"Wu Tang Shaolin Style": 15 Years Later, Why a Terrible Game is Still Hugely Important

Still ain't nothing to fuck with.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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 A lot of shade gets thrown at Wu Tang Shaolin Style, and for good reason, but for Wu-binos around the globe the game is a classic offering from one of the greatest sets of all time.

Don’t get me wrong, this game is trash.

That’s not just my opinion, Method Man, the G.O.D. himself, told me it “stinks”. But it also holds a special place in the hearts and minds of people that grew up in the Wu era.

Thrill Kill

Developed by Paradox and Midway Studios Los Angeles, and published by Activision, buzz in the late 90s for Shaolin Style was rooted in the controversy surrounding the game’s engine. Shaolin Style was basically a re-skinned incarnation of Thrill Kill, an unreleased game developed by Paradox that lauded the graphic violence and obscene content that was the wave for most of the 90s (See: Gangsta Rap, King of New York,Mortal Kombat, early UFC, etc.).

Hailed as the new Mortal Kombat, Thrill Kill offered gratuitous violence and sexual fetish flavored finishing moves, as well as four-player 3D combat. Weeks after putting the final touches on the game, the game’s publisher Virgin Interactive was bought by Electronic Arts, who promptly cancelled the release of the game and shelved all post-production, stating that the game didn’t fit with the “company’s image”. This act only further cemented Thrill Kill’s popularity to gaming fans. The quickest way to make something popular generally lies in banning it.

Limited Edition Wu Controller that was packaged with select games.

RZA’s Five Year Plan

“I had a five year plan in my mind,” RZA recalls. “In 1992 I asked everyone to give me five years. In 1997, the five years were up, but I had promised everybody that we would be number one in the charts.

The cancellation of Thrill Kill happened to coincide with a huge marketing push from the Wu. With the release of Wu Tang Forever, the group had come to the end of RZA’s five year plan to put the Wu and each of its members at the forefront of hip-hop.

RZA took a step back from overseeing all aspects of Wu products and handed a lot of responsibilities to associates like Oliver “Power” Grant and his brother Mitchell “Divine” Diggs. The move was designed to capitalize financially on the success of the Wu and a lot of the Wu Tang product market saturation of the late 90s originates from this move. Wu Wear, movies, comic books, games, even toys, were licensed and released in order to take advantage of the strong market position that the group held from the lucrative success of their group effort and individual solo albums. From this huge marketing push, the seed for Shaolin Style was planted.

Shaolin Style

In the wake of Thrill Kill’s cancellation, Paradox developed Wu Tang: Shaolin Style, essentially re-skinning the engine to suit the needs of a street brawler with an epic martial arts storyline centered around the hip-hop super group. The story centers around the kidnapping of the Wu Tang’s beloved Master Xin by the evil Mong Zhu.

The Wu Tang have to fight their way through the streets of Staten Island (yes, really), New York City, and ultimately China in order to defeat Mong Zhu and save Master Xin and the secrets of the Wu Tang. Along the way the game requires the player to complete a series of challenges each one corresponding to one chamber in the 36 chambers. You also gain moves and combos for each of the members. Some have weapons, others handle their business with fists. Meth had a giant hammer, Masta Killa and the RZA had swords, the GZA had a chain with a spear point at the end. Ghostface could turn into iron, Old Dirty Bastard used drunken boxing, and U-God and Inspectah Deck got busy with some really dope fatalities.

In the end, the game’s clunky controls (you can’t jump), piss poor graphics, and character models really hindered the experience for many gamers.

It’s saving grace is the game’s heart.

The fatalities are absolutely brutal and inspired and the FMV sequences hold up fairly well, although the RZA looks vaguely like a CGI kangaroo. Shaolin Style’s soundtrack also shines, while most of it is fairly generic electronic and hip-hop instrumentals, the single “Wu World Order” that was featured still knocks.

The PS1 disk’s ability to place the game cd into a cd player and play the tracks directly was also a defining factor in the longevity of the game. If you have friends, and love the Wu-Tang, we recommend you blow the dust off this and take it out spin because, as you already know, Wu-Tang is forever.

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