The Game: ShaqDown
The Device: iPhone 5
The Price: $0.99
The Basics: Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal hasn’t starred in a videogame since 1994′s Shaq Fu, which saw a 16-bit version of the man fighting battles through an otherworldly Japan. Considered terrible upon release and still regularly ending up on Worst of All Time lists, it was so hard to follow up that it took 23 years for Shaq to finally star in another game. Enter SHAQDOWN.
Bizarre title aside (is it supposed to be Sháqdown?), this sees the giant of a man in an autorunner against his greatest adversary yet: zombies. Set in the not-too-distant future where a zombie outbreak has killed off most of the population, Shaq survives as a lone soldier against the menace. The zombies are constantly mutating and getting more dangerous, more intelligent, but the 7’1” giant is more than able to deal with them. Donning an old basketball jersey for protection he sets out for the Middle East (?) and proceeds to shoulder check every single zombie in his path.
The story mode sees you running along nightmarish Wile E. Coyote-esque landscapes of floating paths and smashing your way through the zombies. Some of the zombies are mutating into stronger forms and must be taken down via uppercuts and slam dunks by swiping up and down, which also makes you jump up or down to the next level. Tap the screen on the right and Shaq will not only throw a flaming basketball ahead of him but also yell “Free Throw!” in his booming voice. (The developers actually changed this in an update so that he doesn’t yell every single time because people complained about how annoying it was, and also perhaps because of how terrible Shaq was at free throws.) Kill enough zombies and you’ll power up a super meter that lets Shaq blast out a fireball that would make Ryu envious. Keep building power and you’ll be able to unleash another power that lets you run really fast, his 300+ pound bulk smashing through everything in his way.
Sometimes you’ll run into a zombie in its final mutated form, giant tanks of mutated flesh that simply must be avoided at all costs. This means your goal changes from trying to combo zombie kills to simply finding a safe path through the level, jumping up and down and wondering why, when the app store has so many hundreds of thousands of selections, you aren’t playing any other game.
The Review: Considering Shaq’s history with games and, for that matter, pretty much every other media (Have you seen Kazaam? Have you listened to his rap album Respect?), Shaq Down is certainly an easy target. Give it the benefit of the doubt and it’ll look decent enough at first sight but the game can’t help itself – it’s simply not fun.
The controls are the main culprit, as many times your swipes don’t even register. If you mess up an attack against a stronger opponent you die and have to start over at the beginning of the level, so you can imagine how frustrating this gets. There are only three levels which play exactly the same, with just a few more zombies to deal with each time. For some reason Shaqdown is set entirely in the Middle East, as Shaq battles his way through Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Why is he there? What’s his purpose? Don’t expect the story mode to reveal anything. Bosses await you at the end of each but they’re easily defeated and afterwards ignored. Musical accompaniment is provided by a single chugging rock song led by a wailing solo guitar that sounds like it was ripped straight out of 1990s videogame.
Replayability is provided by a survival mode and by earning “Shaqra” throughout, a currency that lets you buy different basketball uniforms from unnamed teams that give Shaq better stats. That’s all you can buy, which certainly doesn’t give a solid case for picking up any of the in-app purchases. The developers did have the balls to force you to purchase the best uniform for a mere $4.99, though. Only five times the cost of the actual game!
Lousy controls, goofy animation, terrible music, and boring, clichéd enemies- this has the works. It’s like they managed to make a movie tie-in even without the studio interference and time constraints. If for some reason you absolutely must play as the big guy pick up NBA Jam: On Fire Edition instead of this. Boomshakalaka!
The Final Grade: D
(Do you have a great idea for a mobile game that’s not about Shaq fighting zombies? Rocksauce Studios would like to help!)