We are living in strange days. A reality show star is in the White House, a movie based on the Black Panther is one of the biggest films of all time, and a sequel to Shaq Fu has (somehow) been developed. Released in 1994, the fighter had then-Orlando Magic star Shaquille O’Neal doing battle against all kinds of inter-dimensional evils. It was terrible, and emblematic of the worst elements of the 1990’s. So, why not bring Shaq Diesel back to the world of gaming for Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn.
In the world of A Legend Reborn, O’Neal is not the Hall of Fame basketball player we all know and love. Instead, after being abandoned in China as a baby, he is a mere rickshaw driver. Shaq Fei Hung always knew he was different, as his size and skin color made abundantly clear. However, after an ancient evil begins to wreak havoc on his hometown, he must embrace his true destiny. Utilizing his kung fu abilities, Shaq will travel the world to rid the world of this malevolent being, which has been working on dumbing down the world’s population for years.
I don’t need to tell you that the story here is ridiculously stupid. It’s a game about The Big Shamrock using kung fu to save the world, of course, is going to be dumb. The plot lacks the humor necessary to make this silly premise work, however. The constant barrage of jokes fall flat more often than not, and the meta jokes quickly wear thin. Some may find the parodies of figures such as Donald Trump and Mel Gibson funny, but they are really nothing more than lazy caricatures. In it’s absolute best moments, I can maybe make the case that it’s almost half as good as an episode of Mike Tyson Mysteries. That show has the comedic chops to pull off its nonsense, though, a luxury Shaq Fu clearly does not have.
What’s disheartening about the plot is not just that it is obnoxious and un-witty, but that it is also surprisingly offensive. Whether it’s the borderline racist mentor that takes Shaq under his wing to the sprinkling of homophobia that comes with the later levels, there are insults for every marginalized group out there. The worst moments from A Legend Reborn are saved for women, though, of which there is approximately a single non-evil one in the entirety of the game. The rest are shrill harpies and demons that only wish to take down Fei Hung. One boss even transforms into a giant butt that farts on you. Not only is it all weirdly offensive, but it’s not even remotely clever. It’s insulting for the sake of being insulting.
Laziness is more than just a knock on the plot of Shaq Fu, though. It’s the mantra of the product as a whole. Imagine getting almost $500,000 from fans through Kickstarter. and churning out a simplistic, generic beat ’em up is the most you are willing to do. The depth of the gameplay here is barely above arcade games from the 80’s and 90’s. Shaq has a light attack, a heavier attack that can stun enemies, a dash that can also stun enemies and a ground smash that hurts several foes at once. That’s about it, which is a surprisingly light move set from a supposed kung fu savant. There are a few items, such as stop signs and barrels, that can be picked-up, but they don’t do much to alleviate the staleness of the game. I thought collecting the coins that are flying everywhere would allow you to unlock new moves, but nope, they are just there for score-keeping. And c’mon? Who could possibly care about keeping score in a game like this?
A Legend Reborn does shake things up occasionally, specifically with the placement of power-ups. Before Shaq leaves for his journey, his master makes sure to place two types of power-ups along his path. The first, Big Diesel, lets him transform into some kind of steam-punk robot. The other, Shaqtus, has him turn into a giant cactus that can shoot an unlimited supply of needles. I can appreciate the goofiness of these, and how they utilize two of O’Neal’s many nicknames, but neither power-up is that fun to use. You’re basically doing the same thing you would normally be doing, smashing faceless goons, but just in a greater quantity. Giving you more power doesn’t fix the blandness the game is imbued with.
Considering this is a budget-priced title, it’s not a shock that Shaq Fu doesn’t look particularly great. The dull environments and ill-defined character designs look like they came from the previous console generation. Even the celebrity parodies, which could have at least looked somewhat interesting, are surprisingly tame. The music is even more off-putting, with the dull background tunes somehow being the highlight. The lowlight, obviously, comes from Shaq Diesel himself, who supplies a brand new rap track to the game. That, along with his voice acting, is a good reminder that O’Neal is rightfully remembered for his skills on the court, and not his shortcomings on the mic.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn does something that I really hate, which is that it acts like it is terrible on purpose. Throughout the meager three to four hour campaign, there are constant jokes made to just how dumb everything about this project is. I don’t have anything against meta jokes, and when done correctly, they can be clever and hilarious. However, not only is the humor bad, but talking about how bad your game is doesn’t excuse it from being bad overall. A terrible game is a terrible game, no matter how much you try to play it off. The only funny joke here is that people were crazy enough to fund such an insipid and ill-advised project.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided by Saber Interactive and Big Deez Productions.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a misfire in just about every way. The gameplay is dull and simplistic, the art and sound design are low quality, and the story is not only unfunny, but also surprisingly offensive. In other words, it's exactly what you would expect a Shaq Fu sequel to be like.