Shaq Fu

“My Wrap Is Better Than Your Rap.”

“He wears Size 22 EEE shoes on his feet.
His opponents usually wear them on their face.”

Knick-knack Shaq-attack, give Important Business Dinosaur a bone.

It’s hard to hate on Shaquille O’Neal. Outside of his career as an NBA MVP, he’s also earned himself the reputation of being one of basketball’s most lovable goofballs: Constantly charismatic, and never taking himself too seriously. At the same time, you get the feeling that no matter what this dude sets his mind to, he just commits to it 200%, and I admire that a lot. He’s also a man who refuses to be labelled as just being a figure in sports, willing to try his hand at anything he seems to develop an interest in; whether it be acting, rapping, or even pursuing a doctorate degree. And of course, he was even the star of his own video game, now with a sequel set to release nearly 25 years after the fact. Sadly, this last bit isn’t really an accomplishment all that worthy of celebrating.

1994’s Shaq Fu likely needs no introduction, but it’s gonna get one here anyway: It’s known as one of the very worst games of all time, making a multitude of lists and countdowns on the subject. It is the product of a very particular era in licensed games history, where celebrity brands found themselves associated with all manner of unlikely, seemingly unrelated genres of game. So reviled is this game, it’s spawned a website dedicated entirely to the purpose of tracking down and destroying every last copy of it. Even O’Neal himself has gone on to spoof his involvement with the title in all manner of media, able to find the humor in his name being tied to such an infamous product of 90’s excess. As a result of all this, Shaq Fu might very well be the most well-known bad game of all time.

At a certain point, Shaq Fu seemed to transcend the very medium of video games, and became something more… how you say, incorporeal? Seriously; folk seem to think of it less as a physical cartridge to be plugged in and played, and as more of an idea — some intangible, purely imaginable thing, spoken of more along the lines of legend rather than as a real product that was ever offered for sale. The problem here is, more folk have only ever talked about Shaq Fu than have actually ever played it for themselves. So much of what is “known” about the game is rooted in reputation and oral tradition rather than actual hands-on experience, giving the game this sort of mystical aura about it. But Shaq Fu is obviously more than just myth: There really is an actual game cartridge buried beneath it all!

So, here’s the score: I’ve gone and played through Shaq Fu, and now I’m here to write about what exactly made it such a hated game to begin with. Not only that, but I’m also here to discuss who developed the game and how it even came to be. But you know what? That still isn’t quite enough for me, so I’m also going to go ahead and review the four conversions of the game to different consoles and handhelds of the era! And hell, as long as I’m here, I might as well talk about Shaquille O’Neal’s hip-hop career too, because why the hell not? And when I’m finished with all that, I’m going to tell you why the sequel we’re getting now is a stupid idea, and why it will ultimately underwhelm everyone foolish enough to pay it mind. In the spirit of the man himself, “I’m a be a Shaq knife and cut [this game] with precision.”

“My Magic Has Never Lost a Match and I’m Not Your Girlfriend!”

1992 had been a banner year for one Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal. In that year’s NBA draft, Shaq found himself in the position of being the first overall pick, effectively positioning him as the most desirable player up for grabs. Before too long, he had established himself as one of the best big men in the game as part of the Orlando Magic, and earning himself the prestigious “Rookie of the Year” award for his work in the ‘92-93 season. Shaq’s popularity would quickly rise to massive heights, and not just for his performance on the court either: The dude had an equally huge personality to match his massive stature.

Look, I’ll just come out and say it: Most professional athletes come across as super boring. The bulk of them barely register as having pulses when not actively participating in their game of choice, and sports interviews notoriously make for some of the least watchable television to ever air. Granted, it really isn’t their job to be charismatic so much as it is to be exceptionally good at a given sport, and press conferences seem like tedious wastes of time to begin with. All I’m saying is, when’s the last time you saw a baseball player on the likes of Saturday Night Live and said to yourself “now that’s a natural born entertainer?”

But along comes Shaq; who enjoys cracking jokes, messing around with the press, and has an incredibly expressive face that the camera can’t help but love. The next thing you know, the media can’t get enough of him, realizing that he’s easily the most entertaining guy in the whole game — if not all of major league sports by that point in history. To give an idea of just how valuable a commodity this made him: Michael Jordan could cut a half-decent interview, and that was considered impressive enough to land him the leading role in the Looney Tunes basketball movie. Needless to say, crossover opportunities for Shaq came a-knockin’ mighty quick. And nope; we’re still not talking about the video game just yet.

Back in the early 90s, the association between hip-hop and basketball hadn’t been fully-established just yet. But having been born in ‘72 and being of an age to appreciate the “Golden Era” of the genre, Shaq was raised with a passion for rap, and a desire to contribute to it in some form. With the opportunities afforded to him by his meteoric rise in basketball, he was able to do so in a major way. When he was invited to appear on The Arsenio Hall Show on December 2nd of 1992, he had enough clout to make a special request: “Let me rap with my favorite rap group. I need you to contact Fu-Schnickens for me.”

Music video for “What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock),” performed by Fu-Schnickens feat. Shaquille O’Neal.

For those of you not in the know, Fu-Schnickens were a criminally underrated hip-hop trio who performed in the late 80s / early 90s. In addition to heavily referencing kung-fu and martial arts movies some years before the Wu-Tang Clan, they were also lucky enough to have maybe one of the most talented MCs of all time as a member of their group: Roderick “Chip Fu” Roachford. Chip Fu boasts maybe some of the most impressive flow you will ever hear from a rapper, with a spitfire delivery that put the Micro Machines Man to shame. As Chip Fu himself is none too humble to claim, “no emcee at that time verse for verse could mess with me and peopleknew [sic] it.” And with a lyrical style that I’d largely describe as comical, it makes sense to me how Shaq would gravitate towards an act like Fu-Schnickens.

Sure enough, O’Neal got his wish, and got to perform with his favorite group on Arsenio. Contributing his own new verse to an already-existing track by the name of “What’s Up Doc?,” he was given the privilege of being first up on the mic during the performance on the show; amazing an audience who had no idea that he would be able to demonstrate some legitimate hip-hop chops. By the very next day, Jive Records had offered him a lucrative recording deal, and Shaq wasted no time in signing it. For him, it was an opportunity to work with and help promote more of his favorite artists, including the likes of Phife Dawg (of A Tribe Called Quest fame) and Erick Sermon (of EPMD).

His debut album, Shaq Diesel, would ultimately go platinum… despite honestly being a pretty mediocre affair, as if you didn’t already expect as much. You certainly can’t fault the dude for his enthusiasm and his presence, but his rhymes cross that fine line between “cartoony” into just straight-up cheese of the most whack degree. Turning in grade-school-level lines like “Knick-knack, Shaq-attack, give a dog a bone” and “I can flow like pee coming out you-know-what / Or some dookie, diarrhea coming out your butt,” it’s hard to take the album seriously as much more than novelty. That said, “What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock)” featuring the full force of the Fu-Schnickens is still an absolute monster of a song, even if it’s almost entirely thanks to another absolutely killer verse from Chip Fu. If you’re morbidly curious and looking to listen to maybe another track off the record, a Shaq solo effort in “I’m Outstanding” is also solid enough.

