Shaqs of Rage – Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn (PS4 Review)

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The original Shaq Fu came out almost a quarter of a century ago in 1994 on the Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive. French developer, Delphine Software International, had initially wanted to use the likeness of Shaquille O’Neal and his incredibly lucrative brand to promote their proposed basketball game. However, after conversations with Shaq, they realised he had his heart set on starring in a fighting game, much like his beloved Mortal Kombat.

Lacking the knowledge and experience of that genre to be able to compete with the current leaders in that market, Delphine decided to do what they do best and focus on fluid animations using state-of-the-art rotoscoping techniques as they did in their previous titles Flashback and Another World. And while the animations were incredible for their time, that lack of experience was their undoing. Shaq-Fu was completely devoid of any of the technique and depth expected of a fighting game post Street Fighter 2, making it an unchallenging and simplistic game that’s only difficulty came in the guise of its legendarily sluggish controls. In 2018, Shaq Fu is considered to be one of the worst games ever made and possibly the worst game ever made for the SNES.

I have personal beef with this game. When I was seven years old, an older boy saw that I had a brand new copy of Earthworm Jim and insisted that it was shit. So he told me he was doing me a favour by essentially forcing me swap it for the fighting game with the basketball player that I, as a British child in 1994, had never heard of. I almost immediately found myself bored to tears with the game’s shallow characters while tearing my hair out because of the frustrating controls. Twenty-four years later, I gaze upon Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn like a Vietnam vet who’s just turned the channel over to find Film4 are in the middle of the napalm scene from Apocalypse Now.

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is the result of an ironic Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that’s so nakedly a marketing stunt you could see it jumping the Jersey Turnpike in nothing but a pair of socks. The campaign to create a good game out of one of the most notoriously bad ever released is a simple yet sharp hook, but not something that will alone redeem a tainted franchise. This game, rather than a straight one-on-one fighting game is a side scrolling beat-em-up, à la Streets of Rage.

The premise begins honestly as Shaq himself promises that the story will be convoluted and full of holes. This globetrotting caper sees the beloved basketball behemoth hop from continent to continent, killing bosses who bear striking resemblances to famous celebrity assholes in order to stop the end of the world or something. Despite the fact that the cutscenes are the most professional and expensive looking thing in the game, I still can’t remember crucial aspects of the plot without looking them up on YouTube first. Which I’m not going to do.

The rest of the game looks half baked. Enemies’ animations all cycle at the same time making them look like the Shaq’s backup dancers. Animations that break the enemies out of attack animations are jarring and choppy. The controls do not switch between attacking and moving well, resulting in you getting locked in animations. Most damning is the game’s endlessly repetitive nature. There are a few scant enemy types and each one is defeated using the same simple attack patterns. Many of the game’s more supposedly  challenging enemies are actually felled with just one button press that stuns them and thwacking the basic attack button until they fly backwards as if attached to a bungee cord.

The gameplay in A Legend Reborn is as simple as the foes you fight against. You move and jump the tried and traditional ways, you attack with Square, heavy with Circle, and L1/R1 and Triangle both have AOE attacks that need to be prepped by charging up different power meters. Occasionally, something comes along to change the pace of the game or add an extra element to the ass whooping. This could be dodging out of the way of an incoming missile attack or being able to pick up respawning weapons. Unfortunately, once you engage in this activity for half a minute, it becomes as monotonous as the rest of the game.

That isn’t to say there isn’t any satisfaction from the combat. If there is one thing Shaq Fu does well, it’s create a sense of catharsis. Basic collision feedback, such as the sound effects are meaty and crunchy, spin kicking a minion into the screen feels brilliantly empowering, the weapons are exactly the step up from your regular attacks that you want them to be and ploughing through wave after wave of enemies in a massively overpowered suit that changes the gameplay entirely is zen-inducing. The problem is, these effects are lessened each time they are repeated and with a game that has such a small had to play, this turns out to be a lot of repetition. The waves of enemies are tiresome, the slow motion kill cam is so frequent it messes with the pace of the action and the suit sequences are so lengthy you wonder if the game has glitched into a repetitive loop.

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is not the unmitigated disaster the game that inspired it was. But where that game reached a level of infamy that sparked a million discussions, and even a website dedicated to destroying all copies in existence, there is no chance A Legend Reborn with spark the same level of conversation. Its flaws make for a passible and competently made game, just a monotonous one incapable of igniting anyone’s passion one way or the other.