Holy shit this thing really is terrible isn’t it? I mean wow. Sure I’d been hearing about how awful Shaq Fu is for a good 15 years now, but even that didn’t quite prepare me for this. I thought it would maybe at least be funny bad, and it is in some ways. But not in nearly enough ways. Mostly this is just terrible and I can now confirm that it has more than earned its status as one of the worst games ever made.
I remember both this game and the Michael Jordon game coming out around the same time. The Jordan game I actually own, and have owned since around the time it came out (what can I say, the price dropped real fuckin’ fast). That game is about as ridiculous as Shaq Fu but it seems to embrace its silliness a little more. In that one you play Michael Jordon and the goal is to save your fellow teammates from an evil scientist. You throw basketballs at zombies and other creatures, and some of these basketballs have special magic powers. Sounds pretty great right? Well it’s not really, but it’s not nearly as bad as many seem to think. It’s a decent enough side-scroller that I think catches a lot of shit simply because it happens to star a magic wielding Michael Jordon. But I mean the dude also played basketball against a bunch of fucking cartoons in space so you really shouldn’t be surprised by what the man is capable of.
Shaq Fu has some of that same craziness going on, but it just doesn’t work. Once you get past the insanity of the central concept, which is Shaq being sent to another dimension to rescue some kid (a task he comes to grips with eerily quickly), all you have left is a shitty fighting game. Granted your opponents provide a little extra touch of crazy since you fight cat people, mummies and monsters. From what I can see there is never any back-story given regarding any of these characters. They just throw them at you and you know well, time to fight a prince now I guess.
That’s one of my biggest gripes is that the core concept of this game simply isn’t taken far enough. These guys were given a game to make called Shaq Fu. It’s a 2D fighting game starring Shaquille O’Neal. How do you not just go balls out insane with that idea? It’s like they started to go that route with some of the other characters but then were roped in and told not to get too ridiculous. I almost guarantee that at some point over the course of the game’s production, there was a meeting centered on how they needed to reign things in and try and keep it realistic. It’s fucking Kazaam fighting wizards and mummies! You can’t make that serious if you are the single most talented writer on the planet. In that scenario you just have to embrace the sheer insanity of the situation, and alas this is something that they did not do enough of in the final product.
That’s one of my biggest gripes. My actual biggest gripe is that the game itself is a huge piece of garbage. It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t sound good and it especially doesn’t play good (or well, that didn’t go with the rhythm though). The controls are atrocious. Everything feels slow and delayed and the jumping mechanics can’t even be put into words. Thankfully I was able to progress through the story mode by just hammering on one button so the entire experience was over mercifully fast. In a nutshell, think of all the qualities you find important in a solid fighting title? This has none of them.
There is a Versus mode where you can fight another player but good luck. My wife played one round of one match and was completely done with the game forever. I imagine this will be a very common reaction.
Shaq Fu isn’t even an example of a game being so bad it’s good. Once you get that first laugh out of the game’s concept, the laughter quickly stops. As funny as it should be to watch Shaq duke it out with other worldly creatures, you are left so frustrated by the game’s terrible controls and awful fight mechanics that you can’t even bask in the crazy. This game has more than earned its reputation and I’m not even happy to have it in my collection, even as a novelty item.