Anyhow, one of several things that rubbed off on Shaq as a part of this whole experience was the nickname “Shaq Fu” — an obvious and likely Schnickens-approved nod to what had been established as his associated act. This wasn’t the first time Shaq would come up with a goofy nickname for himself, and holy hell it would be nowhere close to the last. Even the NBA’s official website can only be bothered to document a small handful of them, and that’s still enough to take up whole pages on its own. In any case, the Shaq Fu nickname stuck more-so than most of his other monikers (save for maybe the classic “Big Aristotle”), and it would soon begin to take on a life of its own. Yes; now we can finally start talking about the video game.

With Shaq at this point being a household name, it was inevitable that sponsorships and brand deals would soon present themselves to the young athelete. Between commercial spots for Pepsi and Reebok (all rights reserved and so forth), Shaq was approached at some point by software publisher Electronic Arts, who looked to capitalize on his brand in the form of a licensed video game. Needless to say, he accepted. At or around the same time, EA had made a similar deal with Michael Jordan; resulting in Michael Jordan in Flight released for DOS in 1993, and Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City being released just a couple months after Shaq’s game-to-be. As it turns out, these would be relatively easy relationships to establish, as Electronic Arts already had the benefit of having a licensing deal in place directly with the NBA themselves — not to mention, the NFL, NHL, FIFA and PGA.

But this enviable position also put EA in something of a dilemma, as it would turn out. Putting the likes of O’Neal and Jordan in traditional basketball games would be putting them into competition with their own line of NBA Live titles, as well as risking oversaturating the sports game market. At a certain point, it was decided that in producing standalone titles for these players, they should move away from the traditional sports game genre, and bank on their name values alone being enough to generate sales. And so, rolling with the “Shaq Fu” moniker that their latest partner had established for himself, the suggestion was made that Shaq could star in a fighting game. Never mind the fact that his nickname was actually only a tangential reference to kung fu: A room full of corporate executives were never going to be able to fully grasp the cultural context, and Shaq himself seemed personally amused by the idea to boot:

“We approached Shaq really with the idea of a basketball game like Shaq Vs Jordan but I read that Shaq loved crime movies and has a very street image through his rap. Shaq Fu is his rap name — his street, urban name. It just struck me this could be interesting for a fighting game. We were unsure his agent would let us do this but on talking to Shaq personally, he loved the idea.” ~ Don Treager, Electronic Arts

Reins for the project were handed over to Delphine Software International, who are perhaps most notable for the critically-acclaimed and technically impressive Another World released in 1990. Delphine had spent the past several years establishing a unique visual style to their games; centered around cinematic presentation and incredibly fluid animations, often utilizing rotoscoping for reference in character movement and action. That said, their established forte was in adventure and action titles, and they had yet to develop a fully-fledged fighting game up to that point. But at the time, it may have seemed like a natural progression for the studio: Their highly-detailed and impressively smooth character animations might make a perfect fit for the genre, and give the likes of Mortal Kombat a run for their money. In fact, it may have been the case that Delphine already had a fighting game in the works prior to being handed the Shaq Fu license, and that certain “adjustments” would accordingly be made to that project already in progress…

An interesting and often-overlooked side note here is that the decision to produce Shaq Fu as a fighting game would result in another fighter being cancelled: Savage Heroes, slated for release on the Genesis. Granted, this particular casualty seemed to be a game doomed from the get-go, with Sega of America producer Scott Berfield noting that the developer put in charge of developing the prototype for the title were ill-equipped for the task at hand. With interest and faith in this project waning and a new major fighting game now in the pipeline, Berfield recounts the official death of the game as the day that “all of our marketing support got pulled to put on Shaq-Fu.” With this additional influx of marketing budget, the Genesis release was granted another boon: Copies of the game would be packaged with an exclusive promotional single, “Shaq-Fu: Stand And Deliver.” If this combined bit of marketing synergy wasn’t enough to launch Shaq Fu into the stratosphere, nothing would.

I don’t mean to dunk too hard on Jordan here: The man is the best there ever was and best there ever will be on the court, and has certainly proven himself to be an eloquent speaker and philosopher on the game. With all that in mind though, you can’t tell me that his personality on its own qualifies him as being “larger than life.”

“A Great Offense Is the Best Defense!”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This primary portion of the review focuses on the NTSC Sega Genesis release of the game, which differs slightly from it’s PAL release and rather significantly from conversions of the game to other consoles.

“There are two basic fighting moves:
Punching and Kicking.”

(North American Genesis box art)

In one of Tokyo’s downtown districts, one Shaquille O’Neal finds himself taking in the sights and sounds hours before taking part in a charity basketball game. Between a pair of conveniently-placed billboards for Pepsi, our hero finds himself drawn to a hole-in-the-wall kung fu dojo, deciding to head inside on what he must presume to be a whim. However, it is truly by fate that he is brought here, as an old man behind the counter immediately recognizes him as a warrior “from the stars.” After a bit of confusion where Shaq assumes that the master of the school probably recognizes him as an “all star,” the elder immediately draws back a curtain concealing an inexplicable portal to another world, urging Shaq through it so that he might rescue a boy named Nezu. Without a second thought or follow-up question, Shaq apparently steps through the portal into “The Second World,” and towards the adventure to unfold.

The instruction manual provides some additional context for the world you’ll be exploring: Once ruled by a sorcerer named Sett Ra, he sought to expand his power beyond his own realm and into the First World — our own planet Earth. With an elaborate plan to assassinate the Pharaoh of Egypt, impersonate him, and steal his throne so that he might expand his new empire, you’d expect this to be thwarted before it even got started. But no, Sett Ra and his right-hand man Beast actually completely succeed in this endeavor at first! Let the history books show that Egypt was once briefly ruled by a magician from another plane of existence! And he would have continued to rule as well, if not for the efforts of the Pharaoh’s son Ahmet who saw through Sett Ra’s ruse. Forced to flee his kingdom and track down his hermit grandfather, Leotsu the Wise, the pair worked together (alongside an unspecified “coven of powerful wizards”) to purge Sett Ra from our world. And while they were at it, they somehow managed to build a pyramid within the Second World, magically bind Sett Ra in mummy wrappings, and confine him to the structure for the better part of a millenium.

Having emerged from his confinement and now reunited with his best buddy Beast, the evil duo seek to perform an ancient ritual that would see Sett Ra able to return to Earth and claim it as his once again. To this end, they require a descendant of Ahmet (for sacrifice, presumably?) — the aforementioned Nezu, as it turns out. Beast is able to capture the child from our world, escaping back to his own apparently just a short time before the events of the game take place. And so, it falls on a 22 year-old Shaquille O’Neal to defeat Sett Ra and his minions in martial combat, rescue the boy, and return in time for his big charity game! And in case you’re wondering how Shaq even has a fighting chance in hand-to-hand combat, worry not: According to his character bio within the game, Shaq is no less than the founder of “Shaqido” — his own school of “extremely lethal martial art.” That being said, he doesn’t seem to actually take anyone’s life over the course of the game, so Shaqido’s killing potential remains to truly be seen.

