‘Shaq-Fu’ Was Such a Failure That It Got a Sequel

Shaquille O’Neal has never gone about his career in the ways a typical athlete would. While he has the endorsements, star-power, and reach of some of the biggest superstars in NBA history, his method was unique.

O’Neal has ventured out of the typical athlete’s realm by making rap albums, film appearances, and endorsing products beyond the court. However, his strangest project has to be his video game series, Shaq-Fu.

Shaquille O'Neal speaking at his retirement ceremony
Shaquille O’Neal has his number retired during a game between the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Shaquille O’Neal as a cultural institution

O’Neal’s career spoke for itself. The 7’2″ center out of Louisiana made his name in college thanks to his combination of size and skill. From Orlando to LA and Miami, O’Neal was a centerpiece to many elite teams throughout his two-decade career. While his downfall left him as a shell of his former self, he was always one of the biggest names in the sport of basketball. 

Coming in the early ’90s, O’Neal was one of the first superstars to make it into the NBA sphere after Jordan rewrote the rules of what it meant to be a superstar athlete. Athletes were no longer known solely for what they did on the court. They were brands unto themselves. O’Neal took this to heart almost immediately and began to venture outside of the hardwood. 

Movies, rap albums, candy bars, and television appearances became just as much of a staple of O’Neal’s career as slam dunks and missed free throws. He was self-deprecating but savvy.

O’Neal knew like few others that his face alone represented something that could make money, and sometimes he used this in ways that other athletes couldn’t dream of. Shaq Fu was one of these. 

Shaquille O’Neal gets a video game

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O’Neal was not the first athlete to get a video game by a long shot. However, when athletes attached their names to a video game project, it typically meant that the game involved the sport that made them famous. 

Shaq-Fu was not one of these games. O’Neal existed as a celebrity and an athlete in a way that even Michael Jordan couldn’t relate to. He branched out in bizarre directions, and this video game had him throwing kicks and punches, not dunks and passes.

In a world where video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were gaining steam, O’Neal’s take on the fighting genre was unique, bizarre, and critically reviled. From clunky controls to a nonsensical story, Shaq-Fu was such a failure that it almost became a success. Years after its release, it was touted as one of the worst games in history. 

At the time, nearly everything got a video game, and as the video game world expanded, games like this gained a particular reputation. Shaq-Fu wasn’t just bad; it was iconically bad.

It lived in infamy for twenty years as a cult classic thanks to all of the bizarre aspects of the game. Not one to back down, however, O’Neal doubled down and released a new version of the game in 2018. 

‘Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn’

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20 years after Shaq-Fu was released, O’Neal started a Kickstarter campaign to produce a sequel, according to GQ. Admitting that the predecessor had its reputation, the sequel looked to take the bizarre concept and make it into a modern beat-em-up game. It came with a sleek trailer featuring a hyper-stylized O’Neal taking on hordes of Ninjas.

O’Neal stood by the idea of the original game in a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone. He stated that while the scheme was grand, the technology never allowed it to take form. After seeing modern video games, he had the idea to update the original concept in a way that embraced its infamy but let people know that it was not its predecessor’s failure. 

“When I first did the game, we were sort of at the end of analog technology,” O’Neal told the Magazine.

“Things have come so far since then. You know how you play video games now, and they really consume you? One day, my son was in the room and he was playing one of those war games. I sat next to him and watched, and I was like, ‘Damn.’ The technology and the graphics are so advanced, they actually make it feel like you’re in a war.”

The game released in 2018. While it was not a critical or commercial success, it wasn’t the failure that its predecessor was. Even the lukewarm reviews applauded the game for taking chances and remaining entertaining, but it docked it for repetitive gameplay and a clunky system. Regardless, the fact that it was made was a perfect bow on top of the strange saga that is Shaq-Fu.