ABOVE: CONCEPT ART FOR SHAQ FU: A LEGEND REBORN.
Of the many video games released by NBA players in the early and mid-’90s—among them Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, even Scottie Pippen—none became quite so legendary as Shaq Fu, a game featuring a two-dimensional Shaquille O’Neal performing kung fu in another dimension in order to save a kid from an evil mummy. Universally panned upon its release in 1994, Shaq Fu has since become a cult classic precisely because of the dominant consensus: that it’s one of the worst games of all time. It’s spawned websites both seeking to “liberate all copies of the game from existence” and “dedicated to finding and collecting all copies of Shaq Fu and preventing them from being destroyed.”
Even Shaq himself can own up to it, with 20 years’ distance. “I’ll admit it, Shaq Fu was a horrible game. I’m a huge fan of videogames and want to have my name associated with a Shaq Fu game that I’m proud of and would like to play,” he said this week in a statement announcing his plans to create, with Big Deez Productions (Halo, Street Fighter), a brand-new sequel, titled Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn and funded in part by his fans via Indiegogo.
But we know a couple of guys who disagree with the premise that Shaq Fu is terrible: Wavves’ Nathan Williams and Garrett Stevenson of punk band Trash Talk, who are fans from way back. Williams still has a copy, “and we fuck with it all the time,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’m gonna go slightly in the opposite direction,” he laughs. “I think it’s great! It was totally torn apart when it came out, but this guy at IGN wrote this article about how it was misrepresented and is actually a really good fighting game, it’s just super-hard. There’s just a crazy learning curve, and people didn’t give it a chance.”
“And the skits, aside, were pretty wack, in between stuff,” Stevenson chimes in. “But when you’re in the fighting, it was pretty tight.”
When Stevenson and Williams heard about the sequel, they had a few questions—so we put them on the phone with O’Neal himself. While we were waiting for Shaq to dial in, Williams got into the right mindset. —Alexandria Symonds
NATHAN WILLIAMS: I bet I could name off every character on Shaq Fu, if I tried. There’s Beast, there was some guy named, like, Memphis or Mephis. There was this fine-ass black girl named Voodoo. There was Shaq, obviously, Shaq Fu. How many is that?
GARRETT STEVENSON: What’s up with the mummy fu? There was a mummy.
WILLIAMS: Yeah! And he had, like, medieval football gear on.
STEVENSON: Yeah, the helmet.
WILLIAMS: And then there was the catwoman lady. And I don’t remember what her name was, either. Kaori! That’s her name.
[Shaquille O’Neal dials in]
WILLIAMS: Hey Shaq, this is Nathan.
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: Hello.
WILLIAMS: You’re funding Shaq Fu through Indiegogo, right?
WILLIAMS: How did that all come about?
O’NEAL: You know, I’m a technology guy, so I’m always on the Internet and looking for new things, so I thought this would be the way to go. The Shaq Fu game’s going to be a modern day twist on the classic, beat-’em-up-style game, with future technology. The problem with the old Shaq Fu is we were at the end of analog technology, and a year later they came out with the new games, which wiped us out. Not that it was a bad game, it was a great game. You know, we sold a lot of copies, but it was just like one of those old classic, Sega-style games.
WILLIAMS: It’s think it’s actually one of my favorite games. Before you got on the line, I figured out I remembered every character’s name from the original Shaq Fu. So I was thinking maybe you could put Kenny Smith, and Barkley, and Ernie Johnson in there this time.
O’NEAL: Yeah, that would be nice. The problem with the old game is when I came in, everyone wanted to just loophole me into just one thing: Shaq’s a basketball player, he’s this, he’s that… So my fan base, they love it, and other people love it, but then, other people dislike it. So I thought the technology was cool, but as I said before, we were on the end of the technology before the new-new technology. In this new game, we’re a couple years ahead. And like I said, it’s the classic beat-’em-up-style game. Kids will like it and enjoy it.
WILLIAMS: So are you going to do a different storyline for this one here?
O’NEAL: I’m gonna be taking on black-star ninjas, ninja assassins, you know, combo characters with skills. This game just makes you feel like a badass warrior. The location’s gonna be more detailed: Asian slums, rooftops, skyscrapers, nightclubs. We’re going to have disrupt-able and interactive environments—pick up a car… We’re gonna mix ’em up.
STEVENSON: That sounds really cool.
WILLIAMS: So, like you said earlier, Shaq Fu came out in ’94, kind of on the clip of when PlayStation was coming out in ’95. How are you gonna release this one? Is it going to be just on PC, or is it going to be something that you can play on your iPhone or something like that?
O’NEAL: We’re going to come out in a big way. When I was meeting with the company, they said, “So you want to do a game?” And I was like, “I really want to redo Shaq Fu,” and they kind of liked the idea. But I was like, “This time, we gotta make it to where it’s ahead of the technology curve.”
WILLIAMS: So is it not going to be a 2-D fighter game? Is it going to be more 3-D?
O’NEAL: I think so, yeah.
O’NEAL: I’m telling you, the graphics are sick, the moves are sick. And the crazy thing is, this is all stuff I do in real life. What a lot of the people also didn’t understand about Shaq Fu is, I’ve been practicing martial arts and jujitsu since ’92. A lot of people don’t know that about me. This is stuff that I really do. I’m not saying I beat up ninjas, but I could kick their ass if I wanted to.
STEVENSON: So you’re getting some real Shaq moves in there though? That’s cool.
WILLIAMS: Are people going to have, like, special moves as well? Do you know? Are there going to be finishing moves, like in Mortal Kombat?
O’NEAL: Finishing moves, all that good stuff.
WILLIAMS: Hell, yeah, that sounds fucking awesome.
O’NEAL: Listen, a lot of people say “Oh, Shaq Fu is a failure.” I’m gonna take that as motivation. I mean, like I told you, we were caught up on the end of the analog curve and then all the other good games came in. So, you know we just had to go back to the drawing board and step our game up. But my philosophy has always been, “If it’s remembered, then you’ve done something right. In this world we live in, a lot of people love it, a lot of people hate it, but when this one comes out, if something goes wrong, then we’ll always go back to the drawing board.
WILLIAMS: Well I just want to say that I’m definitely one of the ones who loves it, and I think—
O’NEAL: Well, thank you, buddy!
WILLIAMS: For a hardcore, classic gamer, for people who collect games like me—before I started playing music and this took off I worked in video game stores and I tested video games, and I think across the board, Shaq Fu is kind of like a cult classic.
O’NEAL: Thank you. You’re gonna make me cry.
WILLIAMS: [laughs] Don’t cry on me, Shaq!
ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: What does your timeline look like, Shaq? Do you have any idea how long we’re going to have to wait?
O’NEAL: I wish I could answer that, but I don’t want to throw out a date when everybody’s not ready. The thing about me, is when I’m working with these experts, I don’t micromanage. With the new technology, I don’t tell them “do this” or “do that.” I give them my idea, they come with the boom and the bam and the bang, and if it’s all good, then we’ll vote, and we put it out for a while and let other people test it, and we see their comments and their feedback and then just go from there. So I don’t want to give you a wrong date.
WILLIAMS: When it comes out, can you let me test it before?
O’NEAL: Yes, I will.
STEVENSON: You gotta consider us for some special characters or something.
SYMONDS: Or for your soundtrack, Shaq.
O’NEAL: Oh, my soundtrack, nice. Anything can be arranged, my man.