A long time ago, a French software house made a rather poorly received 2D fighting game centered around former professional basketball player Shaquille O’Neal. 20 years later, the sequel was announced and raised nearly $500,000 on Indiegogo. Four more years of waiting, and Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is finally almost here, and the wait has certainly helped make a better game.
Dropping the 2D fighting genre for a 2.5D side scrolling brawler, Shaq Fu is clearly heavily inspired by the brawlers from its predecessor’s era. The inspiration of Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Double Dragon is readily apparent, from the level design to the attack combos culminating in extremely showy special attacks. The fighting feels tight and responsive, and the enemies react appropriately to the seven foot tall man punching and kicking them. Speaking of kicking, Shaq Fu takes full advantage of the fact that the real Shaq has US shoe size 23, and the fact that I’ve been unable to find any conversion table that goes above size 16 should tell you all you need to know.
My biggest concern with what I played at Rezzed is the humour - it was very self-referential and fourth wall breaking. This works sometimes, when it’s paced appropriately. Shaq Fu, or at least the demo I played of it, does not pace its jokes. Everything that Shaq says is a fourth wall break - that wall is so broken even Deadpool thinks that it’s overkill. Some of the jokes were funny, but a lot of them just made me think that the game would rather I were somewhere else enjoying all of those things that it references.
Beyond that, everything looks up for Shaq Fu. The game looks extremely vibrant and colourful, it plays well and sounds fantastic. The enemy types are varied, distinct and have well defined strengths and weaknesses. The bosses I faced were distinctly different from the standard enemies, taking elements from the usual wave fodder and changing it in such a way to give a whole new challenge. The main bosses are also caricatures of real world celebrities, though I suspect that Americans will get more out of those than I did.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn will be released on the 5th of June 2018, and will be available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.