Shaq-Fu is a game whose very name makes gamers’ skin crawl. I never intended to play it, but, like some cursed totem ripped from the pages of a Stephen King novel, a copy of it fell into my possession earlier this year. In the name of science, I forced myself to play it along with a friend of mine, Jon Zeigler. Jon, as you will read, had his mind damaged by prolonged exposure to Shaq-Fu, though his sacrifice did allow us to make it to the end of the game’s story mode. What follows is a first-hand account of one of the worst games ever created by man:
Robert: So…Shaq-Fu. Shameless marketing scheme? Or…
Jon: Awesomeness on silicon?
Robert: Okay, why exactly is it awesomeness on silicone?
Jon: Well, for starters, it has Shaq in it, which, by definition, makes any game 10 times better before you even pop it into the console.
Robert: So, you were a big fan of the movie Kazaam then? The one where Shaq stars as a genie living inside a boom box?
Jon: Not as much as Shaq Fu because Kazaam had a distinct lack of Shaq kicking people in the face and shins. Also, I never saw it.
Robert: Not that he did a great job of hitting people in Shaq-Fu – you had to have the characters practically get to second base with each other before any of their moves would actually hit.
Jon: That just adds subtle romantic overtones to attract the more sensitive players. At least, you know, before all the violent punching and kicking begins.
Robert: Sounds like romance, all right. But lets stop dancing around the issue – Shaq-Fu has problems. Namely that it was made during the country’s love affair with the Big O during the 90s, when he could do no wrong. Did you know the magazine GamePro gave the game a 4.5 out of 5?
Jon: Not a 5 out of 5?! This is an outrage!
Robert: Yeah, if only the developers had spent time actually, I don’t know, making sure the characters attacks actually functioned it might have gotten that extra half a point.
Jon: Hey, just because the same button input doesn’t produce the same result each time just adds a certain amount of mystery to the game. You can never quite be sure what’s around the corner, but you do know it is probably awesome.
Robert: Does the same goes for the game’s story?
Jon: Story? You mean the rich tapestry that takes the player on a journey of the mind and soul and leaves them breathless at the end?
Robert: Let me lay it out for the reader: Shaq is in Tokyo for a charity game. He runs into the shopkeeper from "Gremlins" who tells him to go through a door in the back of his shop, which leads to a magic fantasy land. He does this all to save some little kid with the tragic name of Nezu. Shaq then beats up a bunch of terrible fantasy and ethnic stereotypes before finally defeating Sett, an evil mummy with a thing for randomly kidnapping small children. The game ends on a cliffhanger, with Shaq about to play basketball against a demon.
Jon: Right. Like I said, a rich tapestry of storytelling. They do add some fiction, though. I am pretty sure Shaq has never played a charity game.
Robert: What I am saying is that the story is as well thought out as the gameplay is deep and balanced.
Jon: Which is to say that it can be enjoyed for minutes on end.
Robert: So, about the same amount of time it takes to have your character walk across the screen. Can we mention that this game is slow? Like sloth in molasses slow?
Jon: Hey, to be fair, sloths in molasses can move very fast compared to say, a dead yak. Shaq Fu’s gameplay is screaming compared to things that never move, so quit complaining so much.
Robert: And Shaq’s fighting skills are respectable compared to, say, a baby seal.
Jon: If you’re referring to a ninja baby seal, then we are in agreement here.
Robert: I am referring to the ridiculous imbalance between character strength.
Jon: So what, you get upset when I pick the character Beast and kill you in 4 hits whereas you have to pound on me with Shaq until your fists almost fall off? Quit being a sore loser.
Robert: What about how we learned that it’s nigh-impossible to beat Sett when you have him back a player into a corner? Or how Shaq takes so long to actually do his special moves that you can practically run up and punch him before he finishes them? Or how it is possible to beat just about anybody in the game by simply jumping and kicking?
Jon: I seem to recall having no problem beating you five times in a row, so I found a way around these problems.
Robert: So, it’s slow, has broken controls, and, oh yeah, when you do get a move off there’s a fair chance it will go right through your opponent. Why was this game ever made?
Jon: Because there was an inherent lack of Shaq demonstrating his martial arts skills to the world?
Robert: Last question – is it better or worse than the Super Nintendo masterpiece "Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City"? Personally, I cannot think of a more epic quest than MJ’s attempts to save his team from the evil genius Dr. Max Cranium. Plus, you can throw basketballs made of ice at zombies.
Jon: That’s like asking whether food or alcohol is better. You need both of them, silly!
*Some of this material appeared previously in a post on my 1up.com blog.