Licensing basketball players who quickly rose to popularity in the 90s was a common thing. Besides Madden football games, games about the stars of the court were a bigger deal than the “box” haircut. Shaquille O’Neal quickly rose to fame by becoming one of the best centers in the NBA, winning Rookie of the Year in 1992–93 and leading his team to the 1995 NBA Finals. So, it was only natural that he (along with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley) be featured in his own licensed game. But, it wasn’t one you’d expect from a top-rated baller. Join me “On the Next Level” for Shaq Fu.
Developed by the now-defunct Delphine Software International and published by Electronic Arts, Shaq Fu featured the former NBA center as a playable character in a fighting game. The story goes that Shaq is in Tokyo, Japan for a charity basketball tournament when he walks into a dojo. After speaking with the martial art master Leotsu, he is transported to another dimension called “the Second World” where he must rescue a boy named Nezu who has been kidnapped by the mummy Sett Ra.
Several versions of Shaq Fu were across different systems. The Super Nintendo release featured seven playable characters (Rajah, Sett, Voodoo, Beast, Mephis, Kaori) including Shaq. The Sega Genesis version had five more characters (Auroch, Colonel, Diesel, Leotsu, and Nezu) and three extra stages (The Lab, The Wasteland, and Yasko Mines), giving a longer story mode than the Super Nintendo version. Shaq Fu was also released for the Game Boy and Game Gear systems though these versions lacked a tournament mode and the backgrounds were lifeless as oppose to the console versions. In story mode, the player would fight as Shaq through opponents until the final battle against Sett Ra. Duel Mode allowed you to find a buddy to take on in 2-player and tournament allowed you to fight through every character in the game. While Shaq Fu had smooth animation, the move set for the characters was pretty lacking when compared to other fighting games such as Fatal Fury and Street Fighter and the small screen didn’t help in giving the characters models and backgrounds more detail. Shaq himself had only two workable moves and both are kicks. His punches were easily stopped due to surprising limited range for a man who is seven feet tall. What held Shaq Fu back was how amazingly easy to fights were. Unlike traditional fighting games, this “fighter game” offered little in the way of challenging gameplay. This is so simple that even casual fighting game players can breeze through it in under thirty minutes on the normal setting (which played like easy mode).
Both the Genesis and SNES versions of the game contained a hidden button sequence that would initiate a “blood code” in the spirit of Mortal Kombat. This code allowed “finishing moves” to be performed on certain opponents by attacking them a certain way. To keep the “Teen” rating, the blood was kept to a minimum and the finishers were less gory than Midway/Netherrealm Studios’ flagship series.
Shaq Fu for the handhelds were even more lacking. Poor graphics, lifeless backgrounds (even for the Game Gear), slow animation and muddy characters made these versions absolutely terrible to play or even look at. The game was met with mixed reviews. GamePro gave the SNES version a positive review, saying that the unusually small size of the sprites is balanced off by the incredibly fast game speed. They even praised the “ultra-sharp” controls and found the Sega Genesis version to be superior to the SNES. On the other end of the spectrum, Shaq Fu was rated number 4 on Game Trailers’ list of “Top 10 Worst Games.” Twelve staff members for Nintendo Power voted for their “Top 100 games of All Time” which included a list of the “Ten Worst Games”. Shaq Fu was voted the third worst title. In spite of this, Shaq Fu is getting a crowd funded sequel, “Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn.” Shaquille O’Neal himself confirmed the sequel in a 2014 interview with GamerFitnation. Big Deez’s “Indiegogo campaign reached and passed their goal of $450,000. A Nintendo Switch release was eventually confirmed, when Saber Interactive offered free copies of the game to early adopters of NBA Playgrounds on the console as compensation for the initial lack of online features.
Until next time, see you “On the Next Level!”
Shaq Fu gameplay
Shaq is back for the Switch!