Shaq Fu answered the age old question of what would happen if the worst video game license and the worst fighting engine collided to spawn an ugly embarrassment of a game. It's hard not to look at a game like Shaq Fu without thinking that it was some kind of joke, the idea of pitting the giant basketball player against otherworldly street fighters is among the worst ideas ever put into a cartridge. But this is no joke, and Electronic Arts made sure to spread the disaster around to all of the game systems.
Shaq Fu comes to us from the developer Delphine Software, who had recently come off of the success of Flashback: The Quest for Identity. Delphine was best known for creating game characters with realistic animations, something that was as rarity in the 2D world of the mid-1990s. Games like Flashback and Out of this World proved that this was one company that knew how to make great looking adventure games. What they were not good at was creating a one-on-one fighting game.
Shaq Fu is a strange playing game. Like Flashback and Out of this World, Shaq Fu features a lot of emphasis on the animation; all of the moves look incredibly lifelike. The problem is that nobody was asking for a Flashback fighting game, this type of animation just doesn't work well in a Street Fighter II clone. The game feels extremely slow and the moves are tough to time. Shaq Fu is one terrible fighting game.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There is actually a reason why Shaq is fighting hordes of ugly creatures. At the beginning of the game a book explains just what the heck is going on, it says, "On a visit to downtown Tokyo Shaq enters a small shop. The shopkeeper tells of a lost child, Nezu. Shaq, touched by the old man's tale, offers help. The shopkeeper leads Shaq to a narrow exit ..."
A story like this can only mean one thing, Electronic Arts will hire anybody! It takes a special kind of stupid to think up a story where Shaquille O'Neal is touched by some old guy's story and decides to jump dimensions and go up against some of the worst fighting game characters I have ever seen.
This Game Gear version only features six combatants, but only Shaq is playable when going through the story mode. There are modes where you can play as the other characters, but you'll have a hard time justifying playing as everybody. It's hard to find a worthwhile character in the bunch; none of them stand out and with its broken fighting game engine it's hard to think of any reason to play the game at all.
To make matters worse, the Game Gear just wasn't meant to hold a game like Shaq Fu. Not that Shaq Fu was a powerhouse on the Super NES and Genesis, but the Game Gear's button layout just doesn't work for this type of game. There is a noticeable pause between when you push the button and when the action actually happens on the screen, this is the type of problem that will keep any real fighting game fan from having a good time.
Shaq Fu does have one thing going for it; it has a cool world map. Actually, the world map isn't all that cool ... but I like the idea of it featuring a story and you never having to play the same person twice. Compared to the game's terrible control, disappointing graphics, boring characters and absurd story, this world map isn't much of an upside.
Shaq Fu may not be the best looking Game Gear game, it may not be the best playing fighting game you've ever played, the soundtrack kind of sucks and it has to be one of the worst game ideas ever, but ... hmm, I lost my train of thought. Oh, that's right, it is one of the worst ideas ever, and the game sucks too. Just be thankful that Electronic Arts decided against ever revisiting this waste of a cartridge.