Sawbuck Gamer is our daily review of a free or cheap ($10 or less) game.
Across the great gamut of ’90s cultural phenomena, few are as difficult to explain as “that time people enjoyed it when basketball players did non-basketball things.” It doesn’t help that they were universally terrible, these things basketball players did. But two decades later, the lovely warmth of nostalgia has kicked in, allowing us to remember efforts like the 1996 Michael Jordan/Looney Tunes film Space Jam as kitschy fun and forget what it really was: a window into a gaping chasm of madness.
ShaqDown is a game very much in this tradition, but free from the benefits of being recalled with fondness. It is bad, and it is bad now. The set dressing is appropriately insane—in a post-apocalyptic future, only former NBA All-Star/rapper/actor/reality show host/U.S. Deputy Marshal Shaquille O’Neal can save us from the mutant zombie hordes. He does so with the requisite small number of one-liners, which he delivers with wooden non-aplomb. There is also an in-game currency called “Shaqra.” These parts are fine.
But the game is joyless in spite of itself. Shaq runs forever, on one of three parallel paths. He can run right into normal zombies; they’ll die instantly. “Unstable” zombies require punching before they die, and armored zombies have to be avoided. The game’s three bosses require you to dodge bombs and attack with otherwise unnecessary projectile weapons. That is the entire game, and it becomes rote in seconds.
So it goes on the pile, with all the other lousy bits of cultural ephemera to which basketball folks have lent their names over the years. Maybe one day, we will remember it fondly. Don’t go near it until then.