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'Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn' lives up to the quality of the original

By Tanner Kinney Disclaimer: This review is of the PC version and was conducted on a PC with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, i7, 8GBs of RAM. Shaq Fu is sort of a legend in gaming culture. This bizarre 16-bit fighting game featured East-Asian culture, mysticism, magic, and Shaquille O'Neal in the middle of it all. If that at all seems interesting, the more interesting part is that the game is completely irredeemable. Shaq Fu was buggy, slow, unfair, and easily one of the worst fighting games of the 16-bit era, possibly of all time. Yet, its infamy garnered a significant following among an internet culture obsessed with ironic enjoyment of things. So, in March 2014, at the height of a fundraising craze sparked by Mighty No. 9, Big Deez Production (yes, that’s the real name) launched an Indiegogo campaign to create the long-awaited sequel, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn. $473,000 and four years later, it was finally released. The best thing that can be said is that it is better than the original. But that’s a bar so low, it’s buried underneath Shaq’s wine cellar. This game doesn’t deserve to be graded on a curve.

One-button gameplay for a one-note game

Image from Steam
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a beat-'em-up styled more after classics like Double Dragon or Streets of Rage than after more recent entries into the genre like Castle Crashers. The player controls Shaquille O’Neal, a very tall man who was orphaned and discovered in a lake by a Chinese woman. He was then raised to fight bullies by a Chinese elder (complete with a mildly offensive comedy accent). Shaq was trained to fight using a legendary secret technique, passed down through centuries of Dynasty Warriors: mashing the attack button. Shaq has one single combo that gets used throughout the entire game, with no variations. Occasionally the game tasks the player to overcome simple quick time events or, in rare cases, press a different button once or twice. Those are simply illusions to make the player think there’s more depth to the game. Realistically, this game could’ve been released on Atari 2600, since only one button is needed to succeed. Over the course of the six levels the game provides, there’s not much variety in the enemies Shaq kicks down or in the ways those enemies get dunked on. Every level provides a new backdrop and some reskins of enemies from the first area. This only serves to drive home how repetitive Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is, since all the enemies are using the same attacks over and over—just like the player. Every time a new variation on “fat dude with large club weapon” appeared, I remembered that not only that I spent $20 on the game, and that this game was in development for four years, but that people legitimately funded this game. A lot of people legitimately funded this game.
Image from Steam
In an attempt to add some variety to a game desperately failing to keep the player interested, the developers included various methods other than punching to dispatch waves of recolored enemies. The first alternate method is the enhancement suits, which allow Shaq to transform and dispatch enemies by pressing a single button over and over again. Only, instead of just normal dude Shaq, it’s Shaq in a cactus suit firing needles at enemies, or Shaq in a giant robot suit punching dudes, but faster. The second method is when stage elements are required to dispatch large waves of enemies in a single section of the level. These consist of respawning street-signs, barrels of grape soda, construction equipment, and boulders that get kicked down a hill. Within the last two levels of the game, there are four sections with enemies that get boulders kicked at them. Sure, it’s pretty standard for early entries in the beat-'em-up genre, but games have evolved beyond such one-note gameplay. When compared to something like Castle Crashers, with dozens of varied levels, enemies, bosses, and ways to actually play the game, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a complete waste of time. The cherry on top of the repetitive gameplay is the final level. The developers tied their garbage bag of a game up in a nice bow, with the player getting to do every different kind of combat section in a single level. Once all these different sections are put back-to-back, it drives home that the game is completely devoid of entertaining content.

Horribly dated writing, music, and art style

Image from Steam
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn was in development before the major companies retired the last generation of consoles, and the game was promised for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii U. Those were cancelled, but that’s for the best, since it would have split development time if they tried to actually port it to all consoles. Visually though, it doesn’t look like the game evolved beyond the previous generation of consoles. Even at the highest settings on PC, the game still looks like something that would show up on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s ugly and textures are all very flat, but it at the very least has a style. A style that has somehow accelerated time and become dated before it was even released. The animations aren’t anything special or meaty, which is key in making a beat-'em-up that feels good to play. The design of the enemies ranges between incredibly bland dudes to borderline offensive caricatures. Props can be given to the art style during the cutscenes between levels, which actually looks really good. If the whole game had been done using the 2D artwork, the game would’ve looked incredible. Unfortunately, the game just doesn’t deliver the visual spectacle a modern beat-'em-up should deliver. The music exists. That’s all that can be said for it. During the entire playthrough, there wasn't a single time the music stood out. It wasn’t terrible, aside from the theme that plays on the title screen and during loading screens, but it also didn’t add anything. A beat-'em-up needs to have music that drives the player forward, keeping up with the pace of the action and adding to the spectacle. Going back again to Castle Crashers, that game has an amazing soundtrack with songs that stick with the player. No song in this game sticks in the mind for longer than a moment. And all of that is if the music even plays. More than once, the music completely cut out and left me with dead silence, aside from the generic sound effects and one-liners Shaq delivers.
Image from Steam
Speaking of one-liners, the writing in Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is as dated and sad as Shaq’s rap career. The game attempts to tell a story about how humanity is becoming dumber as a result of obsession with celebrities (irony is probably intended—at least I hope). These celebrities are actually demons, who are making the population dumber and easier to control. Throughout the course of the game, Shaq must kill fake Justin Bieber, fake Kardashians, and even fake Madonna. The celebrities fight using references that might have been funny if the game released on schedule. For example, the not-Justin Bieber fight has Bieber attack Shaq by shooting eggs out of a cannon. Since he egged someone’s house that one time—four years ago. If that doesn’t give a good indication about how dated the humor in this game, then maybe the fact that Madonna is in the game will. Madonna wasn’t even relevant four years ago, let alone now. Maybe that’s the joke, but much like the actual menopause joke this game actually makes through not-Madonna having an attack called “Hot Flash.” It’s not funny. This game doesn’t even provide chuckles. And that’s not even cracking into the potentially offensive stereotypes included in the game. Particularly, the game makes a number of juvenile jokes at the expense of the LGBT community. Considering it’s pride month at the time of writing, it’s a wonder what year the developers were living in when they created this game.

Laughable length that overstays its welcome

Image from Steam
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn joins the new trend of meme games that metaphorically hold the player at gunpoint, challenging them to beat the game in under two hours so they can get their chuckles at the meme, while not having to spend money on something so horrendous. This is due to Steam’s refund system giving refunds for games that are played for less than two hours. Much like Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back, the game is embarrassingly short for its price tag. I can’t even imagine how people who spent hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars on the game during its Indiegogo campaign must feel. Considering that more content was promised for the base game (more playable characters, local multiplayer, more stages, etc), it feels even better to know that the developers will be releasing that promised content as DLC in the future. The biggest joke of it all, and possibly the best joke the game makes, is that the gameplay still manages to feel repetitive and overdone through just its abysmal runtime. By the end of the second level, the game has nothing new to offer. It has played all of its cards, it turned Shaq into a Shaq-tus and it showed all the different types of enemies that the player would fight. After all of that, the rest of the levels just felt like filler. To give a comparison, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was recently released for half the price and had a full experience that went above and beyond what was expected for that style of game. Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn doesn’t even deliver on the minimum expectations of a retro styled beat-em-up.
Featured image from Nintendo Times

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