Back in the 1990s, a strange game called Shaq Fu was released. Starring basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal in the leading role for some reason, the game was a fighting game where he is transported to another world to fight supernatural characters. However, the fighting system used is incredibly flawed, and coupled with the odd celebrity tie-in, the game earned an impressive level of infamy, even leading to the website shaqfu.com that has the stated mission of destroying every copy of it in existence. The public’s fascination with the worst of the worst is great though, and through that fascination, new developers were able to bring Shaq back through a crowdfunded sequel to the historical curiosity known as Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn springs forth from the joke of being a sequel to an incredibly awful game, and while the game does strive to be more playable, its plot embraces the ridiculousness of its existence. In this game, Shaquille O’Neal is not a famous basketball player, but instead was raised in China to be a martial artist, believing himself to be a native born Chinese man and making jokes about how he clearly has never even played the sport that made him famous. One day, his home town is attacked, Shaq learning that he was trained up to protect the world from a demon incursion. The demons already have taken hold of society though, many famous celebrities turning out to be part of a plan to turn humans soft and complacent with the circus of ridiculous celebrity drama. Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn already has Shaq voicing himself and poking fun at his own inclusion, but the bosses of the game are all parodies of recognizable big name celebrities as well. The game certainly aims to swing for the easy targets, the likes of Donald Trump and Justin Bieber being among the people who were truly demons the whole time, and while it would be fun to share more of the odd characters who crop up, part of the appeal of this game is seeing which character you’re up against next. Their demon forms allow them to serve as decent boss battles as well, with things like a demon Paris Hilton swinging her chihuahua Tinkerbell like a whip being the level of absurdity you can expect from these encounters.
In fact, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn leans incredibly hard into absurdity. The game throws constant quips and unusual situations and characters at you to try and baffle you and make you laugh. Background musics features parodies of famous tracks, the smallest traits of a character are turned up to the max to make them ridiculous, and at one point, you fight kilt-wearing Scottish Nazis in Fiji. The humor does lean into stereotypes fairly often which may rub some players the wrong way, but there are so many jokes in general tossed your way that even though many might not land, there are some amusing moments and inexplicable situations to make continuing through the plot interesting just to see what weird idea crops up next. Everything is exaggerated for the sake of being silly, and this feels like the right tone for a game that is incredibly aware it was built off the bile people had for the original Shaq Fu. Shaq and other characters even seem to be aware they’re in a video game, but the commitment to comedy can make the plot hard to follow if you do care about that angle, since jokes will crop up from time to time and contradict it just to throw something silly your way.
For most people, a game that is as ridiculous as the original Shaq Fu is probably what they hoped to find here, but there is still a gameplay layer to the whole affair that connects the moments of absurdity. Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is not a fighting game like its ancestor, but it is part of the somewhat similar beat ’em up genre. Shaq clears levels by fighting his way through hordes of enemies, able to move around in all directions but unable to progress until he’s beaten the current batch of baddies. Shaq’s skills are mostly limited to hammering the single attack button over and over and wrapping up your attack sequence with the Size 22 special attacks, where a giant shoe made of energy can kick enemies back, away, or slam them down to the ground. Most of your fighting will be punching over and over and wrapping it up with the special attack, much to the detriment of the game. There is an incredible amount of fighting in the game that doesn’t push you to break this pattern, and the waves of enemies often last a little too long before ending. A level might contain multiple waves of back-to-back battles like this, meaning that the basic combat grows mindless fairly early on. You do get an explosive ground smash that has limited use to build up to and blow enemies away with, but your basic skills aren’t exciting, even though the game will zoom in for a randomly executed flashy attack that you didn’t actually execute yourself. The enemies essentially have to carry the weight of making it varied, and at first, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn does roll out new enemies at a good rate. Shield-carrying foes, sturdy fat ones, long range fighters, and bike riding baddies join the regular fodder, requiring slightly different approaches and able to deal damage well enough if you get complacent. Some even come packing weapons you can steal, these weapons being perhaps a bit too powerful as they can kill most regular enemies instantly, but they are limited use to balance that out. Well before the game is over though, you’ve seen most of the enemy types, and the game starts lazily bringing them back in unrelated levels without explanation after doing a fairly good job of theming them before then.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn does try to shift things up a little bit, introducing two power-ups that change how you approach battles. The first one, Diesel, equips Shaq with metal armor and make him punch incredibly rapidly, building up steam that he needs to release in an explosive ground punch. You are incredibly powerful in this form, which is a problem because nothing really challenges you while you have it. The game throws way too many weak enemies at you while you have this power, so you spend way too long being way too powerful, the steam management barely even a concern. The other form Shaq can take is Shaqtus, another moment of the game’s silliness where Shaq wears a cactus costume and fires spines at enemies. Much like Diesel though, it’s much too strong and goes on too long, so rather than improving the combat, it just makes it more dull as you don’t have to worry much about getting hurt or facing the stronger opponents.