Aside from the clunky inclusion of a real-life sports figure, the plot here is classic Delphine Software: You’ve got your themes of traveling between time and dimensions, mysticism mixed with more grounded settings, and a dash of sci-fi thrown in (at least with one specific character / stage) for good measure. What the game sadly lacks though are any classic Delphine cinematics, as seen in Another World or Flashback. Instead, the story is told simply through slideshows consisting of still images and text, where the images don’t even fill out the whole frame. For as admittedly detailed as some of these graphics may be, they certainly come across as rushed — as something like an afterthought or hasty last-minute addition, even. Why, it’s almost as if they had to toss them together closer towards the end of development after already having scrambled to retrofit Shaquille O’Neal into this previously-unrelated game project! Look, I know I’m obviously not the first person to posit this sort of theory, but let’s see if I can’t provide a little more “evidence” to back my claim than the average skeptic.

In addition to the cinematics not being up to Delphine’s established par and the plot feeling entirely unrelated to Shaq [or even the general sport of basketball], the game also lacks the aesthetic cohesion of a more fully-realized Delphine title. There’s certainly a lot of wild ideas at play here between the different fighters on offer and backdrops to battle in, and there was probably some narrative device in an earlier version of the game that actually tied them together more sensibly. But with Shaq thrown into the mix, I get the impression a lot of these settings and characters had to be reshuffled and repurposed to fit the new template. A perfect example of this is the overworld as seen in the story mode; appearing as a complete mish-mash of exotic locales with no sense of spatial relation to one another, giving me the further impression that there probably wasn’t supposed to be an overworld in the first place.

I’ll also point to the soundtrack here, which is a generally decent affair: Every song makes something of an effort to fit the stage and character it’s written for, with Prince Rajah’s theme making use of a sitar-like MIDI instrument, and the priestess Voodoo’s accompanying musical track featuring clanging of steel reminiscent of Haitian drumming. That’s all well and good, if not a little “on the nose” and all, but I feel like there was a more obvious choice to be made here if the game had truly been designed with Shaq in mind: Base the soundtrack off of his rap album. I’m not saying it would / should account for every musical track in the game, but don’t you get the feeling that at least a couple songs should pull from Shaq’s own discography? I mean, at the very least, have Shaq’s own theme music be a “Shoot Pass Slam” soundalike or something, instead of the generically Asian-inspired track we get in the final product.

There’s also the matter of an odd cheat code enabling “Blood Mode,” which you would think has absolutely no place in what effectively amounts to an advergame. And you’d be right: Unused graphics in the game point to what were originally more graphic depictions of blood and character death, which are toned down / disabled even with the code enabled. It doesn’t take a detective to figure out that the addition of Shaq to a pre-existing fighting game would’ve brought a change in tone with it — Electronic Arts obviously not looking to see their star vehicle’s sales hampered by an MA-17 rating on the Genesis. That being said, with the game ultimately being rated MA-13 (the equivalent of an ESRB “T”) seemingly for it’s fighting premise alone, there was still some amount of flexibility allowed as far as seeing bloodied lips and monsters reduced to dust behind a secret code.

I’m sure that one day, we’ll get a more complete picture as to what game Shaq Fu was originally intended to be before it came to be known by that name. But in the meantime, all we’ve got is the game in front of us, and all we can do is evaluate it on its own merits. Offering an arcade-style mode doubling as your two-player versus option (“Duel”), a “Tournament” mode for setting up more complex brackets of competitive play, and a “Story” mode chronicling Shaq’s adventures in Second World. This story mode will pit you (as Shaq) against every other character on the roster — eleven in total, in the Genesis version of the game. The aforementioned overworld screen allows you to navigate Shaq from stage to stage, taking on the character associated with it, and eventually winning all the fights required to proceed to the next landmass, where yet more battles await you. Eventually, you’ll make your way to Sett Ra himself, serving as the final boss. This all makes for a mostly straightforward story mode, save for a small detail.

After you’ve beaten enough opponents on the first continent to proceed to the next, the game shows you another Powerpoint slide cutscene, with text and a graphic indicating that Beast has “brought his skeleton soldiers to life.” You will most likely then proceed to never fight against any opponent even resembling a skeleton, since this story beat isn’t actually reference to any of the mandatory battles or characters on the main roster. Rather, this is a reference to an entirely optional and very hidden “Bonus Challenge” you can discover on the overworld. One of three, in fact! Yes, in addition to the standard series of fights, there are some secret stages to be discovered by traveling to unmarked locations. While two of these end up just being regular battles against recolors of existing characters, there is one that challenges you to defeat as many skeleton warriors as you can within a short time limit. A pretty standard minigame to be sure, but fascinating if only for the fact that it’s so well-hidden.

Of course, the skeletons soldiers are hardly a major plot point or obstacle for Shaq. The game’s focus is on its one-on-one combat, between the twelve playable characters the game has on offer. Perhaps most surprising is the fact that Shaq might possibly be the weakest contender of them all, given a paltry two special moves (whereas all other characters get either three or four) and the largest hitboxes within which he can be hit. I honestly wouldn’t know how to go about “labbing” the roster and determining something like tiers for all of them, and so I can’t definitely say that Shaq is the worst character in the game, but I can certainly assure you that he ain’t the best. That honor I’d probably guess goes to Nezu himself; the little boy who is ostensibly in danger. Yes, he is seriously a playable character from the very beginning (at least in the Genesis / Amiga versions), he stands at half the height of most other characters, and it is necessary at a point in the story mode for Shaq to seemingly beat him half to death.

The cast of characters here represents the game design at its most wild, with every fighter feeling like they were cut from completely different games from one another. In the same world where Kaori the cat-woman inhabits a mystical jungle, a half-robot man known only as Colonel resides in a futuristic laboratory furnished with bodies floating in vats of science juice. And while those two are somehow coexisting, you’ve got a Hispanic longshoreman nicknamed Diesel who I guess also got teleported to Second World, and decides to spend his time there just hanging out in a mine shaft? Oh, and don’t forget about the father-daughter dynamic between the creature Mephis and his child Voodoo — which there is no hint or allusion to outside of their endings in the Duel mode, and which the timeline for doesn’t really make sense considering that Mephis is apparently “thousands of years” old according to his bio while Voodoo is only 27?

Again, you get the impression that Delphine had to have had some framework in place at some point in development that made all this make sense, right? Maybe something where multiple different worlds all merged together into one, or pockets in time and space otherwise lead to these completely disparate settings and elements were all made adjacent to one another. Whatever the case may be, it don’t make a lick of sense to me how all these weird creatures and smaller handful of cultural stereotypes are apparently all meant to be part of the same world (otherworldly visitors notwithstanding). The inclusion of then-Orlando Magic center Shaquille O’Neal is just icing on a cake that already has the word “Absurdity” written on it in frosting.

