In this day and age, where pop culture is obsessed with nostalgia, it seems anything is fair game for a remake, reboot or sequel. Whether it’s beloved franchises making a welcome return, or something more obscure crawling its way back into the spotlight, if it existed in the 80s or 90s, it’s making a comeback. 2017 saw the baffling return of Bubsy – the nadir of the 90s platforming boom – and now 2018 follows suit with the “long-awaited” sequel to Shaq-Fu, widely regarded as one of the worst video games of all time. Though to its credit, Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn at least knows what it is, and while that may mean it’s a bad game, does it hurt it that much if that’s pretty much what it was trying to be?
Calling A Legend Reborn a sequel to the original Shaq-Fu may not be entirely accurate, as both are actually very different games. The original was a fighting game, while this entry is a side-scrolling beat-em-up. What they have in common, however, are Shaquille O’Neal, and a whole lot of absurdity.
Here, Shaquille O’Neal is a “humble, Chinese rickshaw driver,” who learns kung-fu from Master Ye-Ye. Shaq ends up being a chosen one destined to defeat an evil demon who threatens the Earth every 1,000 years. The demon’s newest plan is to subvert the human race by “stupefying” them with celebrity culture. So it’s up to Shaq to fight armies of demons and celebrities in order to save the world.
Yeah, it’s stupid, and it knows it. The downside is that the whole “ironic, self-aware, fourth wall-breaking” brand of humor is kind of white noise in this day and age (sorry Deadpool fans). Making fun of tropes has become the single most cliched trope out there by this point. With all that said, I will admit that Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn has some genuinely funny moments, due in no small part to Shaquille himself, who certainly seems to have a great sense of humor at his own expense (one of the game’s best meta-gags is that its life-replenishing item is the Icy Hot Patch, which Shaquille O’Neal is of course the spokesperson of in real life).
The jokes on celebrity culture can be a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, basing a boss fight off an angry, drunken Mel Gibson is something that will always be funny, but a boss fight parodying Paris Hilton seems about a decade late. Of course, due to legal reasons, the game can’t use the real names of these celebrities (a la South Park), so instead has to make due with approximations that you wish could at least be a little bit closer to the real thing (a la The Simpsons).
In terms of gameplay, well, it’s fittingly mindless. Just punch hordes of enemies to build up “combo points” which you can then use to unleash Shaq’s size 22s to flatten the bad guys. And if you build up power (which is strangely separate from the combo points), you can perform the Shaq Smash, which easily dispatches foes. Occasionally, you can find two different power-up transformations: The Shaq Diesel merges the basketball star – excuse me, rickshaw driver – with a diesel engine, allowing Shaq to perform rapid punches simply by holding the attack button. But punch too much and you’ll have to unleash a diesel powered Shaq Smash, lest the engine burn up without unleashing that power. The other transformation (and another one of the game’s best gags) is the “Shaqtus,” which is, as it sounds, Shaq as a cactus, allowing him to shoot spines at enemies.
The transformation sequences are the game’s best bits, as they are really the only times the gameplay changes from what is a rather monotonous beat-em-up. Sure, you can pick up weapons here and there, but nothing else really changes up the button-mashing gameplay to any significant degree.
But hey, this game was designed entirely to be a joke and follow-up one of the most infamous games of all time. So I guess the monotony was intentional? Even if we give Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn that benefit of a doubt, however, the game still has some glaring shortcomings in execution and technical polish.
First and foremost, it’s baffling to think that Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn is exclusively a single-player game. Beat-em-ups are a genre made for couch co-op, and with a game like this, which is intentionally stupid, wouldn’t it be the kind of joke that’s funnier if you’re sharing the experience? This is only magnified more by the fact that, at six stages, Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn is incredibly short, and provides little (if anything) in the way of replay value. Had the game featured multiplayer co-op, the act of sharing Shaq Fu with someone else might have been incentive enough for some replays.
Then there are technical issues, and not just simple slow-downs and light freeze-ups, either. During my playthrough, the first time I died wasn’t by an enemy hand, but by Shaq randomly sinking into the ground and the game suddenly telling me I’m dead. And the game completed froze on me at least four times (two of which were on the same section) in my playthrough.
Look, I don’t know what else to say. Is Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn a good game? Certainly not. But that’s kind of the point. It’s a title made entirely to live off the legacy of a notorious 90s game. It purposefully sets the bar low, and, well, it hits the mark it set out to. Not all of the humor works, the gameplay is repetitive, and the technical issues are glaring. But hey, Shaquille O’Neal himself has a good sense of humor about it. So I guess I can too.
4 thoughts on “Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn Review”
I’m not particularly fond of the “well, of course it sucks; it isn’t meant to be good”; it’s just a transparent way of deflecting criticism.
This seems to be the result of a particularly annoying form of nostalgia wherein people declare the terrible works of their childhood to be better than the terrible works now (whether they mean better at being bad or actually better, I’m not sure). I have to say that if Ride to Hell: Retribution is any indication, that is so not the case. Don’t get me wrong – it’s abhorrent in every conceivable way and deserves to be considered one of the worst games of the 2010s, yet I have to say when it comes to the absolute worst games I’ve ever played, the eighties and nineties have a practical monopoly on my bottom five. Nothing will convince me that Ride to Hell: Retribution is worse than the NES version of Dragon’s Lair or Metal Morph if for no other reason than because the former is playable. Indeed, the only reason Ride to Hell: Retribution is in my bottom ten now is because I haven’t played that many bad games; I’m positive in the grand scheme of things, it will be pushed out by worse ones.
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I agree wholeheartedly, the whole “it’s purposefully bad” schtick ran its course some time ago. At least with movies, they could purposefully make it stupid, but still fun. Since games are interactive, purposefully making it bad takes away from the fun. In fact, self-aware humor as a whole feels utterly lifeless these days (I had a lengthy discussion about this with my sister some days ago). It’s like this generation is just so cynical that things have to constantly make fun of themselves, lest they *gasp* be considered genuine and thus are the targets of ridicule by the internet age.
In a weird way, as bad as the original Shaq-Fu was, it actually has a strange charm about it, because it was stupid, but I honestly don’t know if it was trying to be. It was like a bunch of people got the license to use Shaq in a game, but didn’t know what to do with it, and since Mortal Combat and the like were popular at the time, they just tried their hand at something like that, without even thinking about how little sense it made. It was a fool, but an honest fool, as Gandalf might say.
Still, I do have to applaud Shaq for his good sense of humor in regards to himself. I may not know jack-squat about sports, but Shaq always seemed like a fun guy who could laugh at his celebrity status.
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I’m not sure whether this or the Bubsy revival was worse (nah, Bubsy was definitely worse). I just don’t get why these horrible games from the 90’s are suddenly being brought back as if anyone wanted them, and how this got backed when it wasn’t anywhere close to reaching its goal a few days before ending is beyond fishy. At least we got a photo of Shaq in a jumpsuit I guess.
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