The Shaq Attack is back, jack! In the definitive example of our economy making a full recovery, last week the Indiegogo for funding a sequel to the 1994 hip-hop fighting game Shaq-Fu not only reached its goal, but surpassed it to a dizzying degree, netting a staggering $473,884. While never considered a classic, or even playable game (its original publisher Electronic Arts has gone as far to refer to it as an "abomination") the gaming public has proven to possess enough nostalgia and/or spare cash to make a follow-up a reality.
When you think of Shaq, the first thing that comes to mind is basketball. The second thing is probably Kazaam. Right around 5th or 6th is probably his rap career and maybe hand-to-hand combat. This is where Shaq-Fu steps in, the 16-bit mid-'90s platformer that saw Shaq's take on the fighting game craze by utilizing his martial arts against mythical beings. It also came with a bonus CD of Shaq's music, so players could fully immerse themselves in Shaqdom.
But while the crowdsourced campaign's success shows that, somehow, there's still a market to see Shaq engage in fisticuffs with ghouls and sorcerers, does this mean there could be a renewed interest in hip-hop gaming?
When most people think successful original hip-hop franchises, the first names that come to mind are ToeJam and Earl. A Genesis exclusive (Sega did what Nintendidn't, or something) that saw the two titular alien rappers who crash landed on Earth attempt to find the missing pieces from their spaceship. It spawned three games in total, included the incredibly titled second installment Panic on Funkotron.
The other notable hip-hop game with a reputation of being actually good is Playstation's Parappa the Rapper. A lovable rhyme-spitting canine whose surreal and inspiring interactions rapping with various anthropomorphic characters in a variety of social situation was not only a smash hit for the system, but coincidentally succeeded at a time when the media was still obsessing over gangsta rap's darker elements a midst the heavily hyped east coast-west coast feud. The closest Parappa comes to tales of drive-bys is the final level where you have to rap battle everyone in-line in front of you at a Port-o-Potty in order to use it sooner.
As for actually licensed hip-hop franchises, the Def Jam fighting series was surprisingly consistent. When video game publisher Electronic Arts decided to re-enter the wrestling game fold and use the license of the Def Jam roster to their critically acclaimed AKI wrestling-game engine (translation for non-gamers: they took a successful wrestling game and replaced the names and likenesses of the wrestlers with real rappers) it resulted in absolute magic. While the original Def Jam Vendetta was a straight forward wrestling game, its sequel Def Jam: Fight For New York became more of an underground fight club MMA endeavor that followed your customizable character throughout New York's toughest clubs. Both well received, the 2007 follow-up Def Jam: Icon which retained the rappers and soundtrack but replaced the grappling aspect with a straight-forward fighting game was one of the biggest bombs of the Playstation 3's first year, effectively killing the series.
Otherwise, outside of the Beastie Boys as unlockable characters in NBA Jam, the St. Lunatics in NBA Street Volume 2 and rapper O as a hidden boxer in Knockout Kings 2000 (which he also did the soundtrack for, effectively getting a four-minute commercial for the game in rotation on BET), licensing rappers for video game projects hasn't had the best trackrecord in terms of quality game play.
When the Sega-CD launched in 1991 and gamers were treated to the first ever full-motion-video on a home system, a substantial amount of their first titles were music based. Among them, games based on Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and Kris Kross. In Kris Kross' game, you have to assist a DJ/VJ by re-editing Kris Kross videos to the leanings of particular callers. Similarly, but infinitely more interestingly/absurdly, Marky Mark's requires you to edit his videos to better meet the desires of certain demographics. These target audiences include boxers, parents, and even burn-out garage rock bands that actually include a young Seth Green. What do you get when you beat the game? A clip of Marky Mark, surrounded by the game's vivacious ladies, pointing at you and saying "That video was phat."
There was another "Make My Video" title years later for the Sega-CD starring C+C Music Factory that not only featured a pre-"Mad TV"/"Family Guy" Phil Lamarr, but also cranked the difficult up to an absurd level. In Power Factory, you had to re-edit C+C videos in order to gain access into the city's hottest nightclubs. Weird? Of course, but it still made more sense than Super Nintendo's Rap Jam: Volume One which came out around the same time. In RJ:VO, as I'm sure its fans would refer to it as, you play street-rules basketball featuring exclusively the day's hottest stars including Coolio, Warren G, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Queen Latifah. There was also Wu-Tang Shaolin Style for the Playstation that followed the Shaq-Fu template of rapper fighting game complete with music CD. Depending how much of a Wu-stan you are, your memories of this title may have a varying degree of fondness.
The worst of all these rap games is universally considered to be 50 Cent: Bulletproof. This stigma comes from it being literally unplayable. And I'm not misusing literally. Take a look at the above clip and watch how impossible it is to shoot or run. Less said about this one, the better.
The 2000s also saw an influx of games where fans could rap along with the day's hottest hits and certified rap classics. The first of these, 2004's Get On Da Mic, was an admirably try, but a total miss. From Jadakiss appearing on the cover despite being nowhere in the game, to depressingly underwhelming knock-offs of the original beats, to two player battle mode where your opponent is trusted with the ability to judge your insults (seriously) it missed the mark. Much better was 2009's Def Jam Rapstar. While it sadly got overlooked for emerging near the end of the play-along music game trend of titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, what makes Rapstar worth owning for any hip-hop head is how the PS3/XBox title actually contains 30 years of original hip-hop hits with their ORIGINAL VIDEOS in full blu-ray quality. You can still snag copies from Best Buy for $5.00 or so, and for the videos alone it's worth a purchase.
So, let's say Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn takes off and, as the trailer promises, they don't "Fu" it up. Where do we go from here? A platformer with Drake looking for princesses in castles? A Streets of Rage-style beat'em up with Odd Future? A point and click RPG with Future? Rap video games tend to be feast or famine with no middle ground. They're either awesome or awesomely bad. Either way, we'll welcome them with open turntables.