“Shaq has been filmed in hundreds of different stances with scores of different expressions.”
(Scans compiled from Mega Machines Sega, Issue #22)

But do you wanna know the real kicker here? For as unrelated and removed from one another as every character feels, they all share one thing in common: They are all immaculately animated, and their associated stages are all beautifully rendered. Each and every one of them was clearly given a significant amount of time and care by the designers at Delphine, and fully realized in terms of anatomy and aesthetics. Honestly, if there’s any one character who feels like they received the least amount of love and attention from the artists, it’d have to be Shaq himself! Whereas every other character has unique motions and attacks that seem to reflect their physiology and personalities, Shaq just ends up feeling like a random guy who might’ve taken a couple classes in self-defense and who can conjure a shuriken from thin air — a “Shaq-urikin,” as the game calls it. They seriously couldn’t have the dude toss exploding basketballs or something? Anything?

The level of detail displayed in the animations here shouldn’t be unexpected of Delphine. Looking back on some of their past works – most notably the two games I’ve mentioned before in Another World and Flashback – it’s clear that the French developers had mastered the art of fluid animation within the medium of pixel art. Following in the footsteps of Jordan Mechner’s Karateka and Prince of Persia, they clearly rely on rotoscoping for capturing the feel and momentum of real world movement, but also excel in adapting fantastical forms and monsters to these motions. In the case of Shaq’s animations, they went so far as to capture some amount of real footage of the man himself in-studio, so they might translate at least some of his mannerisms more accurately to the game. With such a strong emphasis on character design and fluidity of motion, using these skills in the service of a fighting game seems like a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, this is a case where an overabundance of experience in one particular aspect of design can actually have a negative effect on all the other aspects that go into creating a game. For as brilliant as Delphine may have been in producing impressive animation, they had only really done so in service of so-called “cinematic platformers” and adventure titles — genres carrying a completely different momentum and need for responsiveness than a fighting game. And so, Shaq Fu suffers from the frustrating issue of being overly-animated; where every movement and attack is given too many frames of animation in the pursuit of “realism,” getting in the way of the player feeling as if they are fully in control of their character. For one particularly egregious example, jumping in the game will always feel as if it’s delayed, thanks to a number of “wind-up” frames that precede your character actually getting off the ground. The result are jumps that are often incapable of clearing incoming projectiles that you may be attempting to dodge, or which otherwise take too long to start / finish to accomplish what you initially set out to do.

There’s also the matter of transitions between different stances and movements, where your inputs are ignored until a given animation finishes playing. To give another example here: Transitioning between crouching and standing is a smoothly-animated affair, but in the time it takes for that animation of standing up or crouching down to play out, you’re effectively left defenseless and unable to even queue up an attack to follow up with before you’re back in a controllable state. I’ve heard this phenomenon of control feeling sluggish or outright unresponsive referred to as “animation priority,” and it’s an especially infuriating sensation to put up with in the context of a game that calls for fast reflexes and begs for immediately-responsive control. With this one design oversight alone, Delphine effectively demonstrates their total lack of experience with the fighting game genre, and wastes much of the effort that went into making the game look so good to begin with.

There’s also another issue with having such detailed animations: It apparently necessitates smaller character sprites, so that either the workload for the artists could be decreased or so that all the graphical data could be fit within the limitations of storage capacity. In the case of the Genesis version of the game, a specially-designed cartridge was required presumably to house a larger internal storage for all the assets contained within. Delphine project manager Dany Boolauk defended / explained the design decision to produce smaller sprites as such:

“You look at the likes of Streetfighter II and, if you want to compete with it on the same ground, it’s no use; so we had to find something different. They are looking at big sprites and bright colours but they are lacking on the animation front. We have the knowledge for the animation and that’s where we can win. […] We think we’ve reached a compromise — the sprites in Mortal Kombat are 100 pixels high, those in Streetfighter II are 80 pixels high. In Shaq, the pixels are 70 pixels high which is an acceptable size but it means we can pack much more animation in there.” ~ Dany Boolauk, Delphine Software

Even still, the decrease in sprite size is noticeable, and has a direct impact on the ability to discern and predict enemy attacks. When you have to squint your eyes to see what the current state of an opponent is, that’s slowing your ability to react in time to attack tells, not to mention making them harder to take notice of in the first place. As such, combat in Shaq Fu really can’t be left to reacting to and countering your opponent, so much as it simply requires you to take the initiative on attack and encouraging spamming in order to keep your opponent from even getting their attacks out as often as you can prevent it. The winning move with most characters is to find whichever of their attacks has the quickest animation and most effective range, and to repeat that ad infinitum until you can lock your opponent into a loop or run out the clock.

One positive point I did want to give to Delphine is their ability to convey weight and force with connecting blows through the visuals: Characters take exaggerated bumps on hits, complete with screen shudders as they fall onto the ground. Again, credit where credit is due for understanding the finer points of animation in games. Unfortunately, none of this is helped by weak sound design, which leaves every impact feeling weaker and lighter than it should. With no sound effect to accompany fighters taking their falls, and dull sound effects on blocks and whiffs, a lot of the bite and feedback feels missing from a game that has the look of something that should be more visceral and palpable.

I feel like these are all some pretty major mechanical gripes. And unfortunately, where there are major issues that get in the way of a game living up to its potential, you’re bound to also run into a number of other smaller issues that can add up and accumulate into something more substantial. These would include minor nitpicks like the unnecessarily complex design for the timer, health bars draining away from the center of the screen rather than towards it, foreground elements obscuring the characters, stages where the floor is placed at different heights than in others, and so on. Taken on their own, these could be forgivable missteps or quirks on the part of a developer experimenting with the genre. But when you line them all up in a row, it points to a developer who doesn’t really understand the intricacies of the genre they’re made to be working within.

All that being said, there are a couple of unique ideas here that aren’t inherently terrible. A “Fury” meter that builds up as you are successively hit can grant you a brief boost in attack strength, though apparently at the cost of “accuracy” according to a developer comment. I’m not entirely sure how accuracy is meant to manifest or factor into the equation here, but at least the boost in attack power is tangible. If you so please, you can even taunt your opponent to further build their meter, though why you’d invite them to launch more powerful attacks against you is a curious tactic. There’s also the matter of health slowly regenerating over time, which can work at motivating more constant action so that neither player will want to allow their opponent a chance to recover or make up for the difference in their health differential.

With the game designed for six-button Genesis controllers in mind, you can expect that the game should take advantage of this expanded range of inputs. Aside from needlessly dedicating a button to taunting, it largely does so, providing both “Fast” and “Power” options for kicks and punches, while relying on backward movement to block attacks. In addition, the A button also serves as a “Move Boost” key to be held while inputting directions, which offers you dodges and rolls as well as providing a shield against projectile attacks when used while crouching. However, if you’re stuck using a classic three-button controller, you’re not completely out of luck: You can switch between the ABC and XYZ control functions by tapping Start. Obviously not an ideal solution by any metric, but at least you’re not locked entirely out of playing the game or restricted in your moveset.

