Loading up Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d never played the meme-worthy original, so I didn’t know where to set my expectation bar. After playing through the game on Nintendo Switch, however, I’ve concluded that bar should be set extraordinarily low. Not only is Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn made up of a series of cringe-worthy, borderline ethically questionable quips, but as a 2D, side-scrolling beat-‘em-up, it doesn’t even hold its own in the gameplay department. Though there are some slightly redeeming qualities, Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn has too many under-developed moving parts to make it a very memorable or worthwhile endeavor.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn stars basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal in a sort of alternate reality where Shaq is adopted by a Chinese woman and raised by an elderly Chinese mentor. There is some background narrative that mostly reduces down to just noise, but it only serves as a pretext to explain why Shaq is running around punching men in straw hats, bodybuilders, and radioactive celebrities. Even then, Shaq Fu is a beat-‘em-up game, so story really shouldn’t be the primary focus—action should be. Unfortunately, the action here is a muddled mess. Despite that the game, in both presentation and functionality, is a two-dimensional brawler, there is a certain degree of three-dimensional movement to the gameplay, but it’s not utilized well. Due to this three-dimensional space being poorly reflected, it’s often difficult to line Shaq up with his enemies, so I found myself striking air nearly half the time I was fighting.
When I was able to actually strike my enemies, I found Shaq Fu to not be all that terrible of a brawler. There are some interesting moves and powerups to be found across the game’s six levels, but beyond these one-and-done powerups, once you get to the second or third level, you’ve really seen all there is in terms of Shaq’s arsenal of moves. The only thing keeping me on my toes past level two was enemy variety, but even that began to wane before long. Still, some enemies can counter certain attacks, which forces a bit of variety into combat, and that feels welcome when it does happen.
Beyond that, however, gameplay feels drab and uninspired. A few punches and a sweeping kick will dispose of most enemies, and those that it doesn’t simply require more of the same. I never felt myself needing to strategize to defeat any particular enemy, including bosses—a few strikes, jump out of the way, and repeat is all that’s really ever needed to defeat any enemy type, and that makes Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn feel more like a chore than a meaningful gameplay experience.
One of Shaq Fu’s scarce redeeming qualities is its humor, but even that can be a double-edged sword. While some of the game’s jokes and celebrity caricatures are in good and timely taste, sometimes its humor ventures a bit too far into politically incorrect territory, ranging from cultural stereotypes to borderline racist remarks. While this flavor of humor might be given a pass coming from the likes of South Park, here it feels crude and in poor taste.
Shaq Fu’s other somewhat-redeeming quality is in its visuals. Its cell-shaded art style looks decent at 1080p when docked, and slightly better at 720p in handheld on the Switch’s more compact screen, and the game runs at 60 frames per second throughout. The game’s narrative cutscenes, however, while comically bland in content, are quite visually stunning, with a graphic novel animation style that truly pops against the otherwise bland presentation of the rest of the game.
Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn is a barely serviceable 2D beat-‘em-up that doesn’t offer much incentive to keep going beyond a single playthrough. What it does somewhat well in not taking itself too seriously and sporting decent visuals is marred by bland and mechanically inept gameplay along with a sense of humor that straddles the line between biting social commentary and pandering to the lowest common denominator. This seems to be the follow-up title nobody asked for, and it’s sad to see it fall flat on its face.
Disclaimer: A review code for Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn was provided by Saber Interactive and Big Deez Productions.