I never played the original Shaq Fu, which some say was one of the worst games ever made, so going into the Legend Reborn I didn’t have the same history as many of my peers. I knew of its reputation, however– with developer Big Deez Productions proudly iterating on this so-bad-its-good legacy, with their official trailers even calling out the original for sucking so bad – so I was surprised when I found the title to be, for the most part, a competent brawler, if little else.
Shaq Fu isn’t going to win any awards for its writing, but I don’t think it ever intended to. The game even pokes fun at its convoluted story full of plot contrivances, and it has fun with that set up – but the player rarely does.
Starting with Shaq growing up in China – a fish out of water set-up that extends to its gameplay, visuals and even soundtrack – Shaq must take down an army of celebrities who threaten to numb the world into a stupor.
The satirical humour here is low brow and more often than not just feels misguided and mean rather than biting or funny. Parodies and all-out-attacks of celebs that are, for the most part, already irrelevant and have already been at the business end of far funnier wit, the efforts of Shaq Fu often just feels like unfunny jabs at low hanging fruit.
What does threaten to numb the world into a stupor, however, is Shaq Fu’s gameplay. Whilst being a competent side scrolling brawler with all the usual trimmings you’d expect of the genre, the game often devolves into button mashing mediocrity. There’s some satisfaction in clearing a screen of enemy goons in over-the-top displays of power, but pretty soon you’ll get tired of the rote mechanics.
The biggest misstep here is the lack of multiplayer. This genre lives and dies with the inclusion of co-op, and the fact that Shaq-Fu doesn’t offer it in any way makes slogging through its repetitive stages and enemy variants that much more of a challenge.
In truth I’ve played a lot worse than Shaq-Fu. For the first hour I enjoyed myself with its simplistic but satisfying combat system (replete with crazy power ups like a cactus suit) but pretty soon I realized I was just going through the motions.
A Legend Reborn at least looks and sounds better than all that. Graphically speaking the game is pleasing, with a rounded, colourful aesthetic belying all the asskicking going on beneath it. The animations are fluid and the lighting is genuinely dynamic and gives the stages a depth I didn’t expect.
The sound design is also a lot tighter than you’d think, with some satisfying effects layering over a surprisingly good soundtrack. Remixing some of Shaq’s old songs and infusing them with an Asian twist was a neat touch, and overall it’s not a bad game to listen to, even if playing it can be a little painful at times.
Unfortunately the game does extend its sloppy writing and tired stereotypes into its songs, with some low-key racist caricatures rearing their ugly heads in a few of the tracks and even spoken dialogue. Honestly I thought we were better than all this by now.
‘Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn‘ sells itself with one promise: ‘better than the old one’. I think it’s safe to say that Big Deez accomplished that – Reborn won’t go down as a defining moment in bad videogames. But there’s something worse about being an utterly forgettable one: Shaq Fu is a fine way to kill an hour but don’t expect the experience to stick. For better or worse, A Legend Reborn’s bland competence is a deadlier kiss than being outright terrible.