next five minutes kicking this woman repeatedly in the face, it's probably a good thing that she's not Shaq's girlfriend. Anyway, atrocious dialogue like this appears before every single fight, and sometimes a picture will appear without warning in an attempt to advance the story. My favourite one is this:

This would be fine, except:

  1. Despite being casually mentioned, you have no idea who Beast is
  2. You never fight any skeleton soldiers at any point in the game
  3. This has nothing to do with the game's general plot
  4. This entire incident is never mentioned again

I honestly don't get what happened here. It's as if the developers came up with an idea for a plotline while making the game, decided to make a little cutscene to get it going, and then either completely forgot about it or ran out of time to implement it. I've heard that the Mega Drive version of Shaq Fu contains more characters than the SNES version and therefore the game is longer, so maybe Beast's skeleton soldiers appear on Sega's console but not on Nintendo's. Whatever the reason, this is one of many examples of very lazy game design present in Shaq Fu.

Another example of lazy design is the way in which each character has a picture of themselves by their health-bar during a fight. The idea is that the picture changes depending on how well you're doing - if you've got lots of health you look happy, if you've nearly been knocked out you look shocked, and so on. This sounds fine, until you see just how bad Shaq's winning and losing faces are:

Evidently whenever Shaq wins at anything he pulls a face like he's having a furious toilet session, and whenever he loses his lips melt off his face. Also, I know it's supposed to be a shadow, but does anyone else just see Shaq with giant comedy sideburns?

Anyway, after literally around ten minutes of play - during which you finally meet Beast and defeat him - you get to the final boss, the evil mummy Sett Ra. This fight is ridiculously unfair, as Sett Ra can unleash various special moves instantly and can go into 'rage mode' where his attacks take about half your health off. You know there's got to be something fundamentally wrong with a game when every enemy can be beaten easily by jumping in the air and repeatedly spamming the A button, but then the final boss is practically impossible.

With a little perseverance you manage to beat Sett Ra, and it should really come as no surprise that the ending is almost as bad as the intro. It's not quite as bad as Dark Castle's ending, I'll give it that, but it still sure does suck the big one:

Wait wait wait... ok. First of all, you have Shaq making possibly the worst joke ever in panel two, and then, in probably the dumbest twist ever, Beast suddenly appears from nowhere while the rest of the NBA players don't pay him any attention whatsoever. Seriously, look at them! None of them appear to care that a giant red monster has appeared right in the middle of the court. The guy on the left actually looks bored! I don't watch a lot of NBA games, so I'm assuming this sort of thing just happens all the time. I particularly love how Beast has his own personal bright-red basketball. Maybe it all ties back to the image you get when you beat him:

I guess when he mentioned 'travelling through time' I didn't assume he meant ten minutes in the future, and when he said 'fight you again some day' I also didn't assume he meant during an all-star charity basketball match. Besides, if Beast can actually manipulate time, why doesn't he just take Sett Ra and that kid into the future, so Shaq can't get them? This game is total balls.

While it is practically impossible to list every single thing that makes Shaq Fu so bad, I think you get the point. This a game that fails on all major counts - the sound effects and music are bland, the graphics are mediocre at best, the presentation and story are pathetic, and most of all the gameplay is horrendous. Shaq Fu is to fighting games what Dark Castle is to adventure games - an embarrassment. It is further proof that celebrity endorsements mean absolutely nothing, and will go down in history as one of the worst games of all time.

More like Wack Fu, amirite?