I would also say that there’s less of an emphasis on combos and chained attacks, which I’m sure different people will feel different ways about. Personally, I prefer fighting games that make it more difficult for players to lock each other out of answering attacks, or which remove the need to memorize long sequences of inputs in order to maintain competitive edge. I am more than content to see juggling removed as a strategy or factor here, with characters falling to the ground faster than an opponent can typically follow up with an attack that would keep them airborne. It’s nice to have a game where the emphasis is on making and choosing opportunities for singular strikes… if only it weren’t for the effectiveness of simply spamming attacks as a strategy.

Granted, there’s at least a decent variety of attacks on offer, and each character does feel like they’re made to represent a different style of fighting. Credit again goes to the developers for tackling each character as their own unique sort of entity, with their movesets telling the stories of who they are and where they might come from. You immediately understand that a creature like Auroch seems to genuinely enjoy inflicting pain with a special that conjures a spiked ball and chain, and you get a sense for what the rest of his species might be like from his stone-and-steel physiology. You can see that Beast literally burns with rage, bringing down fire and fury with each of his attacks and representing a being born purely of evil magic. Colonel shows off his array of hi-tech gadgetry and Inspector Gadget-esque body morphing, demonstrating a half-man / half-machine rebuilt with the sole purpose of combat in mind. All examples of simple character archetypes to be sure, but they’re at least conveyed clearly and efficiently.

I also appreciate that the input strings for special attacks are generally pretty short and simple, typically adhering to the formula of quarter-circles followed by single button presses. One slight problem here though: The instruction manual doesn’t actually provide players with move lists for the characters. In fact, the writer for the manual seems to delight in noting that “Each character also has Special Moves you can find out about on your own — hey, that’s half the fun!” Yeah, that’s great and all, but it doesn’t do much for players when the AI in the game fires off difficult-to-anticipate special attacks at a rate of about once every few seconds. In what feels like a bit of mocking pity, the inputs are revealed to you within the game itself, but only one at a time on the fight loss screens for your given character. So, all it takes is for the computer to annihilate you with a constant barrage of special attacks, so that you might learn one new move at a time!

This does bring us to another issue, which is that the AI can often feel as if it’s “cheating.” Of course, what this really means is that the computer’s ability to spit out special attacks and react to your own assaults can feel beyond the ability of even an expert human player, with timing and anticipation that can feel near-instantaneous when compared to your own inability to quickly and easily read an opponent. At times, I felt as if the computer was somehow programmed to deliberately irritate me — jumping overhead from side-to-side whenever I attempted any sort of attack on it in either direction. And as far as getting out your own special moves, with their prolonged wind-ups and delayed delivery? Forget about it: The computer will routinely block those shots with something like a dozen frames to spare. All this just serves to reinforce the strategy of repeating one fast attack against the computer as rapidly as possible, and catching it as it attempts to do anything other than blocking.

Reportedly, these issues are far more prevalent in the American / NTSC version of the game. Comparatively, the PAL version intended for the European market seems to somehow underclock the speed at which the computer-controlled opponents react to human players, allowing you to eke out a few more attacks that would apparently usually be dodged. This isn’t something I’ve been able to judge for myself in anything like a side-by-side comparison, but I’ve seen this statement repeated by enough sources that I had to at least mention it here. So, if you’re looking for the “definitive” version of Shaq Fu here, it would seem to be the European revision of the Genesis / Mega Drive release.

All of this isn’t to say that the game is outright unplayable or impossible to beat: I really had no trouble clearing the story mode on the Normal difficulty, though I did struggle somewhat as I upped the challenge level to “Expert.” The options menu also allows you to set the per-round timer, rebind controls, perform sound tests, and input the Blood Code as mentioned earlier (A-B-C-C-B-A on Genesis, Y-X-B-A-L-R on SNES). There’s also an additional option for “Game Speed,” which can be upped from Normal to Fast, though this makes the game feel even more out of control, in my opinion. Sure, you get an added degree of responsiveness from the controls thanks to faster frames, but it comes at the cost of movements and jumps that feel wild and unpredictable. The game is probably best left at default settings, if you ask me.

And obviously, for all the grief I might have with how the computer opponents behave, that doesn’t factor into human versus human matches. With both players subjected to effectively the same handicaps in control and ability to react, fights become a much more evenly-balanced affair, and better demonstrate the potential of a fighting game where moves must be more carefully considered and committed to. Seeing as every character in the game is unlocked from the very start – with no need to unlock them through the story mode or any other such incentivizing – you can hop right into the multiplayer without having to trudge through the campaign. Again, this is one of those design decisions that some people will happily welcome, while others may bemoan the lack of progression or rewards for overcoming challenges. I could totally see Nezu and Sett Ra being gated behind clearing the story mode on Normal and Expert difficulty or what have you, and serving as decent enough motivators to play through that mode.

I guess that brings me to the subject of things I would’ve personally added or altered if I had somehow been given a hand in developing the game. First and foremost would obviously have to be cutting frames of animation in order to make the game feel altogether more responsive — mostly just a matter of a couple frames here and there across the transitional animations for fighters, and reducing the charge time on some of the specials. There are certainly small compromises that could’ve been made here that would still allow the game to present itself as having an advantage in smooth animation over its competitors, while also still allowing it to compete on the same level of responsiveness and sense of control. Also while we’re at it, we could maybe even get rid of the taunts entirely, since they’re not all that important mechanically and aren’t particularly vital to the tone of the game either. Maybe the grand sum of space saved by cutting these frames could’ve even allowed for slightly bigger characters, or for more of the characters to have made it into the Super Nintendo version of the game (more on that in just a short while).

The next major suggestion would be to imbue the game with more of Shaq’s personality. As it stands, outside of the presence of O’Neal as a the central playable character, the most sense you get of his involvement in development is his contribution of the dialogue between characters. Though the interviews with members of the production and development team insist on Shaq having “been involved in every step,” almost none of that supposed involvement really comes through outside of the brief pre-fight and post-victory banter of the characters. With Shaq managing to pepper in some inside jokes like Voodoo claiming “My magic is better than your Magic” (seeming to reference his affiliation with the Orlando Magic), or Shaq having a laugh at Diesel’s coincidental choice of nickname, there’s at least a small bit of his personality conveyed here.

But what if Shaq had been given a more active role in designing a few of the combatants? What if he could have had some input over the soundtrack and brought elements of his own music to it? Perhaps if the game had truly been built from the ground up with O’Neal in mind, his contributions could have been made more meaningful. And yes, while I’m obviously aware that Shaq is not a game designer himself, it should be the duty of a development studio to work with the celebrities their games may be licensed after, and to make sure that their games convey their creative visions and personalities. After all, that’s why folk who consider themselves fans of these public figures are largely buying the games in the first place. Say what you will about a game like Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball, but at least it’s a game built around a definable aspect of the namesake character’s persona; namely, the fact that Bill Laimbeer was a complete asshole who delighted in foul plays.

