The primary plus for this game is that it's unintentionally amusing, in a sad and pathetic kind of way.
The characters animate surprisingly well. Very fluid and detailed. Generally, the graphics actually aren't too bad.
You can buy the game for next to nothing these days. I think I paid fifteen cents for mine, plus shipping.
I had always thought that Shaq-Fu was a beat-em with a multiplayer fighting game mode. Sadly, it's JUST a fighting game, and nothing more. Granted, that's not usually such a big deal, but most fighting games have more depth than this.
Another bare-bones fighting game I've reviewed (also for the SNES) is Battle Blaze, and while Shaq-Fu is surprisingly better than that, it's still bare-bones at best, and shockingly similar. Like the ultra-pitiful Battle Blaze, the main "story mode" can only be played with one character--in this case, of course, it's Shaq. There are only six opponent characters. While they're not as lame as in Battle Blaze, they are still pretty lame. You have an Arabian guy, a cat-girl, a Voo-Doo girl, a monster (named Beast), a sorcerer guy, and the final boss, who is a mummy wearing shin and shoulder armor. The Arabian is a strange addition to a game focused on "Kung-Fu" but then again, so is Shaq.
The story mode takes place with an overworld map for some reason. The only interesting thing about it is that the player can pick which of the first three characters to fight first. After that, the final three must all be fought in a specific order, thus largely negating the only use of the overworld map.
As to be expected, the story is just insipid. Shaq wanders into a strange shop in Tokyo and despite needing to get to a charity basketball game, decides to wander through a mysterious portal to save some captive boy named Nezu. It's entirely possible that some of this story was fleshed out in more detail in the instruction manual, but going strictly by the game, it's pretty shallow. We're never really informed of why the boy was taken, what the goals of the "bad guys" are, or anything like that.
Screens prior to, and after, fights feature Shaq and his opponent talking. They're completely static with no animation, and the written dialog is childish, if not outright laughable.
While characters have an arsenal of special moves and there are two punch and kick buttons, none of it truly ever matters. I played through the game largely mashing one kick button, and performing jump kicks. Special moves don't appear to be entirely useful since they all have exaggerated animations. If this was intentional to force some kind of strategy into the game, or just misguided design, it's none-the-less frustrating. By the time most moves have been activated, the character performing the move has been hit before the animation completes. Blocking is performed holding away on the D-Pad, and there is an alternate shield that requires pressing the L button while ducking, but all this stops is projectiles. Really, it's a great way to set yourself up for a kick to the face. The R-button is a generally useless taunt.
On top of this, Shaq's moves are--perhaps this is to be expected--illogical. For some reason he has a "fire kick" and can throw some kind of knives or blades. Why not, say, some kind of slam-dunk move that pounds the opponent on the head as Shaq leaps over? A dribble throw? Seriously now. Knives and fire kicks? Yeesh.
Music is forgettable and apparently intended to have some kind of Hip-Hop quality to it. Sound effects are bland.
Despite the snazzy animation, character designs aren't exactly inspired. On top of which, there seems to be some inconsistency to the designs. For instance, Shaq appears to have been designed to look fairly realistic. Meanwhile, other characters, for instance the cat-girl (Kaori, I believe) look downright cartoony. Side-by-side in a fight, there is a stark contrast to the sprite design between Shaq and Kaori creating an uneven quality to the graphics.
The Bottom Line
The game is bland, the "hip-hop attitude" intended to be in the game is laughable, and the story is just plain stupid. Story mode really has no depth, and the first time I played the game, I finished it. It took about twelve minutes.
Small wonder how this has come to be considered one of the worst video games ever made. Gameplay-wise, it's functional, and for a while, it actually doesn't look bad. But it has no depth, and let's face it, this is the kind of retarded idea that comes from marketing heads rather than from any amount of artistic input. It's the worst kind of licensed shlock, and represents a true low-point for video games. In that sense, it's a video game cliche.
We've dealt with some truly ridiculous storylines in video games, especially those of us who grew up in the 80's with the NES. In Wrath of the Black Manta, you have a ninja rescuing kidnapped children from drug dealers. That's pretty absurd. Mario, for that matter, is a fat Italian plumber that fights evil turtles and becomes super-powered with mushrooms. Hedgehogs can run at "sonic" speeds and rescue woodland critters from a fat weirdo. Splatterhouse features a man with chainsaw blades (functional at that) just jammed into his wrists. We can take a lot of silliness, but Shaq-Fu manages to push the line a little too far.
And not only does it push that line of hackneyed gaming, and taste, it does it all while appealing to no one with it's gross licensed pandering. The bottom line is that the game has next to no content, and is essentially insulting to pretty much any serious gamer.
Laughable, yes, but it shows just how lowly gamers are viewed by some jerks in suits with a marketing degree. I purchased to experience it, just as I purchased E.T. for the Atari2600. I wanted to experience one of gaming's true guffas. I announced my ownership of this to others with the sentence: "I have officially sullied my Super Nintendo."