Without question, the original Shaq Fu video game is one of the worst games ever released, heck even the trailer for A Legend Reborn reminds you of that fact. So, when the idea came about that the franchise would be resurrected through crowdfunding, it felt more akin to a novel approach, if not ironic. With that being said, of course, the new title isn’t going to be judged by its clouded past, or Shaq’s inability to hit free throws. We are treated to an adventure that is all about the titular character (if he grew up in China as a rickshaw driver). However, the game’s humor becomes entirely inexcusable in 2018, with frequent jokes that can be considered borderline racist or hate speech.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn’s gameplay is quite similar to the widely favorite arcade-style brawlers of my youth. Although all the character models are fully rendered, the gameplay uses tradition side-scrolling action, similar to Double Dragon. It’s a classic take on the genre and using Shaq you’ll punch, kick, and even suplex your foes into submission. While the mindless nature may seem novel at first, the game sorts off loses its steam with the lack of cooperative multiplayer. These types of games are designed with that in mind, and Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a single-player only experience. Although it was part of the original pitch on Indiegogo, the developers have commented that it may be something that gets added to the game post-launch.
Using the kung fu powers he learned growing up, Shaq must travel across the world, destroying the ancient evil that has once again stirred. There is a ton of political humor and pop culture references that seemingly fall flat. Right from the start, there are undoubtedly offensive and stereotypical Chinese caricatures, with a smattering of sexism and homophobic jokes later in the game. Who thought it would be a good idea to include a massive farting female butt as a boss character? It seems like the development team aimed for “making fun of everything” style that has made South Park endearing to some, but this leaves a lot to be desired. Everything else in the game feels quite basic and generic; not up to modern day standards. Shaq’s moveset is quite limited to using a combination of punches, kick combos and ground pounds to break through shields and stun enemies. Besides using environmental objects against your enemies, the game becomes quite repetitive. Where are the advanced moves and upgrades that were promised? While this may have been standard for the genre 20 years ago, times have changed, and we should expect more. Why aren’t we unlocking new moves using all of the coins you collect?
On the plus side, as it isn’t all bad with Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, I did enjoy the power-ups that transformed Shaw into an awesome powered robot, and the other turns him into a giant cactus with an unlimited supply of needles. All of these are quite goofy and fit in line with the constant one-liners and dialogue during the animated sequences. If only the developers opted for a more inclusive nature of writing, instead of bleeding the well dry with unwitty humor that is unfitting with the current times. Near the end of the game, Shaq even has a conversation with a game designer about throwing a near limitless amount of enemies at you, and how that isn’t fun.
Whether or not the developers didn’t have faith in their product or it was just trying to be clever, the meta-jokes about how silly everything in the game is entirely accurate. The game is only a couple hours long, and unless you are trophy/achievement hunting, there isn’t any reason to return to the game. Even then, playing through the game feels like a chore, as levels overstay their welcome. Time will tell if the original promise of co-op makes it into the game, but that doesn’t change anything concerning the borderline racist and offensive style of comedy used throughout.
Note: Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn was reviewed based on a digital Xbox One copy of the game, provided by the publisher.