Of course, the alternative to all this would be removing the element of Shaq from the game entirely — going forward with whatever original concept the game clearly had in mind before Shaq became part of the equation. But what would that leave us with? Probably something like an unspectacular fighting game without a particularly strong attention-grabbing gimmick, stuck smack dab in the middle of the genre’s own Golden Age. What good would that have really done for Delphine? As it stands, the half-baked novelty of Shaq’s presence has at least ensured the game a place in history, and a legacy which has extended far beyond what the game could have likely ever have hoped to achieve without him. But that being said, it could have done so much more with the involvement of basketball’s biggest big man, and established an entirely different type of legacy for itself; maybe even one of genuine reverence. Or, at the very least, one of complete and utter disaster on a far more fascinating and unique spectrum.

As it stands, Shaq Fu is far from the worst fighting game you’ll ever play. Its missteps are certainly obvious enough to point to, but none of them are honestly severe enough to render the game completely busted. There are frustrations to be had for sure, but there are ways to overcome the obstacles that the game may place in front of you. And through it all, there’s at least a certain amusement that comes from remembering that this is an officially-licensed Shaquille O’Neal fighting game that you’re playing here. Whether the game takes full advantage of this fact or not, it’s still the primary factor behind the game sticking with players for years after the fact. In any competitive business or industry, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to make a name for yourself.

“I’ve Beat Real Fighters Twice Your Size.”

Shaq Fu’s release was not solely intended for Sega’s home hardware, despite that version of the game receiving the bulk of marketing budget and including the most complete collection of content. Conversions to four other platforms would follow over the course of the following year with Delphine tasked with conversion duties to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, while other parties were consulted for the other three platforms. That being said, the second-most complete edition of the game is arguably the Amiga conversion, as developed by The Dome Software Developments. It’s the only other version of the game to feature the full roster of twelve characters, though this achievement comes at heavy cost.

For one, the graphics do suffer from a decrease in speed and color depth, losing some of the presentation advantages the console versions hold over their fighting game contemporaries. Music is also entirely absent during fights, with only a handful of songs in total surviving the conversion for use in the menus and story cutscenes. I think there might also be a couple of stage backgrounds missing, but I forgot to check which ones. There are a small number of other aesthetic changes like the fighter status display not having a transparent background, and a couple of extra slides missing from the story mode ending slideshow, but most of these changes are negligible.

What some might find less forgivable is the control scheme; which, for those who aren’t familiar with the Amiga, was made quite limited by the inherent limitations of input devices for the hardware. The majority of games developed for the Amiga were designed with one button and joystick in mind, as controllers designed with that range of inputs in mind were the standard for the console. A smaller number of games could support gamepads with two buttons, and luckily, Shaq Fu is one of them. Still though; attempting to cram the game’s number of inputs and attacks into what is still a very limited control scheme is a difficult task, and one which can leave players feeling as if controlling the game is a total crapshoot.

There’s a science to combining directional inputs and button presses with some precise timing and context-sensitivity, and I imagine folk who have history with the Amiga and these types of controls will certainly have an easier time of it than I did. That being said, I fully admit to struggling with the Amiga conversion of Shaq Fu, as I do with many other “complex” to control Amiga games. In any case, it’s still a definitively inferior version of the game compared against the original Genesis release, though you can at least see the effort made to keep it as fully-featured as possible given the hardware: In sacrificing control and game feel, you at least get a complete character roster and close to the full rotation of stages.

Shaq Fu for Amiga (Ocean / The Dome Software, 1995)

By contrast, the Super Nintendo version prioritizes retaining the feel of the game above all else, even at the expense of having to omit nearly half the roster in the process. As Sega might say: Nintendon’t include Auroch, Colonel, Diesel, Leotsu or Nezu as playable characters. It also seems to lack the bonus stages from the Genesis version, as the overworld is completely redesigned to omit the locations for fighters no longer present in this version of the game. Whether these removals were done due to hardware limitations, pressure from Sega, or simply due to a lack of time given in developing this conversion, it still ultimately leaves this version of the game feeling half-empty and half-finished.

The only “advantage” the SNES version of the game holds over the Genesis are some more detailed stage backgrounds, featuring a wider color palette and a few additional animated elements not present in the originals. Of course, this is nowhere near a fair trade for what’s now missing from the game. At least what remains intact of the game does still feel largely intact, with the game’s framerate and fluidity not feeling compromised by the move to hardware with a slower processor, and no changes made to the way the game controls — for whatever that latter point is worth.

All in all, choosing or being given no other option than to play the game on a Super Nintendo meant your Shaq Fu experience was going to be severely lacking. Truly, the disservice done to Shaq’s game would forever sway the course of the Console Wars, and give Sega the shot in the arm they needed to crush Nintendo forever, and lead to a further period of console dominance with the subsequent releases of the Sega Shaqturn and Shaqcast. If there’s a serious lesson to be learned here, it’s that the Genesis did seem to generally fare better than the SNES when it came to fighting game conversions. Why, just take a look at how Pit-Fighter fared!

Shaq Fu for SNES (Electronic Arts / Delphine Software, 1994)

This brings us to the matter of the handheld conversions, where we’ll be pitting the Sega Game Gear against the Nintendo Game Boy. Now, naturally, neither of these versions of the game are expected to retain the full breadth of content available on the Genesis — hell, even so much as what we got on the SNES! But with the Game Gear providing higher hardware specs than the Game Boy, you might expect it to sweep this particular head-to-head battle with ease. However, it turns out that this is a case where the outcome may well be subjective. We’ll first take a look at developer Tiertex (who I most immediately associate with their unofficial Street Fighter sequel [and future article candidate] Human Killing Machine), and their attempt to bring the game to Sega’s portable.

With its far broader color palette, the Game Gear is better able to imitate the presentation of the console versions by sheer virtue of having actual colors to display. Beyond that though, the character sprites and backgrounds actually do retain a surprising amount of their original detail, albeit with far less frames of animation and far more flickering. The sprite flicker might well be what I perceive as the biggest issue with the Game Gear conversion, as asking the game to do much more than having both fighters standing and facing each other will inevitably result in certain elements rapidly flashing in and out of existence as per the order of hardware limitations. Granted, the original specification of Game Gear was a ghosting-prone nightmare as it is, so this is an effect far less noticeable on original hardware than it looks in emulated animated GIF format.

I’d also contend that the Game Gear conversion tends to feel bit more sluggish and choppy than on the Game Boy, for a reason we’ll briefly get into. Another change worth noting is the further removal of characters Voodoo and Beast from the aforementioned roster of the SNES version, but the re-introduction of Leotsu of all characters, for some reason. This leaves you with a selection of six characters, and an admirable attempt at trying to replicate as much of the look of the console versions as possible. It even sees the return of the overworld screen, albeit scaled back to an almost hilarious degree. At some point, they may just as well have gotten rid of it and presented the fights in a more standard, pre-determined fashion.

