Back in 1994, a fighting game was released which has gone down in history (albeit unfairly) as one of the crappiest beat’em ups of the 16Bit era, and that game was Shaq Fu. Being a “one on one” fighting game meant that it was entering an already overcrowded arena, full of titles that have since been known to have defined the genre.
So the tale of basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal being sent to another dimension to battle monsters with his own martial art style of Shaq Fu was pretty much just ridiculed and then ignored, only to be mentioned again in “worst of all time” lists. However, in March 2014, a crowdfunding campaign for Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn appeared, a sequel that no one asked for. With the campaign pitching its tongue firmly in its cheek, it reached its funding target and went into production.
Release Date: June 5th, 2018
Size: 4.48 GB
Genre: Beat’em Up
Developed by Big Deez Productions
Published by Mad Dog Games
Reviewed on PS4; Also available on Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
An orphaned baby boy is found in a basket floating down a river near a small Chinese village. The adopted child soon realises that he is somewhat different to the other children (about 3ft taller for a start) and this draws the attention of a wise martial arts master, who takes him under his tutelage.
As the boy grows, becoming the man known as Shaq Fei Hung, he learns of his great destiny; to save the world from evil demons bent on enslaving humanity by using the luring power of celebrity culture.
This is typical scrolling beat’em up stuff. You start on the left side of the screen and walk to the right, kicking and punching the hell out of anything and everything that gets in your way.
While your regular punches are pretty strong already, you can max out your combo damage by ending with a touch of the Circle button (B on Xbox & A on Switch). Then your final kick becomes a gigantic size 22 foot, crushing your enemies into the ground or roundhousing them into the screen, Turtles in Time style.
There are also a couple of weapons like signposts and clubs to aid you in battle, along with two kinds of “super suits”. One has you all metalled up in old Iron Man armour (or more appropriately, like Shaq himself in the movie STEEL) and capable of delivering very strong punches in rapid succession. Though you must make sure to you don’t overheat, by venting the pressure with a massive ground slam. The other costumed power you get is as a cactus (yes, really). At these points in the game, wave after wave of enemies pour in from each side of the screen and you have to fend them of by firing a never ending barrage of needles at them because… Why not?
To be honest, the game is not trying to reinvent the wheel and nobody should expect it to, but what it does, it does well. The controls are responsive and there is enough variation in enemy types, each requiring its own strategy to be defeated, that the combat rarely feels dull.
The boss battles are also very enjoyable, with each encounter feeling different from the last. This is made doubly entertaining as they are parodies of real life celebrities who then take on a more demonic persona, for example, there’s a guy called Benedict Fender, no the name means nothing to me either, but he is an angry, abusive, drunk Australian who has blue paint over half of his face and wears a kilt.
One rather annoying thing I found was the loading times. In a game where death is just a quick punch in the head away, you want to be able to continue and get back into to it instantly. However, unlike most scrolling brawlers of old, you only have one life and rather than instantaneous “continues”, you have save points, meaning that if you die you then have to wait for the level to reload again and start you back at the checkpoint.
On the harder difficulty, as death becomes more frequent, you become more concerned about dying because of the loading times than because of losing your progress. Hopefully, this will be improved with a future update. What I doubt will be changed is that some of the levels stay in one area too long. You know the drill, you walk right until the screen stops scrolling, take out the enemies then wait for the arrow to flash and continue walking right.
Sometimes in Shaq Fu, it feels like there’s one or two waves of enemies too many. Almost like the developers noticed how short the game is, and it is short, and thought they’d pad out the length buy just holding you in certain areas for longer than is needed. There is even a “fourth wall breaking” joke about it near the end of the game, but after its made, they just proceed to continue with it anyway.
There’s not an abundance of content to be fair, just the game’s campaign really which has about 7 bosses to work your way through. There is a little extras menu where you can learn about the characters, items and rewatch any of the cinematics but that won’t take up much of your time.
This is a scrolling beat’em up with no multiplayer, FOR SHAME! Look I can understand that the campaign is about Shaq’s one man quest to save the world but come on. How about a non story based multiplayer “arcade mode”? Even if all the 2nd player character was just another Shaq sprite but with reversed colours called “Sqahs”, I legitimately wouldn’t mind, but to not have local multiplayer in a game of this genre just seems like a waste.
Bravo to the team at Big Deez, Shaq Fu looks great. The use of bright, bold colours creates a clean but cartoony art style through the gameplay portions and some of the design work is really impressive. Not just on the more obvious stuff like the parodying boss characters mentioned earlier but the backgrounds, some of which are beautifully detailed.
There are some great gags like Cosby’s Wine Bar (I would not want a drink served from there). There’s also some nice use of lighting effects too, mainly during the night based levels but it all adds to what is a title that is pleasant to watch.
Special mention must be given to the animation department in charge of the awesome cinematic. These are littered throughout the game, normally before and after boss battles and are of a much higher quality than I originally expected. With such a strange and genuinely humorous story being told, these animated shorts, combined with the bold colours and design, give the whole campaign a Saturday morning cartoon vibe.
The voice work here is the standout and as there is a surprising amount of it. The cast all do good work with the main man Shaq himself, providing not only his voice for the cinematics and in game action but also a brand new rap song (did you remember that Shaq is also a rapper? He has released 5 albums), made just for the game! The overall soundtrack is enjoyable enough, keeping you pumped for battle while maintaining the tone of the story.
While there’s nothing as instantly memorable as that found in Streets of Rage 2, very few are so I will say that it’s at least good for this genre of game.
With great combat, glorious presentation and some genuinely funny moments, Shaq Fu; A Legend Reborn can only be seen as a triumph of a reboot. While there are definitely issues; the lack of multiplayer (why, I ask you, why?!), overly long loading times between deaths and a relatively short campaign mode, the developers have done an amazing job resurrecting a franchise that no one has cared about in 20 years.
The game’s ending leads me to believe a sequel could be on the cards and if that happens then I believe the aforementioned problems could be easily ironed out. As it is though, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a flawed but fun brawler that fans of the genre will enjoy.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn£18.99
- Thoroughly enjoyable combat
- Actually funny (in places)
- Excellent presentation throughout
- No multiplayer in a scrolling beat’em up is pure madness
- Might not have a high enough content/price ratio for some
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