There is no greater example of pointless video game licensing from the 1990s than the decision to shoehorn NBA star Shaquille O'Neil into a Mortal Kombat-style title in which the title character wields the awesome martial arts style known simply as Shaqido and the mighty Shaq-urikin shuriken. For the benefit of the younger audience out there, I am not making this up. 1994's Shaq Fu for the Sega Genesis, Super NES, Game Gear, Game Boy, and Amiga from developer Delphine Software and publisher Electronic Arts is one of those elements of gaming that has been dragged through the Internet mud for years, but is all of that scorn really worth it? Hardcore Gaming 101 investigates and finds that it is.
The history behind Shaq Fu is a storied one. It all started when Shaquille O’Neil, one of the most famous and iconic figures in 1990s American Basketball, tried to market his image. Shaq Fu started as a rap album, featuring Shaq rapping. At some point someone had the idea to put Shaq in a video game, which seemed like a great idea at the time. In 1994, the video game industry had been seeing a huge amount of growth. Games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap were putting video games in the public eye. One outcome of this was that 2D fighting games were selling. It was obvious that were Shaq to be in a video game, it had to be a 2D fighter.
There was one huge problem with this though: the mistaken assumption that simply copying Mortal Kombat would instantly make a classic. Mortal Kombat was not very good, relying more on attitude and, for the time, shocking content to sell. It was not until the sequels that the series actually got good. The designers at Delphine Software, who had never made a fighting game before, looked at Mortal Kombat’s floaty controls, odd physics, eccentric hit boxes, and strange timing, thinking that it was commonplace. As a result, Shaq Fu had horrendous controls.
The crazy thing about Shaq Fu is that it could have turned out to be an interesting project had the developers better understood the source material. If the team had more experience with fighting games and had chosen to emulate the style of Capcom's dependable Street Fighter II over Midway's flashier Mortal Kombat, the finished product could have been much better. There's a better game inside the Shaq Fu concept trying to break free (some of the characters are mildly intriguing in a '90s way and the game's Fury Meter mechanic that increases attack damage dealt by the player prior to a cool down period has potential as a unique gimmick), but in an era where licensed titles were intended to be quick cash-in titles, it just wasn't meant to be.