The original Shaq-Fu has garnered a reputation as being one of the worst games of all time. Released on the SNES back in the early 90’s, it has gone on to be a standard bearer in how not to make a game. Big Deez are attempting to right this wrong, but have they succeeded or are they doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past? Well, it’s certainly not the greatest game ever made, but it has its merits. The opening animation sets the scene; a baby Shaq is found floating in a Chinese river and adopted by a local woman, raising him as her own.
Clearly, he soon outgrows the other children, mocked and teased by them until Master Ye-Ye takes him under his wing to teach him Wu Xing, until one day his skills are required to fight a demon uprising. From the word go, immature humor sits side by side with pretty basic writing to flesh out the story. From terrible puns to jokes I thought died in the 90’s, it misses its mark more often than it hits. Thankfully, the game seems to know this, often reveling in just how bad it is. Not quite enough to come full circle into being so bad it’s good, you can literally feel their tongue in your cheek somehow…
The animation and art direction of the cutscenes are great however, with big, bold characters and some cool designs, especially the boss characters. It doesn’t quite translate into the 3D models too well, but there is a decent variety of enemies to fight, even if by the last stage they are rinsed and repeated way too often. Level design is good overall, though movement is restricted to a straight line with little room for maneuvering. Much like the writing, the actual gameplay sticks firmly to the 90’s too.
In the vain of something like Streets of Rage, you move Shaq from left to right, pausing every few yards to clear a screen full of enemies before moving on to the next. X is your basic attack, allowing you to build up a combo in order to unleash a Size 22 kick move, it’s strength linked to how long your combo goes. Great idea in practice, though all this really amounts to is pressing X 5 times, then B to hit the hardest Size 22 attack; repeat Ad nauseam. Enemies will interrupt your combo, especially once big crowds come into effect so you must start again, but outside of that there is very little strategy.
It’s also not required to actually hit anyone to build up the attack, so often I’d find myself standing in the corner air punching then pressing B as foes got nearer to one hit kill them. Harder difficulties realistically mean just more health for enemies which just makes combat boring as they keep coming at you while soaking up damage. Some can be stunned enabling a power hit, but only in specific way; the nazi dominatrix only stunned if you jump kick her for example. Later levels attempt to mix it up a bit, having environmental attacks at your disposal, and while fun the first time, the game is not afraid to repeat its tricks.
Levels run quite short too, meaning you can be repeating the same section one after the other, further adding to the repetitiveness. At certain points in each stage you will be granted a special ability, buffing Shaq up to nigh on invincibility and smashing enemies about like rag-dolls. These are both the best parts about the game, and also highlight the flaws it has. It’s great fun to don Big Diesel, a mech suit that causes Shaq to punch faster than E. Honda, while also building up a huge explosive attack that wipes half the screen out.
But, there are 2 issues with this; it would have been better as a buildable meter, something to work towards and unleash when the player wanted rather than at pre-determined sections of levels. It also gets dull when later on, Shaq dons one of the suits and is instructed to ‘Slay 200 enemies’, read; hold X until we say stop and then we’ll arbitrarily take the fun power up away and make the standard combat feel even more slow paced than before. Again, harder difficulties don’t make this more fun, just more frustrating as enemies take longer to down.
Bosses mix up the formula to a degree, each requiring their own tactics to deal with the patterns. Larger than life characters, they can be quite entertaining in the delivery of lines and attacks (my favorite being the… butt monster…not as dirty as it sounds). Bookended with some well-drawn cutscenes that round out stages nicely. There is one baffling omission though; No co-op or multiplayer of any kind. This kind of game is screaming out for local or online play and would have easily improved the experience.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a bland and repetitive brawler that tries too hard in the comedy department. Some good ideas are scattered throughout and the art is great, but it’s too little to really prop up the game. Short enough to get through in a couple of hours, however, the lack of co-op and the dull structure leaves a lot to be desired. Big Deez set out to rewrite history, but some things are best left alone.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.