Final Round. – SHAQ FU

In our Final Round series, we take a look an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1994’s Shaq Fu

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Year of Release – 1994
Developer – Delphine Software, Tiertex Design Studios, Unexpected Development, The Dome Software Developments
Publisher – Electronic Arts, Black Pearl Software, Ocean Software
Platforms – Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Game Gear, Game Boy, Amiga

Sports stars having their names attached to video games is an institution that has been around for decades, with athletes adorning box art and appearing as playable characters in their respective areas. During the early 90s, the world’s most famous NBA players gained their own video games on the biggest consoles of the era; Scottie Pippen’s FMV game Slam City, Charles Barkley’s basketball game Barkley Shut Up & Jam! and Michael Jordan’s side-scroller Chaos In The Windy City (hey, he was in Space Jam, who WOULDN’T give him his own adventure game?). The last example, and the topic of discussion in part 7 of our Final Round series, is Shaquille O’Neal’s entry into the world of video games.

The early to mid-90’s was quite a boom period for Shaq’s career, as it saw him star in two big-budget Hollywood movies, Steel (super hero Shaq!) and Kazaam! (genie Sinbad Shaq!), the release of some unspectacular rap albums and, like his fellow basketball stars, his own video game.

A fighting game.

Regarded by many to be one of the worst games of all time, Shaq Fu was released on the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Amiga, Game Gear and Game Boy in late 1994, and was developed by various different studios, depending on which port was played.

The game adheres to the conventions of a standard one-on-one 2D fighting game, mixing elements of Street Fighter II (controls-wise) and  Mortal Kombat (story and finishing move-wise), but was met with some very mixed reception from critics and gamers alike upon its release.

The game was initially going to be a basketball game, but that plan changed when the development team entered into talks with Shaq, who is a self proclaimed Mortal Kombat fan. Knowing that they could not match the fighting system made famous in Street Fighter II, the developers opted to focus on their strength; computer animations. Using the same rotoscoping technique seen in the sci-fi game Flashback, actors would be filmed against a blue screen, the frames would be digitised with the help of an SGI workstation, and artists would touch up the results using some of the roughly 7,000 original character sketches as a base for defining characters.

Promotional Material & Box Art

Leading up to the game’s release, several game magazines ran magazine ads for Shaq Fu. This strange mix of marketing ranges from a standard “athlete & game title” advert, to a somewhat misguided attempt at making Shaquille O’Neal a complete badass (“He wears size 32 EEE shoes on his feet. His opponents usually wear them on their face“), to a series of “COME GET SOME”-type ads.

These adverts are pretty confusing for the most part because, with the exception of a couple of them, they show no screens from the game, possibly leading potential players to think that Shaq Fu is a game that sees Shaquille O’Neal as a grizzled, take no prisoners vigilante who is determined to take down crime, instead of the bizarre, often cringeworthy fantasy fighting game that it really is.

Along with the magazine ads, a TV commercial was also released. This absolutely bewildering commercial features a preacher jabbering away about Shaq’s fighting abilities to a group of people, as a film of Shaq throwing around martial arts moves on is shown on the wall behind him.

The box art for each port of the game share the same theme throughout; Shaq looking mean. The Nintendo versions differ slightly from the Sega versions.

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To help promote the game’s launch, Shaq also released his second solo album “Shaq Fu – Da Return“, in November 1994.

The album features production from Warren G, Redman and Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, with appearances from Method Man and Keith Murray. The album spawned two singles, and reached number 67 in the Billboard 200. The album is certified Gold by the RIAA.

Roster

The game’s story sees Shaquille O’Neal walking into a dojo while heading to a charity basketball game in Tokyo, Japan. After speaking with Leotsu, a martial arts master and head of the dojo, Shaq travels to another dimension, the Second World, where he must rescue a young boy named Nezu from an evil mummy called Sett Ra.

