Real Talk By: Cmack The Don
Paradox Development/Activision’s Wu-Tang Clan: Shaolin Style is a product that could only have come out of its era. Around the late 90’s, the Wu-Tang Clan was still very much at the height of their popularity as music artists, and then there was kind of renewed interest in martial arts in the mainstream, due to The Matrix films and Jet Li’s career getting started in non-Asian countries.
An interesting bit of trivia around this game is that Paradox originally developed this game as a titled called “Thrill Kill”, which was considered too controversial to be released, so the Wu stepped in to use the engine they had set up.
This game is actually what exposed to me to the Wu-Tang Clan and their unique brand of hip-hop, and in that sense, the game is not only a solid fighter, but for that time was a bold and well planned marketing move that exposed the group to a whole different cross-section of potential fans than their music would normally reach.That isn’t to say that the game is a cheap marketing attempt. Overall, Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style is a fun, skill-based fighter that has smooth and solid gameplay, but the catch is that there’s a steep learning curve and fairly tough difficulty level.
The game has a fun and fairly well fleshed out story. The Wu are sort of like the Ninja Turtles in this game, that’s how I like to think of it, each with a different style or weapon, all lead by their Master, Xin, who gets kidnapped by the evil Mong Zhu, who has a world domination plot that he needs Xin to complete.
You play through the story trying to rescue him, fighting Zhu’s evil clan in numerous locations and situations. The story mode was one of the things that when I first played this all those years ago I was caught off guard by, there are multiple paths and levels in each area you can choose to fight in, and there are different conditions for each stage. Sometimes, you’ll have to fight while poisoned, slowly losing life, other times against multiple enemies, and other times you’ll have your other Wu-Tang brothers to back you up, and more. The game doesn’t follow a typical Street-Fighter style round or life-meter set up, and you have lives as well as a rage-meter that activates after you do enough damage.
Each time you get through a challenging stage in story mode, you unlock something in the game, a character, a fatality, concept art, or even game modes. As someone against the wave of DLC, I’m always for earning things through gameplay, and its major points that there’s so much replay value and unlockable content.
The hits and combos are smooth and satisfying once you master them, and there really is depth to the combat, with counter-stances and evasive maneuvers for almost every character. The designs are clever, funny, and cool all at the same time, and each of them make sense for the members of the Wu, Old Dirty Bastard (RIP) being a muddy drunk using the Drunken Boxing Style for example.
One of the most innovative aspects of Shaolin Style at the time is it’s 4 player versus mode, which makes for some very fun brawls.
Like I mentioned, there really is a steep learning curve, this game is for people who like serious fighting games and challenges. Even at the lower difficulty levels, the computer can still tear you up pretty bad, so make use of the practice mode. I could see the difficulty turning off some more casual players, so that’s something to keep in mind. However, once you do understand your characters moves and juggles, you can really set up some brutal combos. One critique I have is that there aren’t more throws and grapples in the game. The combos are awesome, but you have a few characters that in their description, says they are grappling based, but then when you get into it, they really only have the same 3 throws you see over and over.
Adding to the criticisms to an overall solid fighter, I will say that the enemy character designs are probably the weakest part of the game. In short, the entire enemy cast is just evil mirror images of the designs for the Wu themselves, except with a more traditional Chinese Kung-Fu appearance, like something out of the classic Shaw Brothers movies. And don’t get me wrong, that is cool for sure, but they all have the same moves and play very similarly. Only 3 of the end bosses are totally original, and their designs and styles are so interesting it makes me wish they had spent a little more time on diversifying the moves of the rest of the cast. Appearance is only very superficial in fighting games, what really sets one character apart from another is the way they fight, not how they look.
Overall, Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style is a unique, fun, and obscure fighter that fighting game fans will love. There are bizarre and hilarious fatalities, great character designs and of course an amazing soundtrack. If only a few more elements had been present, this would’ve been an even better fighter.
Wu-Tang Shaolin Style Gets
3 out of 5
+Satisfying moves and combos
+Great Character Designs
-Steep learning curve
-Needs more enemy variety