LOS ANGELES — Shaq wants to be back in a video game.
Shaquille O'Neal says he's seeking redemption for "Shaq Fu," his infamous fighting game originally released in 1994 that's now considered to be among the worst games ever made. The four-time NBA champion is launching a crowd-funding campaign to create a "Shaq Fu" follow-up titled "Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn."
In return, backers could receive anything from a pair of autographed size-22 sneakers to a pick-up basketball game and lunch with Shaq, depending on how much they donate.
"The old 'Shaq Fu' was a 'ha, ha, ha,'" said O'Neal in a telephone interview this week. "This will not be a 'ha, ha, ha.'"
In the original "Shaq Fu," O'Neal's character stumbles across a kung fu dojo while taking a break from playing a charity basketball game in Tokyo. He discovers a portal inside to another dimension where he engages in "Mortal Kombat"-like battles with such characters as an evil mummy, voodoo priestess and cyborg police officer.
The game was derided by Shaq fans for its cheesy story, wonky controls and blatant attempt to cash in on O'Neal's superstar status. "Shaq Fu" prompted one group of gamers to create the site ShaqFu.com and post photos and videos of fans destroying copies of "Shaq Fu" in unusual ways.
"I don't think it was the worst," said O'Neal. "When you talk about the worst, you've got to talk about sales. I actually sold a lot of games, but when I did the first 'Shaq-Fu,' that was at the end of analog right before digital came out. It wasn't a bad game. It wasn't a good game, but it wasn't awful."
Unlike the original "Shaq Fu" released by Electronic Arts, "Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn" will be a beat-'em-up game created by Big Deez Productions in the style of "Streets of Rage." The studio said "A Legend Reborn" will feature Shaq taking on hordes of enemies with hundreds of different moves, as well as melee weapons, in various levels. The game's soundtrack will be created by Steve Molitz and feature remixed renditions of Shaq songs.
"The graphics, animation and storyline are definitely going to be top of the line," said O'Neal.
Utilizing crowd-funding services such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter has become an increasingly popular method for game developers to fund new titles. Kickstarter said earlier this week that more money has been pledged to game projects than any other category since the site launched in 2009.
However, that's typically for small indie or niche gamemakers. Why is a multimillionaire like O'Neal asking fans to open their wallets to resurrect "Shaq Fu" instead of simply coming up with the cash himself?
"That's just the new way of doing business," said O'Neal, who retired from the NBA in 2011. "I have a big social following, so everyone will have their hand in it. As a businessman, you have to take advantage of all available options."
"Shaq Fu" funders who donate $15 on the game's Indiegogo site will receive a copy of the game, while those who donate big bucks will be granted various prizes and opportunities, such as $400 for admission to a "Shaq-Fu" launch party; $600 for O'Neal to record an outgoing voicemail message; $3,000 for a size 22 sneaker signed by O'Neal; and $15,000 for lunch and a pick-up basketball game at one of O'Neal's houses.
The planned return of "Shaq-Fu" doesn't mean the 41-year-old basketball champ wants to similarly revive other past side projects, such as his big-screen alter-egos "Steel" and "Kazaam," or his rapping career.
"I'm way too old to be doing that, but I'm never too old to whoop some (expletive)," said O'Neal.