Shaq Fu has 12 playable characters, each with their own personal backstories;

  • Shaq – A dominating force on and off the hoops court, rookie of the year, perennial all-star and founder of Shaquido (an extremely lethal form of martial arts).
  • Kaori – Forced to obey Sett’s will by the power of an enchanted ring, Kaori is the martial arts champion of an alien feline race.
  • Beast – Created by Sett from his own shadow, Beast is the mightiest of Sett’s servants.
  • Sett – An entity of ancient evil, Sett was defeated and entombed in another dimension a millenia ago.
  • Mephis – A mighty undead sorcerer who was once Sett’s apprentice thousands of years ago.
  • Voodoo – Many have fallen prey to Voodoo’s ancient magic. She uses her power to hunt Sett’s enemies.
  • Rajah – A young mystic and skilled swordsman, Rajah submitted to Sett’s sorcery while exploring the netherplanes with his spirit.
  • Auroch – A simple outlaw that fights for pleasure. Auroch taunts anything that crosses his path.
  • Colonel – A celestial champion. Battered, shattered, and almost dead, Colonel was found by Beast on an obscure battlefield, the sole survivor of a fierce struggle.
  • Nezu – Kidnapped by Beast to free Sett, Nezu is uncontrollable when angered. Although small, Nezu is agile, swift, and cunning.
  • Diesel – A longshoreman from the San Francisco docks, he spends more time brawling than handling cargo.
  • Leotsu – The last grand master of an ancient martial art, one that remains a mystery to the other masters.

Each character comes with their own movesets, as well as a unique finishing move. Some fights end with some interesting character death animations, but they are few and far between.

Levels

Shaq Fu contains 10 character-specific levels to fight in, and are accessed by an overworld map in the game’s story mode.

These levels include;

  • The Forest – Voodoo’s stage.
  • Vagabond Temple – Rajah’s stage.
  • Gargoyle’s Peak – Mephis’ stage.
  • The Wasteland – Auroch’s stage.
  • North Gate – Leotsu’s stage.
  • Dragon’s Pass – Beast’s stage.
  • Yasko Mines – Diesel’s stage.
  • Catwalk Falls – Kaori’s stage.
  • Tombstone Island – Sett’s stage.
  • The Lab – Colonel’s stage.

Ports

Shaq Fu was available on five gaming systems, each with varying quality;

  • Sega Genesis – This is the main version that developers worked on. As a result, this is the most complete version available, with three extra bonus stages in Story mode (to make up for how short it is).
  • Super Nintendo – Similar to the Genesis version, but with five characters cut out entirely, resulting in a much shorter story mode.
  • Amiga – This contains the same content as the Genesis version (it keeps the text “Licensed by Sega Enterprises, LTD” left over from that version on the title screen), though the backgrounds have no animation. It also only has three tunes, and there is no background music during the fights.
  • Sega Game Gear – Contains only six characters, scaled back colour graphics, no tournament mode and no in-game voices.
  • Nintendo Game Boy – Has the same seven characters as the Super Nintendo version, but with scaled back graphics, no tournament mode and no in-game voices.

Victory!

If you thought that the intro to Shaq Fu was terrible, then prepare yourself for the ending!

The mighty Sett Ra is defeated by Shaq, and Nezu is now safe and sound, back in the realm of Earth. Shaq arrives at his charity basketball game just in time, and makes a joke about “fighting traffic”. We then discover that there is an unwelcome guest on the court…. BEAST!. Complete with his own personal basketball! Shaq then entertains the idea of playing a game of basketball with him.

AND THAT IS WHERE IT ENDS.

It makes sense for one of the worst games in this era to have one of the worst endings too. Having to struggle through the game with its wildly innacurate hitboxes, unbearable controls and timing for the reward to be a sub-par sitcom cartoon show ending is not only infuriating, but borderline insulting.

Overall

So, after taking another look at Shaq Fu, does it deserve its reputation as one of the worst games ever made?

Yes and no. Shaq Fu isn’t the worst game ever made, but 100% deserves to be mentioned in the category of “worst 16-bit era game” ever made.

The sub-par sound effects and music, tiny character sprites, highly innacurate hitboxes, completely uninspiring story and awful controls all play a part in making Shaq Fu an absolute ordeal to play through, and surpasses the “so bad it’s funny” notion so much that it reaches a point where there is almost impossible to find anything redeeming about it.

It isn’t the worst fighting game ever made (we’ll be getting to that one in a future Final Round entry), but it is undoubtedly part of that group.

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The sequel, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, is inexplicably arriving soon, and has seemingly based its marketing campaign on just how dreadful the original game was. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t repeat history with the game itself.

Were you a fan of Shaq Fu? Will you be playing the sequel when it arrives early next month? Let us know in the comments below, or fire a tweet our way!

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