If you get the physical version of Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn though, you get a second small campaign to complete called… Barack Fu. For this mode, former president Barack Obama is filtered through an interpretation of him as a Dirty Harry-esque gunslinger with a one-liner for any situation. Obama had been tracking the mysterious defeat of famous figures, unaware of Shaq’s purpose behind it, and believes that the game’s Kanye West parody is the next inevitable target, heading off to protect him only for everyone to mistake him for an assassin. Barack Fu is still a beat ’em up, but his attacks are entirely different from Shaq’s, using guns instead of punches and kicks. This means Obama can fight from a distance, but to really hit far away enemies with the better guns in your arsenal, you need to combo into them, shotguns and machine guns popping out rather than your default pistols. His special move is even a bit more interesting than Shaq’s, needing to be charged up through more combat before he can call in an incredibly powerful drone strike to damage everything on screen. If he finds a pair of sunglasses, Dirty Barry mode will activate for a scripted amount of time, Barack freely using his better guns to spray foes away and supplementing his attacks with grenades. You’ll still feel the burn of repetition after a while since the waves of enemies are always a bit too long and their numbers too high, but if the whole of Shaq Fu had diversified its play like this instead of tossing half-baked power-ups at you, then perhaps the fighting could have kept its energy.
THE VERDICT: The fact Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn exists is a joke and it’s well aware of this, having a lot of fun with its ridiculous concepts and throwing tons of absurdity at the player to keep them amused. Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t quite as amusing, the combat having too little to engage with and the power-ups just being long superpowered sections without any real decent opposition to make the gameplay shift interesting. Barack Fu manages this better with its complete overhaul of your approach to combat, but ultimately, the combat grows dull without being egregiously bad like the original Shaq Fu. The humor and insanity of the celebrity-fighting situations buoys a pretty boring brawler, but it’s a game where the story highlights are better than the experience that carries you between them.
And so, I give Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn for Nintendo Switch…
A BAD rating. The ridiculous moments can’t salvage a beat ’em up game that takes no risks and has little interesting to its actual combat. It’s funny to see a recognizable face turn into a demon boss battle, but battles don’t really ask much of the player. Everything lasting a little too long is one issue, meaning that you can easily see the cracks in the design and notice how repetitive the experience is getting, but there’s nothing so egregious that it could be held up as an example of atrocious game design like the original Shaq Fu. Thankfully, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn does give you quite a bit to talk about with its ridiculous humor and situations, although those are already hit and miss before you take into account whether or not you get the celebrity references or if you find some of its jokes in poor taste.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a cute idea, taking the ideas from an infamous old game and giving it another shot with tongue-in-cheek jabs at itself to offset how strange the concept is. The unfortunate fact is that not enough was done to make this stand as an enjoyable gaming experience, meaning that your enjoyment of it will mostly come from being in on the jokes it tells or the joke of its existence. Since it didn’t do anything egregiously awful like its predecessor though, its footprint on gaming history will be much smaller, something not even Shaq’s Size 22 shoes can change.