I’d wager most people across globe know who Shaq is. Aside from being one of the greatest NBA players of all time, Shaquille O’ Neal has starred in several Hollywood movies, released four rap albums, is a TNT basketball analyst, and has even dabbled in Professional Wrestling and law enforcement. He is also well known for his TV commercials, endorsing and lending his name to dozens of products – including the 1994 video game, Shaq Fu. It remains notorious as being one of the worst games ever made, and strangely enough a game almost everyone who owned a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis has played. I was a victim of this, having rented the game when I was 11 and being stuck with it for a whole day.
In 2014 a sequel was announced entitled Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn and eventually funded via Kickstarter, with all sorts of interesting funding options including playing basketball with Shaq and getting a signed golden copy of the game on a SNES cartridge. Now the final game has finally released and the result is a vast improvement over the original, but still not quite ready for prime time.
A Legend Reborn bears very little similarity to the original Shaq Fu. Rather than a head-to-head fighter (which was all the rage back in 1994), this game took a completely different approach in the form of a 2D side-scrolling beat’em-up. This is a genre that all but disappeared after the 16-bit era, but has seen a massive resurgence over the last few years. In the game, Shaq is an orphaned baby raised in China. He is bullied because of his size and appearance, but learns martial arts under his mentor Ye-Ye. Of course, the village he’s living in is attacked, Ye-Ye is mortally wounded, and demons have possessed celebrities with plans to take over the planet. Yep, just another day in the life of Shaq! It’s up to you to help Shaq save the planet, get his revenge, and search out his birth mother. Nothing in this game is to be taken seriously, as humor is certainly the selling point. Shaq pokes fun at everything and everybody, especially himself. The story, setting, and characters are ridiculous, but it’s part of the charm.
There are six stages, all taking place in different locations across the globe. Each level is themed around the bosses, which can range from celebrities like Justin Bieber to Paris Hilton. As you might expect, Shaq can punch, kick (using his Size 22 foot stomp), and use a Shaq Smash or a Shaq Dash to wipe out the hordes of enemies. Simple combos and counter-attacks are also part of the combat. Common enemies range from ninjas and fanboys protecting their celebrity all the way to corporate lawyers, Nazis, and hulking bikers.
There are two power-ups featured: Big Diesel, which turns Shaq into a half machine/half man, and the hilarious Shaqtus, transforming you into a human cactus. It takes no time at all to learn the various moves and your remains simple: wipe out everyone on screen and progress to the end of the stage (picking up Icy Hot packs to regain health) where you’ll do battle against the boss. Each one features a cut scene, lampooning the celebrity and showcasing Shaq’s wit. Each fight is unique, featuring powerful boss attacks while mixing in nonsensical and sometimes crude and nonsensical humor. For example, the Kim Kardashian boss transforms into a giant ass. Because, why not?
The writing, silly story, outrageous characters, and one-liners make this game more enjoyable than it otherwise would be. I burst out laughing many times while playing. Shaq provides his own voice and does a superb job. The other character voice-overs are good, but can get annoying and repetitive after facing the same fanboys shouting YOLO over and over. It stays fresh enough though, and Shaq has plenty of material throughout the game. There isn’t much special about the music, but it does feature a new rap track by Shaquille on the menu screen. Graphically, it looks nice for a 2-D brawler, and there are some fun attack sequences, such as throwing the enemy into the screen and cracking it, ala TMNT: Turtles in Time. I did enjoy the background signs and stores, poking more fun at Shaq and the celebrities, but overall the lack of variety in the long stages is a shortcoming. The animated cut scenes are pure comedy gold and add to the fun.
As much as I enjoyed the humor in this game, the gameplay itself is very average. The levels are too long and lack variety, and beating down the same repetitious enemies gets old quick. I found myself just button mashing a lot of the time, hoping to reach the end of the stage. I would have liked a few more levels and bosses to fight, and in turn cut back on the longer areas. The game has three difficulty settings, I played on the medium one, yet still found it relatively easy. Shaq is just too powerful and the common enemies don’t offer very much challenge. Plus, health and checkpoints are plentiful. The Shaqtus and Big-Diesel power-ups are just a novelty. You get these for about a five-minute segment where you are virtually unstoppable. This makes for some pretty boring gameplay.
There is no multiplayer, which should be a must-have in any good brawler. The replay factor is low, and there is little to offer in special features. If you’re in it for the comedy and outrageous antics, then you should definitely consider purchasing. You just won’t find anything compelling or innovative in the gameplay department.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.