Often when talking about a video game in a critical way, it becomes necessary to talk about the game’s legacy. In the 30 plus years since the gaming industry really captured the imaginations of people all over the world, many games have found a way to touch us on such a deep level that we have a hard time forgetting about them for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, in some cases the sort of touching that a game does could see it end up in court, as was the case with the original Shaq Fu, a game literally so bad that someone tried to destroy every copy in existence.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a game that comes to us from Big Deez Productions in a development sense and from Indiegogo in a financial sense. That’s right, folks, this here is a crowd-funded game, so strap yourself in as it’s probably going to be a bumpy ride, especially if previous crowd-funded games are anything to go by (I’m looking at you, Mighty No. 9).
The story of Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn (which from this point onwards we’re just gonna’ call Shaq Fu, to save time) tells the tale of a young Shaq being discovered floating in a basket in China. After being bullied in school for being too tall, he is educated in the ways of martial arts by a strange kung fu master. Eventually, these skills come into play when a bunch of demons start to randomly attack the village, and Shaq has to use his kung fu to save the village and the world. There is also a whole sub-plot surrounding some weird birthmark that Shaq has on his neck, but who really cares? The story is not the main draw of this game…now, if only we could figure out what was, then maybe we’d be able to get somewhere in life.
Unlike the original game, the genre is beat ’em up this time around, instead of a straight-up tournament fighter. You have to beat your way through countless numbers of the same 5 basic types of enemies and the occasional celebrity parody masquerading as a boss fight. The combat is about as simplistic as it comes. You have a normal attack, the bread and butter of the game, as it were, which is mainly what you use to take out goons, you have a special attack which does more damage and can destroy enemy shields, and finally, an area-of-effect slam attack that helps to clear both large chunks of health as well as large groups of enemies.
As with any beat ’em up, there is also a variety of different power-ups and weapons that you can also use to beat the crap out of enemies. The gameplay is very repetitive, and really, there is no other way to describe this game as nothing more than a mindless button masher. Realistically, there are better games on the market, and there have been since the mid-90s. You spend most of your time wading through piles and piles of the same boring enemies over and over again until you hit a boss or a mini-boss, then you figure out their attack pattern and move onto the next level after defeating them. There is not much to fill the gap except button mashing to punch demons in the stomach and occasionally getting a one-liner from either Shaq or the baddies.
The game has some aspirations towards being a comedy game, which isn’t all that surprising. It’s doubtful that any game calling itself ‘Shaq Fu’ would have been taken too seriously at any time other than in the 90s. So this time around, there is a lot of crass humour and ‘non-PC’ jokes, usually at the expense of Shaq’s enemies or the celebrity parodies, but occasionally around the basis that Shaq is playing a black Chinese person.
The humour falls flat on its face a lot of times, but there is an occasional joke that manages to hit home, and if you’ve ever found yourself laughing at shows like Family Guy or Robot Chicken, then you’ll probably enjoy yourself here too. The humour is childish as anything, and a lot of the references and parodies feel like they’re a few years too late, but it also has a bit of an absurdist streak to it, especially when Shaq turns into a cactus at a few points throughout the game.
Visually, the game is about as basic as they come. It has a colourful cartoon aesthetic and uses some pretty well done hand-drawn cutscenes, which is a nice touch. Most indie games would have been content with creating something in-engine that looked dreadful, but at least there is some amount of effort on display here. What is perhaps most surprising is the fact that Shaq actually voices himself in the game, and he even performs a rap for the main theme (flashbacks to Kazaam, anyone?), which is at least novel to hear.
Overall, the game is under 3 hours long, has the same mindless gameplay throughout, and is strictly worse than many beat ’em ups that have existed for over two decades now. Having said all that, it really isn’t awful, and that is saying a lot considering where it’s coming from. If you feel like switching your brain off for an evening, you’ll probably get a couple of hours out of this, especially if you happen to be intoxicated in some way while you play it.
Developer: Big Deez Productions
Publisher: Mad Dog, Wired Productions
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Release Date: 5th June 2018