Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oddities: Shaq-Fu

At the height of his popularity, Shaquille O'Neal was always willing to embarrass himself in pop media to entertain his young fans -- he appeared as a genie in Kazaam and as a superhero in Steel back in the day.  Even now, he continues to crop up in stuff like The JammX Kids All Star Dance Special.

But he's been steering clear of videogames of late.  Why?  We find a clue back in 1994, when Mr. O'Neal battled nasties with his theretofore unseen and never-seen-since karate moves!

The title screen is a little weird right off the bat -- the main character is recognizably an African-American basketball player, but neither his face nor his build call Shaq specifically to mind.  And his look shifts and changes from scene to scene, as though no reference photographs were available to the art team.  But according to the title, this is indeed Shaq-Fu -- a digital pop culture artifact from the 16-bit era, published by Electronic Arts and produced by the otherwise reputable French developer Delphine Software International.

One imagines EA phoning up Shaq's agent to propose this deal, offering too little money, being summarily and obscenely dismissed, and mishearing the response as the suggested game name and concept.  But seeing as the final product doesn't feature any Shaq-Off minigames or Shaq-ing Idiots (onscreen at least), we can only blame human error on a much grander scale.

The game opens with plenty of product placement for Pepsi, as Shaquille wanders the streets in his basketball uniform and is drawn into a web of kung-fu intrigue so intense it causes him to change tense mid-sentence:

Of course, the old man is Japanese, therefore he has mystical powers of prophecy and teleportation; at least that makes for a more interesting premise than watching Shaq take him on in a pick-up game of b-ball.  It isn't long before Shaq is packed off on a mystical quest to rescue a little boy named Nezu, with nothing but the uniform on his back:


Now, I remember when this game came out, and somehow, despite all the ads and hype, I never realized Shaq-Fu was actually a fighting game.  I always assumed it was a side-scrolling platformer with combat elements, based on screenshots featuring relatively tiny animated figures.  But as it turns out, the route to rescuing Nezu is to beat up anyone who refuses to provide Shaq with information, no matter how bizarre their costuming or out-of-character their dialogue:

Oooooooh!  It's ON, man!

Having pounded Clearly-Not-Mumm-Ra (a.k.a. Mephis) into a yellow puddle of goo, which isn't very hard to do, Shaq does a little victory dance in his foe's bodily fluids and moves on.  Next he encounters Kaori, a cat-woman who greets him with something that might be a threat, a come-on, or both:

She proves a little tougher than Mephis:

Lest we think the designers have been watching a little too much Thundercats, they slyly hint that they have also been playing Prince of Persia, as Shaq accosts Rajah with his mighty wagging basketball finger of doom, and Rajah responds with a threat, a bizarre come-on, or both:

I have to give Shaquille O'Neal credit for one thing -- he did not insist that his likeness be kept handsome and scratch-free.  He's willing to take his lumps for the sake of the game, even if he does pout a little:

Kaori offers sage advice.  Go home, Shaq.  Go home.

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