Shaq-Fu is so notoriously bad that, when I went to the flea market to buy a copy to research for this article, the guy selling it seemed reluctant to make the sale out of genuine concern for my well-being, much the same way a convenience store clerk might be averse to selling bottles of alcohol and sleeping pills to someone who was obviously suffering from depression. Upon returning home, my Genesis refused to play it. This forced me to try to play Shaq-Fu with an emulator, whereupon I discovered that my Genesis emulator also refused to run it. Thus, I was forced to base this writing off of the Super Nintendo version of the game. I know that sounds like a pretty unscientific way to research an article on the worst games on the Genesis, but you’ll just have to trust me that Shaq-Fu’s awfulness transcends mere hardware.
To put it another way, the Genesis and Super Nintendo are kind of like the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers teams that Shaq’s Lakers crushed in the NBA Finals. Sure, you could argue about which one was better, but it’s a moot point since neither one was a match for the awesome power of Shaquille O’Neal. Only in this case Shaq’s awesome power involves starring in horrendous games and making children sad.
The best part is that he appears to be wearing a jersey for the Orlando Shaqs
Right away, Shaq-Fu informs us that Shaq is a master of the ancient art of Shaqido. I love the way the game constantly comes up with ways to substitute Shaq’s name into non-shaq words. Like when they call things Shaqtacular instead of spectacular, or when I tell you that this game is Shaqing horrible.
Before we discuss Shaq Fu’s story, let’s take a moment to show some respect toward the person who wrote it. No, I’m not being sarcastic. That must have been the hardest job ever. Nothing you could do for a living, regardless of how depressing, or dangerous, or exhausting it is, could be as difficult as being the story writer for Shaq-Fu. Think about it – even on your toughest day at work, your boss has never come up to you and said “Hey, we’re making a video game where you play as Shaq, but instead of playing basketball, it’s a fighting game. Oh, and your enemies include cat-people and mummies. I need you to write a story that explains how that would happen.” Even Shakespeare would have been like “Shaq this,” (although I’m sure Shakespeare would have found a more elegant way of saying “Shaq this”, probably with a rhyming couplet written in iambic pentameter). Of course the story isn’t very good. That’s not the point. The fact that one exists at all is amazing.
Anyway, Shaq-Fu’s impossible story involves Shaq going to Japan to participate in a charity basketball game. On the day of the game, he decides to kill a little time by doing some sightseeing. He does this while wearing his complete basketball uniform, which seems a bit strange considering every time I’ve watched a basketball game, and they show the players arriving at the arena, they’re all wearing suits and stuff. Do they not have locker rooms in Asia? Or is Shaq just so addicted to his own fame that simply being a gigantic black man in Japan wasn’t attracting enough attention to himself? Actually, considering that we’re talking about a game called Shaq-Fu, where you play as Shaq, master of Shaqido, that’s really not so hard to believe.
While sightseeing in Japan, Shaq stops at a mysterious shop where the shopkeeper recognizes him as some kind of warrior who is going to save the world, and tells him to walk into his closet, which is the gateway to another dimension. Though a series of painfully hard to believe mix-ups, Shaq thinks the shopkeeper is an exuberant fan, and decides to go along with it, even though climbing into some strange guy’s closet seems like the first thing the NBA would warn their basketball stars not to ever do while traveling overseas. Doing so teleports him to some alternate dimension where, as hard as it is for me to believe, everyone hates Shaq. How could such a thing be possible? It must be opposite land!
What takes place from there is a lot of fighting. Now you might think that being a basketball player, even one who is a master of Shaqido, fighting against a bunch of trained martial artists would put you at a real disadvantage. And you’d be right. If there’s a handicap that the game could give Shaq, he’s got it. He’s slower, less mobile, his attacks do less damage, and he has fewer special moves than anyone else in the game. The game features an arcade-style mode where you’re allowed to play as someone other than O’Neal, but if you want to play the Story Mode with a different character, you’re Shaq out of luck.
Don’t worry though, because even with those limitations, the game isn’t that hard. Like most bad fighting games from this era, the key to winning in Shaq-Fu is to find the one move that works almost all the time. Then you can just use that move over and over until you win. It’s different for each character, but everybody has one.
Graphics: Shaq’s basketball shorts have blue pinstripes, and he runs in place after every victory. That’s pretty Shaqed up.
Sound: Unfortunately, none of the tracks from Shaq’s rap albums are included in the game’s soundtrack, thus denying us the ultimate Shaq experience.
Control: The control isn’t horrible, but is spotty enough that special moves don’t always work, which makes using them a risky proposition, which in turn reinforces the strategy of just using the same easy move over and over.
Well, I suppose it’s more eloquent than “Tell me how my ass tastes.”
Final Verdict: In terms of gameplay, Shaq-Fu is only medium-bad. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a fighting game about Shaq travelling to another dimension to beat up cat people and mummies.