It’s interesting to see the bulk of the effort spent on trying to get the game looking as visually impressive as possible, even as it eats into the playability of the game some. In that sense, I guess it’s actually pretty true to the spirit of the original game, isn’t it? And also similarly to its source material, it’s not left entirely unplayable in the face of these priorities. It’s certainly not a fighting game worth writing home about or anything, but it stacks up decently enough against the likes of the Game Gear Mortal Kombat — which itself absolutely crushed the attempt to convert that same game to Game Boy.

Shaq Fu for Game Gear (Electronic Arts / Tiertex, 1995)

Allow that to serve as my segue into Shaq Fu on Game Boy, which is quite an interesting case. Rather than desperately attempting to further downscale and dither the original console sprites, every character here is completely redrawn from scratch to fit the monochrome palette and smaller screen. As such, while the game again can’t hope to live up to the same standard of animation set by the original, it still manages to be quite the fluid affair for a Game Boy fighter! And hey, while it’s at it, it actually manages to retain the entirety of the SNES character roster — albeit in this redrawn and miniaturized form.

Furthermore, the game doesn’t bother trying to recreate the story mode, with it’s navigable overworld and slideshow cutscenes. A replacement “Shaq Fu” mode is a far more straightforward affair that immediately picks Shaq as your player character and pits you against the rest of the roster in a preset order. The familiar exchanges of banter between characters are gone as well, which I do reckon takes away the last tangible trace of Shaq’s input on the title. What you’re left with here is a fully streamlined fighting game, which plays the involvement of its celebrity character completely straight — as if he’s just another fighter on a standard fighting game roster.

Perhaps the best compliment I can pay to the Game Boy Shaq Fu though is that it generally tends to respond and play better than it’s Game Gear rival. As such, I feel like it’s maybe a more ideal choice for a portable fighting game, if you’re in the market for such a thing and have only two versions of Shaq Fu to choose from. Actually, that’s still not being entirely fair to the game: Shaq Fu on the Game Boy is honestly pretty solid for what it is, and one of the better attempts at bringing the fighting genre to hardware that had no business playing host to games of this sort in the first place.

With all said and done and every conversion covered, the definitive version of Shaq Fu is obviously still the original Genesis release. As if there were any question about it. But the takeaway here should be less about how these conversions fail in various ways to measure up to the original, and more so to do with the fact that all these conversions were given the pre-emptive green light in the first place.  Shaq Fu was genuinely expected to be a smash hit, and even in the face of some stiff fighting game market competition. The question remained: Was Shaq’s name truly a surefire guarantee of sales success?

Shaq Fu for Game Boy (Black Pearl / Unexpected Development, 1995)

“I Hope You Play Hoops Better Than You Can Fight.”

As it turns out, sales data for Shaq Fu is unfortunately hard to come by! What can be said of it’s time spent on retail though is that it quickly became a staple of used game bins — the keyword there being used games. It would appear that copies of the Genesis game that came bundled with the promotional single sold through in relatively short order, with most folk electing to hold onto their audio CDs. Add to that heavy magazine and television promotion, the fact that the handheld conversions were ultimately completed and shipped, and that talks of a sequel were briefly discussed (as confirmed by former Delphine lead graphic artist Thierry Levastre), and all the signs would seem to point to Shaq Fu having done at least alright for itself.

What’s important to note here, for historical purposes, is that Shaq Fu was not unanimously panned on release. While the game certainly had its share of detractors, scores generally landed somewhere in the average to above-average range — at least when it came to the Genesis version. December 1994’s issue of GamePro magazine summed up a flattering full-page review by concluding “Shaquille O’Neal does some serious Fuing around in this good-looking fighting game. It’s fun once you get used to the small, fast sprites.” A review from that same month’s issue of Game Player commended the effort as a “remarkable job” for a first-time fighting game effort from Delphine, but weighed in with at least one particularly pointed criticism: “Waiting for all those frames of animation to play after each move means that Shaq Fu also has some pretty sluggish control — a near-fatal problem for a fighting game. […] It’s not all bad, but there’s no denying they have a few things to learn.”

One of the most critical reviews of the era came from a somewhat unexpected source: Entertainment Weekly. Writer Bob Strauss quickly and efficiently takes the game to task, criticizing every aspect of it from premise to execution. In summating the drawbacks of the graphical presentation, Strauss notes that “although Shaq himself is digitized competently enough, he’s a relatively small, unintimidating onscreen presence, and some of his opponents (especially in the Genesis version) are downright minuscule.” And after rating both the Genesis and SNES versions a shared grade of “D,” Strauss then proceeds to fantasy book the greatest sports-license fighting game of all time:

“What’s saddest about Shaq-Fu is the squandered opportunity it represents. With a little effort and some legal maneuvering, Electronic Arts, which already has a promotional relationship with the NBA, the NFL, and Major League Baseball, could have produced a no-holds-barred, intrasports fighting extravaganza. Imagine Shaq squaring off against Lawrence Taylor, Lenny Dykstra, and George Foreman, then girding himself for a final battle with the biggest boss of them all, John Madden. Now, that’s the kind of game that would make Shaq loom really large in this arena.” ~ Bob Strauss, Entertainment Weekly

Generally speaking, the SNES version fared less favorably than the Genesis release in reviews, though the lesser number of playable characters was rarely specifically cited for this. In Electronic Gaming Monthly’s November ‘94 issue, one of four unspecified reviewers scored the game a four out of ten, in a concise one-paragraph rundown of the release. Most pointedly, they remark that “the characters aren’t anything special and the game play doesn’t provide the tight control for a good challenge. Fighting fans will get bored with its limited playability.” I found it hard to disagree with much of the criticisms pointed at either version of the game across all the first-wave reviews of Shaq Fu I consulted, and I have to admit that this is a case where games writers of the era all seemed generally pretty on-point with their opinions of the game: Nobody seemed to consider it a contender for “worst of all time,” and there was evidently the hope from many of them that Delphine might get it right if they were to try again.

Of course, initial sequel plans were ultimately shelved, and Delphine did not delve again into the world of competitive fighting games. Following subsequent cinematic platforming efforts in Heart of the Alien and Fade to Black – plus a middling foray into the “Diablo clone” genre with 1999’s Darkstone – Delphine seemed to finally land on a new successful franchise with their Moto Racer series. Almost the whole remainder of their games output leading up to the year 2002 would consist of Moto Racer titles, suffering diminishing returns until the studio themselves ultimately shuttered in 2004. Their forays in the action-platformer genre are still highly regarded to this day, and their involvement with Shaq Fu is a relative non-factor in the studio’s legacy.

In or around 2005, the ShaqFu.com domain was acquired by an anonymous owner declaring themselves a member of a group called “The Shaq Fu Liberation Front.” Their mission? To obtain and destroy every copy of Shaq Fu released across every console — “liberating” them, by their definition. With a mission statement page claiming that “Shaq-Fu has to be the worst fighting game in the history of fighting games,” the site has since gone on to gain a reputation for itself in internet culture, and is almost always referenced in retrospective reviews of the game by more recent critics. This would include none other than the Angry Video Game Nerd, who recalls “that there used to be a website dedicated to finding and destroying every cartridge of this game” at a point during his 2007 Christmas Special. I’m going to chalk up the bulk of Shaq Fu’s modern-day notoriety to this particular site, as well as inspiring the juvenile phenomenon of people filming themselves destroying cartridges of the game in various ways.

