Review - Shaqdown
Let’s be honest here - the only reason you’re reading this review, and the only reason I’m even writing it, is because Shaq’s last video game outing resulted in one of the most hated fighting games of all time (especially amongst the g1s), Shaq Fu. However, I approached Shaqdown with an open mind. After all, it has been over eighteen years since Shaq Fu. Shaqdown isn’t in the same genre or on the same platform, and it wasn’t made by the same developer. It deserves a fair chance, just like any other game. So can Shaq star in a game that isn’t utterly abysmal? As a matter of fact, he can, but we’re still a long way off from a good one.
If you thought Shaq’s rapping career was ridiculous, wait until you hear Shaqdown’s plot. Not only have zombies somehow evolved into evil sentient beings, but we seem totally unable to stop them because humanity is now their slaves. The zombies' only threat now is, you guessed it, Shaq. As a village falls under attack, our hero comes in to save the day, rescue a girl who was kidnapped, and eventually try to stop the zombie threat once and for all. It’s just as amazingly over-the-top and hilarious as I could have ever hoped, and certainly worth a few chuckles.
Shaqdown is clearly going for a comic book-esque tone, as is clear in the plot and even more clear in the hand-drawn appearance of the art style. Shaq is very muscular -- nearly an equivalent to the Hulk -- and the zombies are actually somewhat unique, looking more like alien monsters than your traditional undead. All of the sprites look great, but the animations are somewhat choppy and lack variety. Backgrounds and environments are very nicely drawn and layered, but there are too few of them. The graphics are easily the best part of Shaqdown, which is a kind of backhanded compliment when talking about a game.
While Shaqdown does have the voice of Shaq to add some authenticity, the rest of the audio department is fairly poor. The one track that loops continuously is a painfully average and forgettable rock instrumental song, the only notable part being a chord lifted straight from the James Bond theme. The three or so sound effects that play when you hit a zombie are gargled and just unpleasant, even for the sound of a dying monster. Earphones are certainly not required to properly enjoy the game. In fact, the opposite is true to some degree.
Shaqdown is only slightly more advanced then your average auto-runner. As Shaq sprints to the right, you swipe up or down on the left side of the screen to move between three platforms. You can also tap the right side to throw a basketball (obviously), and tap a single button near the bottom to activate a super move. There are only three types of zombies: weak zombies, which you can defeat by just running through them (a game mechanic utterly devoid of satisfaction), medium zombies, which you have to hit with a basketball, and strong zombies, which cannot be defeated outside of a super attack so they’re there primarily to be dodged. The three boss battles are frustrating. They are fairly easy to figure out, since each of them follows a single pattern, but you also have to worry about the randomly-generated zombies. In many instances, it became literally impossible to avoid dying due to the unchanged zombie patterns. Only the second boss battle is incredibly annoying, the rest of the game is simply unimpressive to say the least.
If I had to sum up Shaqdown’s gameplay with one word, it would be “confused”. It doesn’t know if it wants to be an auto-runner or a side-scrolling action title. You do run automatically to the side, but key aspects of the auto-running genre are missing. It’s too slow and has way too much action to be mindless, so it simply isn’t addicting at all. It doesn’t feel like a side-scroller either. For one, you automatically move, but more importantly it’s too simple and the randomization of enemies, as opposed to having deliberate placing, feels lazy in that genre’s context. It certainly isn’t the best of both worlds scenario that it could have been, but rather a muddled, unimpressive hybrid.
Shaqdown’s story mode only consists of three stages, which, combined with the difficult boss fights, may last you two hours tops. It does have an endless mode, but this simply loops the story mode, boss fights and all. The game’s store only offers two things: new outfits for Shaq, and Specials. The outfits grant Shaq powerful upgrades at a steep price or in-game currency (Shaqra). The Specials, which grant other types of upgrades, like earning double Shaqra, can only be bought with real money via in-app purchase. There is a slew of achievements integrated through GameCenter, so if beating your friends at a mobile game based on basketball players and zombies is your thing, go ahead. I am a bit concerned about the High Score system, however, seeing as the #3 spot is currently held by someone with 67,240 points, with the #2 spot having 9,223,372,036,854,775,807. Something’s not right.
Shaqdown is an interesting game, in some ways good but most ways bad. While the set up is delightfully absurd and the graphics are great, the gameplay is a mess, failing to capture the better elements of either genre it appears to be striving for. It ends up being more or less a blur of meh, containing little that is offensively bad, but also nothing of value. At its best, it’s a passable way to kill the time, but that’s it. It is only 99 cents, but there are far more deserving games on the App Store that you could support instead. I just don’t see it satisfying anyone, especially someone hoping to ironically appreciate another terrible Shaq game. Sorry, guys.
4s are hurting in quality. There are instances of fun that are overshadowed by major problems, technical or otherwise. It could be fun, but the issues may not make it worthwhile.
|Sean Capdeville is the official mobile game reviewer of ScrewAttack.com. An aspiring filmmaker, his favorite games include Skyrim, Link's Awakening DX, and NOVA 3. In his spare time, he likes to reference Casablanca.|