Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a game that in many ways should not exist, coming as it does many years after the much-maligned original that launched in 1994 to vocal and almost universal criticism. The bizarre premise of basketball player Shaquille O’Neal starring in his own video game beat-em-up did, however, strike a chord with some gamers. In the ensuing years, opinions softened and the title was largely able to shake off the negative sentiment and find its niche as something of a cult hit. It’s thanks to a combination of nostalgia, crowdfunding and the backing of the man himself that Shaq is back.
The story is so slight as to be inconsequential and is explained through the opening cutscenes. Suffice to say Shaq is on a mission to rid the world of thinly disguised demonic celebrities who have taken over the planet. It’s nonsense, of course, and the story is superfluous in a game such as this -hence the skip option for all cutscenes- but it sets the silly yet self-aware theme for the action that follows.
That your first tutorial-style prompt is ‘press square to commence ass-whooping’ speaks volumes about the general tone of the game. Shaq regularly trades trash talk with his opponents and the humour is as expected; crass, puerile, and perhaps in poor taste on occasion, with odd expletive-peppered throughout the exchanges. However, there is a strong sense that the game is aiming for parody, as evidenced in one scene where Shaq faces the screen to berate the game designer for creating too many enemies or another where he stops to demand better music. With the game happy to poke fun at itself, personally I wasn’t offended by anything I saw or heard, and the jokes, whether they landed or not, were consistent with a game that is not taking itself seriously at all.
In terms of combat, many of the time-honoured beat-em-up tropes are present and correct. There are combos where you can unleash the big boot after three kicks in order to clear waves of enemies, a dash attack to stun foes and a ground pound which can be deployed depending on energy levels. There’s scope to interact with the environment in limited ways, as well as the option of picking up weapons to take out the bad guys more effectively. Using barrels to clear hordes of enemies in a bowling alley fashion is a particular highlight. There are additional hazards to contend with at times, with motorbikes and cars able to mow you down if you aren’t paying attention.
It was encouraging to see a good variety of enemy types, many of whom demanded a different approach. Some posed a greater threat than others, so in tackling waves of enemies I was compelled to take out certain foes first and apply a little strategy rather than simply button mash. The game frequently has you spinning plates and prioritising; in one scene I had to roll boulders to eliminate recurrent waves of enemies to my right whilst keeping other miscreants at bay on my left. There are a distinct rhythm and cadence to the action: start off gently, hit the waves of enemies which threaten to overwhelm, then slow a little en route to the end of level boss. However, my impression is that some scenes played out for far too long, with the action needlessly and artificially prolonged by wave after wave of enemy. That may well be a deliberate design choice to parody the genre, but it grated nonetheless. Admittedly, you accept repetition in this type of game, but there were occasions where I felt real fatigue. A welcome addition was the Diesel and Cactus suits, which grant you a temporary period of superpower, enabling you to decimate hundreds of enemies with ease. There’s an interesting trophy to be gained from the use of the Cactus suit. All I’ll say is that it’s very much in keeping with the game’s sense of humour.
The bosses are variously interesting, annoying and gross – to say more would be in spoiler territory, but you will recognise them. The attack patterns are easy to discern and usually a case of moving and attacking during a safe window before repeating until their energy depletes to zero. Sadly, I encountered some bugginess during some of the boss battles, specifically freezing, which necessitated multiple checkpoint restarts facing off against Diamond, and another boss, Kandy, who disappeared off-screen but could still be heard, leaving me in limbo. This proved frustrating but not game-breaking, and through perseverance, I was able to progress. We’ve flagged this up to the developers for investigation. Otherwise, the game generally flowed well, even when the screen was deluged with enemies, which was frequently the case. The levels are bright, colourful and draped in suitably cartoonish aesthetic. The last level, Hell, looks particularly impressive.
Shaq Fu is a difficult game to score. On one hand, it is repetitive, in poor taste and offers little in the way of longevity or a reason to return once you’ve completed the six stages.
However, there is plenty to enjoy if you are simply seeking some dumb fun and the unlikely resurrection of Shaq in a gaming world. I enjoyed the game but wasn’t hungry for more afterwards. Worth consideration, then, but you will want to seek this out at a good price.