To be totally honest, I actually kind of hate the dumb trend of breaking and otherwise disposing of so-called “bad games,” as seemingly popularized by the likes of ShaqFu.com and the AVGN. I’m of the opinion that even the worst games deserve to be preserved, and that we should work to ensure that there will always be a physical supply of retro games remaining for reference as we move into the future. Luckily, a “response website” of sorts to ShaqFu.com emerged in 2009: SaveShaqFu.com. Seeking to actually preserve and protect the game, they keep a collection of cartridges out of the hands of their rival website. As the movement in games preservation has continued to grow in support in recent years, I’d honestly love to see more sites of this sort popping up and keeping endangered games out of the hands of jerks who would just destroy them for the sake of tired sight gags.

Let’s flash forward now to the year 2014, three years following Shaq’s retirement from the sport of basketball. No doubt the man has continued to do plenty well for himself; between continued roles as an actor, brand representative, and sports commentator. With that in mind and knowing that Shaq’s finances were clearly quite secure, it was curious to see an Indigogo page go up in May of that year asking for $450K to bring a game titled Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn to fruition. With the blessing and participation of Shaq himself – but evidently not his full financial backing – first-time developer Big Deez Productions put together a crowdfunding campaign that would go on to just barely meet its goal. As Eurogamer would report, “the game’s Indiegogo campaign hit its target last night with just hours to spare, and after a couple of last-minute perks were added (someone donated $4000 to have lunch and a game of basketball at Shaq’s house).”

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn (Saber Interactive / Big Deez Productions, 2018)

Not looking to drop the ball again, the fighting game formula has been ditched in favor of a throwback beat ‘em up. A rebooted plot centers around an orphan child by the name of “Shaq Fei Hung,” raised and trained by a stereotypical kung fu master (who the game heavily insinuates is gay for the purpose of some cheap jokes). When Shaq’s master is killed by the nefarious Yen-Lo-Wang, he must avenge him by defeating Lo-Wang and his demon servants — the likes of whom are disguised as crude send-ups of modern-day celebrities. Hey, remember Shaq’s cameo roles in such “comedy” films as Scary Movie 4, Grown Ups 2, and Jack and Jill? All I’m saying is, don’t be shocked to hear that the comedy in the game is of a similar sort of crass, lowbrow, reference-heavy variety.

With development on A Legend Reborn extending well beyond an initially proposed 2015 launch window, June 5th of 2018 was finally ear-marked as the day that the game would be see release. However, a couple months earlier in April, the game was briefly available in full on PSN as the result of some unspecified slip-up, with at least a few folk managing to purchase the game and play through it in its entirety before it was taken back down. I wasn’t “lucky” enough to be one of those people, but I did watch the bulk of one of these early playthroughs (Warning for some unsavory commentary). And while it’s not always fair to judge a game based entirely on watching someone else play it, I feel pretty confident in saying that it doesn’t look very good. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that it looks pretty bad!

As I finish writing this article, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is set to officially release just a few short hours from now. And for all I know, it might somehow be completely different from the version that leaked out a couple months earlier on PSN. Somehow, I doubt it. In either case, the world is about to see the release of a spiritual sequel / successor to a reviled licensed game from nearly 25 years ago, for reasons not even I really fully understand. I’d also like to remind folks that in the time it took to finish developing this new Shaq Fu, we saw the return of Bubsy the Bobcat in Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back totally strike out, signifying that the actual market for ironic returns to decades-old, largely-loathed game franchises is probably pretty small. Again, I could be proven totally wrong here, but somehow, I doubt it.

Shaq Fu didn’t need a decades-late reboot — an attempt to “get it right,” as I’ve heard the new developers and even Shaq himself say. If you ask me, Delphine managed to get a surprising amount right the first time around; and even with its fair share of flaws, the original game is still a novel and fascinating piece of gaming history to look back on, and one I’d still recommend experiencing for yourself if you’ve only heard the legends of it up to this point. As a matter of fact, why not encourage friends considering purchasing A Legend Reborn to save some of their precious dollars, and spending them instead on buying and protecting a copy of the original game? Something tells me it’ll still be the more fondly-remembered Shaq Fu another 25 years from now.

When lead writer and designer behind the game Oliver Hollis-Leick was asked during a Reddit AMA why the crowdfunding campaign was even necessary io begin with, he posted a fairly defensive reply where he claimed that it was done in the interest of fan participation: “First, yes, we have the money and could go out and make the game. We could do it solo, in secret, then release next year and cash in on Shaq’s name. What we chose to do instead was to create a crowd funding campaign that would allow people to get involved with the actual creation of the game.”

Walsh, Peter. “The Original.” SLAM. January 11, 2017. Web.
Kiser, Chad. “Chip-Fu Interview.” DubCNN. February 23, 2013. Web.
b c d e Hickman, Lucy. “Work In Progress: Shaq Fu.” Mega Machines Sega. August 1994, Issue 22. Print. (Scan available)
Horowitz, Ken. “Interview: Scott Berfield (SOA Producer).” Sega-16. April 14, 2006. Web.
Levastre, Thierry. “Shaq Fu 2.” BozoCircus. Web. (Archive)
‘Slo Mo.’ “ProReview: Shaq Fu.” GamePro. December 1994, Issue 65. Print. (Scan available)
“Reviews: Shaq Fu.” Game Players. December 1994, Issue 66. Print. (Scan available)
b Strauss, Bob. “Shaq Fu.” Entertainment Weekly. December 16, 1994. Web.
“Review Crew: Shaq Fu.” Electronic Gaming Monthly. November, 1994. Print. (Scan available)
Phillips, Tom. “Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn scores $450k funding goal.” Eurogamer. June 6, 2014. Web.

Cassidy is the curator of a bad video game hall of fame. Whether you interpret that as "a hall of fame dedicated to bad video games" or as "a sub-par hall of fame for video games" is entirely up to you. Prefers "They / Them" pronouns. Genuine cowpoke.

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1 Comment

  1. Yoshi348 says:

    “Reportedly, these issues are far more prevalent in the American / NTSC version of the game. Comparatively, the PAL version intended for the European market seems to somehow underclock the speed at which the computer-controlled opponents react to human players, allowing you to eke out a few more attacks that would apparently usually be dodged.”

    In the 8-bit and 16-bit era, the PAL TV standard was 50 frames per second, compared to the NTSC’s ~60 (used in the US and Japan). Since timing by frame was such an important part of every video game at the time, pretty much every developer took the lazy way out and simply made the PAL versions run 5/6ths as fast. That’s probably what’s happening here, in reverse; the European game is running at the “intended” speed, whereas the NTSC version is running 20% faster and therefore giving you 20% less of a window.

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