Several years ago, I had a strange experience at a gaming convention. It was the kind of convention that lives in a hotel instead of a convention center, meaning even more alcohol circulating than usual. So I was in the bathroom, the high-traffic one in-between key spots. I walk by the urinals, and see a big sign planted in one of them. Urinals are gross, but when you see a big sign planted in one, you read it. The sign read, in all-caps, “PISS ON SHAQ-FU, FREE.”
Yes, a Super Nintendo cartridge of the infamous Shaq-Fu lay across the water, in place of an odor device. It was the deal of the century, and there was plenty of evidence of repeat business. Who would dare pull the flush lever and risk damaging such a display, instead of contributing?
I recount this somewhat smelly tale because Shaq-Fu has appeared in the 2018 gaming news. After a skin of the teeth Indiegogo campaign and several little nuggets of assurance, a sequel will finally release soon. Over 20 years later, Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn will be upon us. It’s even, somehow, getting a physical release across several platforms. This still feels shocking to me, even though I saw a damn Bubsy game on the PS4 shelf at a Gamestop last year. Among all the giant, tentpole games, massive franchise failures, studio closings, and hardware debuts, this gaming generation still manages to surprise us. It’s incredible.
At this stage of everything, it’s entirely possible someone reading this is real confused about what Shaq-Fu could even be. After all, other than the tragically short-lived Soda Shaq, the man hasn’t had a ton of aggressively self-branded product out there. In the 90s, Shaquille O’Neal was a big deal. That part isn’t a mystery. But if you weren’t around, you may not be familiar with his entertainment ventures. One time he played a genie in a Space Jam competitor, for example. But the nadir of Shaq’s brand-ventures was Shaq-Fu, a video game that also came with a single CD with one of Shaq’s rap songs. It was a fighting game, by the way.
Basically, Shaq get sucked into another dimension while visiting Japan, and has to fight his way out. He faces several inhuman creatures along the way, such as… Sett Ra, the mummy. Shaq-Fu was poised to take on the likes of Mortal Kombat, so it was launched on a handful of different platforms, and even had hidden fatality-style moves. Of course, they all had to be as family-friendly as possible, making the whole deal just awkward. It was what it was, and as time went on and ironic hyperbole took over games criticism over the following decades, Shaq-Fu became known as one of the worst games of all time.
But irony doesn’t let things die, and Shaq-Fu has lived on despite itself. Tournaments have been held all across the world, at gaming conventions and local game shops. T-Shirts and prizes have circulated, and because more copies were made than could ever be necessary, it never goes away. Screwattack even had a yearly tradition of finding creative ways to destroy copies at conventions, which I totally don’t condone, but the game has still managed to stay cheap despite ballooning retro game costs.
And now we have a sequel, and it’s set to come out in spring 2018. And again, good lord, it’s going to be on store shelves. Also like, it’s a beat ‘em up so it has a legitimate chance of being charming and playable. And I know I’m going to play it, if only to see things through. Perhaps I owe as much to Shaq, after that fateful convention evening. Or night. Day? Who knows, I was probably drunk. Soda Shaq was pretty good, though.