Tuesday 26 May 2009

Shaq Fu

Either I've been extremely lucky or there's been some seriously bad information being spread about about this game.

Shaq Fu, a one-on-one fighting game featuring Shaquille O'Neal is another underdog of a game that's worth mentioning. I hadn't played this until extremely recently. I'd heard it was a terrible joke of a game. It... kinda isn't.

Shaq Fu was released in 1994 for the SNES, MegaDrive, Game Gear, Game Boy and eventually Commodore's Amiga. It was developed by the legendary but now defunct Delphine Software. Why are they legendary? Flashback. One of the many defining games of my childhood. Think Prince of Persia (the 2D game), sans time limit, plus guns. It's just a really good game and hasn't really been bettered since.

Shaq Fu didn't get high marks when it was first released. It was panned by critics for various reasons, most likely the fact that it's a one-on-one fighting game featuring Shaquille O'Neal. The story has Shaq fighting all sorts of weird mystical beings in the "2nd World" to save some... child... from some... mummy thing. It makes absolutely no sense and features no basketballs. Yet, unlike many people who see this as a turn-off straight away, I think this is one of the best ideas ever conceived by a video game developer. Why would anyone be possessed to make such a title? It's like they took a random game genre and a random celebrity and mixed the two together with a bit of magic.

Because I'm a Sega fan I'm basing my opinions on the MegaDrive version, which has more characters. The SNES game has the benefit of better sound (sort-of) and probably better graphics, but it's just that tiny bit slower. Handheld versions are likely to be worse and the Amiga version could be all over the place.

I must admit, the controls are a bit wacky. If you're expecting Street Fighter II you'll be disappointed. If anything, it's more like a "more busy" Mortal Kombat. Luckily it makes use of the MegaDrive's six button joypad, though I'm not entirely certain why since it still feels as if you've got "one kick, one punch, one... A button". You jump around and kick people who have the unfair advantage of having projectiles. Oh and there's a taunt button which is useless. One of the highlights is beating up a child (a possessed child, but a child nonetheless) - don't even know if it's politically correct to have that in games nowadays.

I actually thought the game was quite fun. It's not going to win any medals or anything but this isn't half as bad as people said. Then again, most people have been spared from things such as pirated Mortal Kombat games on the NES. There's some garbage circulating about poor hit detection which I'm not seeing. The only major problem with gameplay I had was the fact that the computer cheats... a lot. Well that cat-woman character does anyway. Also Shaq has a habit of getting stunned after a bit of beating which never seems to happen to anyone else. But it wouldn't surprise me if it's just me sucking - I'm not a massive fan of the fighting genre.

Other good things about this game are the graphics. There's some very smooth animations much like those in Flashback and the levels are just generally nice to look at. Some of them even have palette changes as the day progresses. There's also other nice things such as the HUD - your character's face gets beaten up more as your health decreases. It's a nice touch. Don't think it was the graphics that caused the bad reviews.

Sound is okay. The Super Nintendo has the added "benefit" of more digitized samples though it's not brilliant, and for some reason it almost feels as if there's a lack of sound on the MegaDrive version (but maybe it's for the better?). It's really just a matter of preference when it comes to choosing the better console, and the game probably sounds better on real hardware too so I'll leave that up to you to decide. One thing that does bug me about the MegaDrive's sound is that one high pitched note that's used on every track. If you play it you'll understand exactly what I mean.

At the end of the day Shaq Fu is not a bad game. It's not the best thing since sliced bread but it doesn't deserve the title of "worst MegaDrive game" and doesn't need to be hunted down and destroyed like some sites will have you believe. But of course it might be an entirely different story with the SNES version. I would gladly accept this into my MegaDrive collection.

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