Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style: An Afterthought

I grew up with two older brothers. I love them both dearly, but will admit we didn’t really do all that much together as you might think brothers would. We ate dinner as a family, we’d go out together to the beach or movies, and we would play video games together (some awesome memories with WWF No Mercy on Nintendo 64). But if I had to point toward one thing I think I absorbed most from my brothers, it was their taste in music. My oldest brother gave me the interest in Rock and hair bands like Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith. My middle brother is 100% responsible for my interest in Hip Hop and Rap music. Which brings us to the Wu-Tang Clan,

I don’t think I can honestly name a single song by Wu-Tang. I know I’ve heard them, but I didn’t listen enough to really know any of their songs or lyrics. They had a large group of singers and artists, and I believe they include the likes of RZA, Method Man, and ODB among others. I can even vaguely recall their album cover… it’s fuzzy but I know it’s there. Anyway, all this to say, I don’t know much about the Wu-Tang Clan.

BUT I do know they had a video game on the original Playstation. A fighting game at that. And one that was surprisingly well received. Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style released in late 1999 in North America, and featured at the time pretty solid visuals, gameplay mechanics, and of all things a storyline. In 1999 I was playing exclusively fighting games like Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Mortal Kombat Gold, as well as going to my weekly bowling league and just beginning to get into the Pokemon Trading Card game and Magic: The Gathering. There was a lot going on back then, and my brother’s music and a tie-in video game were least among them.

Fast forward a couple decades, and Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style becomes something of a cult classic hit. Playing the game for the first time a few months back, I can see why. The storyline, though absurd considering how it’s literally the members of the Rap group getting brought into a huge martial arts drama, is kind of entertaining. You’ve got Raekwon straight up karate style fighting some demons and monstrous creatures in ironically tame and civilized street fights. It was silly fun, and that’s the exact thing I like most in my games. There’s even some side stories and branching paths to discover more: it’s wild!

What I think makes Shaolin Style truly stand out though is the combat and fighting. The game implements a 3D arena style fight, something you’d see in other games like Power Stone for example. Up to four combatants can go in at once, making a good amount of variety in each scripted story battle. As you work down your enemy’s life meter, you can eventually execute a finishing move on them to delivering a killing, often dismembering, final blow. It’s great! Not the most refined way to have this gameplay but still a fun, unique experience!

Worth noting, and perhaps why I drew some of my attention toward the game, it was developed by Paradox Development, which was the same team that made the fully complete but never released fighting game Thrill Kill. What is special about Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, is that is uses the same engine as Thrill Kill, including the 4-person fights, 3D arenas, and the fatalities. While emulation has made Thrill Kill easy to play all things considered, at the time if you wanted to experience the gameplay of what some considered to be so violent it shouldn’t even be released, you had Shaolin Style.

Looking back on the game now, I think the hype was warranted. The game isn’t for me, that’s for sure. Much of the appeal of the Wu-Tang Clan is lost as I don’t get the references (or what I would think would be a very strong voice cast and musical track list, as the group provided all of it). Despite this, the gameplay is strong, and pretty fun for the time. Among fighting game aficionados I don’t think Shaolin Style will be anything more than a fun diversion here and there. But to Playstation owners that were Hip Hop listeners, this must have been a truly incredible moment!


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– Jason J

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