Very few video games are as infamous as Shaq Fu. A fighting game of the 16-bit era starring Shaquille O’Neal named after the NBA star’s rap album, the game is often considered one of the worst video games of all time.
In case the idea of a fighting game based around a NBA star and named after said NBA star’s rap album wasn’t weird enough, the game’s story mode sees Shaq walking around Little Tokyo, where he stumbles across a kung fu dojo (forget the fact that Tokyo is Japanese and kung fu is Chinese). In this dojo Shaq meets an old man who deduces that Shaq is “the magic one.” The old man then opens a portal to another dimension, where Shaq must apparently save the life of a young boy named Nezu. Shaq jumps into the portal without a second thought. Because why not?
The opponents Shaq comes across are a parade of bizarre characters that include a cat girl, a voodoo princess, a hooded goblin-like creature, and a villainous mummy named Sett Ra, who kidnapped Nezu. So if you were hoping to see Shaq battle fellow NBA stars in another dimension, you’re out of luck.
As bonkers as the story is, it’s actually the game’s highlight, as its utterly ridiculous nature can provide some good laughs. The sheer lack of context behind everything in the plot (who is Nezu? Why was he kidnapped by a mummy? Why doesn’t Shaq seem weirded out that he’s fighting monsters in another dimension?), and the general absurdity of it all is just so silly it teeters in the “so bad it’s good” area.
Shaq Fu’s true fatal flaw is its gameplay. Shaq, or the other characters if you’re playing versus mode, are all incredibly stiff. Moves just don’t flow very well, meaning combos are a non-entity. You basically just keep button-mashing and hope you get lucky. The jumping is the worst part, with Shaq leaping into the air about a second after you hit the button. The jumping is not only awful, but also ironically so, considering Shaquille O’Neal’s NBA background.
The story mode also has an awkward difficulty curve. The SNES version has three available fights to choose from the start, and completing those opens up three more that are progressed in order. Some fights are so easy, you can just keep hitting the same button and win (in one fight I just repeatedly kicked my opponent who did nothing but block, which resulted in him losing enough health by the time the clock ran out that I won the match). Others are considerably more difficult, with the aforementioned cat girl, one of the initial fights, being a particular pain, along with the final battle against the mummy.
Shaq Fu’s reputation proceeds it. It is a dreadful fighter that lacks any kind of depth, with a terrible sense of control and goofy visuals and animations to add a cherry on top. It may not be the most broken game I’ve ever played, but it’s certainly one of the worst fighters out there. It’s a sloppy, clunky, unpolished mess, made marginally more tolerable by its unintentionally comedic nature.
In short, it’s far from an all-star.