Review by: Jason Purdy
Published: November 13, 1999
Raise your hand if you remember Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video game. How about that perennial SNES classic, Shaq Fu? The former title, for some utterly inexplicable reason, actually attained a modicum of success in the arcades, but did anyone ever play Shaq Fu? I mean, besides me? I rented it for two days and played it for ten whole minutes. Some games are just plain bad, and as long as consumers continue to buy any tripe that gets tossed onto the market, this will continue, but that’s a rant for another day. The rage for today is about the seemingly irrefutable fact that titles based around people’s egos or celebrity status seem about as popular as a group of Trekkies at a Renaissance Festival. More often than not, these come out to a storm of fanfare, then disappear off the sales charts almost as quickly as they appeared. Every so often, though, a Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out will come along and show us that they’re not all bad… Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style is a perfect example of this second type.
As I’m sure you can infer from the title, this game chronicles the adventures of a few members of the popular rap syndicate, the Wu-Tang Clan. The storyline that accompanies their epic journey as both musicians and stupendous killing machines borrows liberally from their musical style, which is a synthesis of traditional rap and every kung-fu movie ever made. The many colorful artists who make up the real life clan are represented by alter-egos of near superhuman proportions, who spend their days practicing the arts of war in a dojo in Shaolin, New York, also known as Staten Island. The title’s incredibly well-rendered opening movie does an excellent job of setting up the action. Far away in mystical China, there is an evil kung fu master training an army of ninjas to do his bidding. Unfortunately for him, he knows the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, master of the Wu-Tang form of kung fu, is waiting for him in America, prepared to thwart his evil schemes. He hatches a plan to capture the Wu-Tang master and bring him back to China, where his secrets can be extracted through a number of ridiculously painful looking torture techniques. It is up to the remaining members of the Wu-Tang Clan, including RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah, U-God and Method Man, to rescue him.
Each member of the clan has their own set of weapons and a unique fighting style. RZA wields a pair of ninja swords he uses to slice and dice his opponents, while his cousin, GZA, takes his weapon from the title of his first solo album, “Liquid Swords.” Specifically, he has a bladed microphone he incorporates into an extremely unorthodox fighting style. Ol’ Dirty Bastard (a.k.a., Big Baby Jesus), on the other hand, is a master of the famous “Drunken Style” of kung-fu, in which he staggers blindly around the screen, occasionally lashing out with deadly blows, while Inspectah Deck uses incredibly precise and quick blows to incapacitate his opponents. Raekwon is the master of Shaolin Shadow Boxing and uses his tremendous upper arm strength to pummel opponents into the ground, which is a good contrast to Masta Killa’s more subtle approach. The latter warrior uses his stealthy demeanor in conjunction with a long-bladed knife that strikes quickly and accurately, often leaving his foes knowing they’ve been struck but with no idea of the direction. Ghostface Killah and U-God are both heavy bruisers, with Killah using ancient Wu-Tang grappling techniques to break his opponents into pieces, and U-God using his gold plated hands to inflict serious damage. Method Man rounds out the line-up with a huge sledgehammer that, although he swings it slowly, inflicts huge amounts of damage with a successful hit.
Their journey will be long and fraught with perils as the clan members makes their way to China to rescue their kidnapped master, and along the way, they’re going to have to do a lot of killing. The trail of bodies they leave in their wake is a mile wide, which quite easily earns this title its MA rating from the ESRB. The action itself takes place in a familiar format, similar to the Tekken series, but with one very important twist: Instead of the one-on-one combat typical of the fighting genre, Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style allows up to four players to compete at once. Without a doubt, this is the best reason to own a multi-tap I’ve ever found. Even more interesting is the fact that Paradox has forsaken the tried and true formula of having the player fight one enemy after the other until facing off against an ultimate boss. Instead, from the very beginning, you’re often facing off against three opponents at once. This may seem a bit unfair, but clan members are more than up to the challenge. Later levels have you and a computer controlled teammate ganging up on more powerful foes, or defending a friend from a group of enemies. This alone easily sets Wu-Tang away from the usual pack of fighting games.